Coughing and Peace

For the past week I’ve been sick. This is not a big deal. But in my case, it’s pretty strange. I don’t usually fall, an when I do, it’s a 24-48 hour bounce-back almost guaranteed. It’s been a week now of pretty much the same thing. Body pain, deep fatigue, laryngitis and coughing. Oh my God the coughing. During the day it’s fairly tolerable, but it really ramps up at night. For three or four nights now, between the hours of 10pm and around 1 or 2am, I’m coughing my guts up every 5 minutes or so. I’m not exaggerating.

Last night, it became excruciating, because I pulled a muscle in my sternum. So now when I coughed, it was not only the ripping away of my throat tissue, but a high speed fire of pain down that muscle. I started to panic. I could feel the cough coming on, I would delay it as long as possible, and then I just had to go ahead and cough and seize up with the pain. If you could have heard me, it was pretty scary and pathetic sounding. Got up and started walking around aimlessly, hyperventilating, cussing at the world, trying to strategize…cough meds require full stomach…what to eat…slamming cupboards, etc. At this point, my beloved wife reminded me gently to calm myself.

How I ended up taking her advice resulted in an unexpected oasis of peace, right in the middle of the mess. I went back to bed, settled myself in, and began to put my meditation practice where my mouth was. I created a welcoming state of being for any and everything. Not to make it go away, but just to experience it without adding the unnecessary suffering and fear and resistance. So. Welcoming state of being. Cough is coming, here it comes…and the image of my arms beckoning, as if to a small child…”come, it’s ok, come on, be with me…” And it blooms, and it hurts, and it ends, eventually. This over and over again.

Then it dawned on me that this can be for everything. There were also, of course, the spaces in between the coughing. Those elusive, too brief moments of peace. Why not be as conscious, as present during those moments as well? Welcome that blissful relief. So the cough ends, and here comes the peace, but now instead of using those precious moments to dread the coming cough, and wonder how long I was going to be sick, and think how miserable I’m feeling—I actually felt the peace of it. I put my arms around that peace, too, just like I had put my arms around the coughing. And it felt so wonderful.

I worked this way for probably 15 minutes before realizing that I had cut the suffering and the pain in half. I can’t say that I magically went to sleep and felt all better the next day. But I can say that for the entire time, which might have been another hour or so, I actually felt a palpable sweetness, a sense of being present to my own life, something so only itself that there was no striving for anything else. And it felt like the most natural thing in the world. This is what I’ve been put on this earth to learn.