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One Breath at a Time

07-27-2010

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Simply Celebrate Newsletter: July, 2010

I was weeping on the Amtrak train as I stared out the window, catching glimpses of snowy white egrets in the marsh. This wasn’t a sad kind of crying, but rather, one of those “Wow, life is pretty amazing” kind of jags. I was on my way to Browns Valley to visit my business partner Tricia and we were going to spend a day envisioning what Simply Celebrate might look like three years from now. In order to prepare myself, I had decided to listen to an audio recording from a recent StoryCorps interview that my good friend Suki had done with me. And that’s what made me cry.

You see, Suki started the interview off by asking me to tell her the story of my birthday, 1990.  She and my wonderful friend Greggie had come over to celebrate my birthday with me and I was in an extraordinarily dark place. I’d been struggling for a long time with a deep sense that I was outside of life. That I was flawed. That I wasn’t supposed to be here.

I’d spent years grappling with the feeling that I was different from everyone else because they all made it look so easy. To me, life was always hard. Even though on the outside it often appeared that I was vivacious and happy, on the inside, I lived in what I called “the pit.” It was dark and lonely, and on that particular day in 1991, I was convinced that I didn’t want to be here anymore. I was exhausted and I wanted out.

During our StoryCorps interview, Suki gently reminded me of that period of my life because she wanted to talk about how someone goes from being suicidal to being someone who is devoted to celebrating life. She wanted to know why I decided to stick it out here on earth and how I found a way to not only “hang in there” —  but to make it extraordinary.

This isn’t a quick story, of course. But we’re in newsletter mode here, so I’ll give you the shortest answer I have. During that period of time I was engulfed in depression. I had fallen so deep into the pit that I couldn’t see anything but pain. My friend Greggie’s gift of That Which You Are Seeking is Causing You to Seek by Zen guide, Cheri Huber, led me to a meditation class. And like it was yesterday, I remember learning how to focus on my breath. I remember breathing in. And I remember breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. And a miracle happened. On one of the intakes of breath, I experienced a moment of “no pain.” It didn’t hurt. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t lonely or scared or outside of life. In that tiny moment, I was free. I was peaceful.

And the miracle was that I saw it.

From that moment on, everything was different. No, I don’t mean my life suddenly changed or that the depression was gone. But what was different was that from that intake of breath forward, I was aware that in a moment, any moment, life could change. And on top of that, I saw that I wasn’t a slave to my overly active Monkey Mind that wanted to kill me. I wasn’t held captive by a life that didn’t like me. But rather, I held the key and could make the choice anytime I wanted to turn my attention from what was trying to kill me to that which wanted to sustain me. I knew that it was there, waiting for me — a place of peace.

Okay, I realize that sounds dramatic. But it was dramatic. Knowing that there was a place I could go (my breath) to feel at home was everything. Like the Four Noble Truths say, there is suffering inherent in life, but there is also a path to end suffering. Suffering might look drastic like “the pit.” Or it might look like flat-lining, lack of vitality, dissatisfaction, or simple boredom.

My path over the past 20 years has been to remind myself day after day, 1000 times a day, that I have a choice in every moment what I want my experience to be. (One of my favorite sayings of all times is, “The quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention” — Cheri Huber.) And don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that I think I can always choose for life to be all sunflower fields and ballroom dancing. I’ve had many, many more experiences of “the pit.” I’ve had lots of times it felt like life was lined up against me and I was paralyzed with fear. But within that, I know there is a choice that I can be with myself or not. I can head for the light or not. I’ve learned to want to choose to take a deep breath, find the place inside I call home, and turn away from those crazy internal voices that want to drag me into the pit, or unspoken feelings of anxiety/depression/stress/ambivalence.

And somehow, miraculously, along the way of turning toward home, I’ve discovered that “there is suffering/there is a path out of suffering” also translates to “there is sleeping/there is awake.” And lo and behold, the choice to be awake is what I call “Simply Celebrate.” Because when our eyes and hearts are open, when we are conscious and alive with life, what is ordinary takes on a glimmering glow. The whiskers on my cat, my child’s peanut buttery face, the sliver of moon in midnight sky, all become … simply extraordinary. When I am awake I see life differently, I seek magic.

And that’s why I was weeping on the Amtrak train. Because twenty years ago, the cacophony in my head and heaviness in my body very likely would have kept me from seeing those snowy white egrets in the marshes. Absolutely extraordinary.

Yours in celebration and breath,

Sherry

P.S. Wondering what Tricia and I envisioned for Simply Celebrate in the next three years? Hope you’ll stick around and see!

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