By Dr. Brandon Nappi
My first impulse is resistance. I’ll simply pretend that the icy pulsing around the edges of my stomach is not happening. It’s 1:48 a.m. Maybe I’ll fall back asleep and it will go away.
2:07 a.m. No luck. My nausea is growing more intense. Not yet ready to concede, I compromise by pacing aimlessly in the kitchen studying the unread meditation magazines that have piled up like unpaid bills. All along, my cats glare at me irritated for the nocturnal disturbance.
My mind races immediately to the past. Over the previous 10 days, the petri dish of our house has produced stomach bugs, fevers, rashes, and a swollen gland the size of a Volkswagen bus. I’ve logged 11 hours of Harry Potter, melted countless brain cells playing Minecraft, and failed miserably at creating a Monopoly real estate empire. After missing countless days of work, juggling schedules with my wife, and forging ahead in the face of sheer exhaustion, I wonder, “Why did this have to happen now?”
A sudden stabbing of faintness and nausea interrupt my cry of injustice. It’s time to head to the bathroom. Now my thoughts surge toward the future: “With all the appointments, speaking engagements, e-mails, and presentations, I don’t have time for this.”
My body remained unconvinced. I’m on my knees now studying the ancient grime embedded in the original 1937 hexagon floor tiles which are cold and unforgiving against my ankles. For a moment, I ponder the cost of retiling the bathroom floor. Then I laugh and think, “Without a toilet inches from my face, this posture looks a lot like meditation.”
I’m sweating now and my heart is racing. My stomach is cramping, and I remember the breath. “The present moment is always the safest place to be,” I repeat to myself.
The serpentine urge to reverse gravity is primal and involuntary. My body is no longer my own. Letting go, I empty the contents of my belly too many times to count. I am thrown around like a rag doll in a toddler’s fist. The new toilet seat that I installed last year is holding strong. I feel a strange sense of pride and inspiration. Hot tears pour down my cheeks. I remember the words of the poet Rilke, “Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Tonight, this is my mindfulness practice.
Sometimes in life, we are powerless. There is nothing to solve or fix. Past or future will not support us in the moment. There is no action to take or plan to form. Sometimes the only choice we can make is the choice to be present and just keep going. Mindfulness is not magic; it does not remove pain or erase the challenges of life. I remember a wise teacher telling me, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Suffering is simply the inevitable pain of life plus our resistance to that pain. For three wretched hours my mindfulness practice is simply the practice of no-resistance. I try over and over to get out of my own way and allow what wants to happen to unfold.
I awake the next morning shaking in a fetal position. I feel the tender touch of a hand to my head. “I love you Daddy.” Before leaving for school, my daughter brings me water in the mug that she made me in kindergarten. I am weak, and I can smell the foreign stench of my sickness, but my heart is full to be loved so completely. Now she is the caregiver, and our roles have reversed. To give and receive care amid the pain and joy of life – this is the great practice of mindful living. If a stomach virus is the price to be paid to remember this, it was well worth the cost.
Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.