Screw it, I could die tomorrow. This is a recurrent thought that arises every time I start to experience negative emotional reactions or unnecessary suffering. Knowing that I can die at any moment from a throat swell is both terrifying, and at the same time, quite liberating.
I have learned to live each day as my last. This idea was originally introduced to me via the writings of Jack Kerouac when I was 15 years old. After reading On the Road, I adopted an existentialist philosophy based upon a hedonistic, drug fueled lifestyle. My summers were spent driving all over the United States with friends, camping along the way, and stopping to party in every city that we came to. I once drove from Athens, Georgia to Portland, Oregon in 48 hours without stopping. Acid, cigarettes, and coffee were indispensable tools on our many debaucherous road trips. This went on for about 10 years.
Restlessness was the norm for me since birth…since as long as I can remember. I just never stopped. I couldn’t stop. To stop was to die a slow death like all the other boring, mundane normies. I couldn’t allow that to happen. I had to live each day as my last…full-on, balls to the wall hedonism. A never ending party. Make some money, save some money, drive all summer, blow through the money, repeat. 10 long years…
I didn’t make it out totally unscathed. The last time I got arrested I was 22. Marijuana possession and DUI in a rural Georgia town on one of my frequent weekend jaunts down to the Georgia islands to camp and party with my friends and flavor of the month on the beach. I quickly became suicidal as I was placed on a year’s probation (a very light sentence given the circumstances). Luckily, the DUI charges were dropped, but I had to go in for drug tests twice a month and stay out of trouble. For a party animal and drug addict, probation was similar to death. I quit college for a semester and moved back in with my parents. I spent most of my time laying in bed in the dark staring up at the ceiling wanting to die.
My parents sent me to a therapist. I resisted at first, but in the end I decided that it was for the best. He recommended that I take yoga classes to help me relax and detox. I started taking Vinyasa Yoga classes twice a week and it was a total game changer. It took a couple of months to begin feeling the effects of the classes, but after a while, I figured out how to relax without the use of drugs. However, as soon as my probation ended, I fell back into my old habits and patterns. I was back on the road again…but the road to where exactly?
It’s a miracle that I ever got married. Looking back now, I still don’t get it…must’ve been drug induced…who can say for sure? I got hitched at 27…been together ever since…15 years...hard to believe. Carolina completely changed my life. I still partied, but things slowed down a bit and we started taking Vinyasa Yoga classes together, as she had been a yoga practitioner since her teenage years growing up in Santiago, Chile. There were only two yoga studios in all of Chile at the time, but Carolina’s Mom was a very rare and special woman…a truly enlightened being if I’ve ever met one.
After a few yoga classes, I started to remember the wonderful benefits that I had first noticed when I was 22. It all came back to me. We quickly fell in love with the practice, especially the brief breathing exercises and meditation that we did at the end of each class. It was incredibly therapeutic for both of us at the time after a long day of exhausting drudgery teaching 14 year olds. Looking back, the fact that we taught middle school was probably why we decided not to have kids. It was, in the end, an excellent form of birth control!
One day after a yoga class, I was perusing books in the local metaphysical bookstore in our small town in the North Georgia Mountains. The eyes on the book cover took me by surprise. I’d never seen eyes quite like that. I bought Autobiography of a Yogi and read Yogananda’s tome in 4 days. I had found my path…I knew it..there was no doubt.
The day that I finished the book, I prayed to God (something I hadn’t done in years) and asked It to send me a teacher like Yogananda that could teach me how to meditate. A few days later, I was waiting for a massage and I picked up a local metaphysical magazine. I opened it to a page with an advertisement for a meditation retreat in the North Georgia Mountains with a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. I knew my prayers had been answered and my wife and I attended the retreat a few weeks later.
I knew as soon as Roy Davis entered the meditation hall at 7am for the first meditation of the retreat that he was my teacher. I remembered and recognized him, and I immediately felt calm and at peace. The restlessness was gone. For the first time in my life, the restlessness was finally gone. It was like waking up from a bad nightmare and realizing that it had all just been an illusory dream. My approach to life changed overnight and I quickly adopted a much healthier and peaceful lifestyle from that point forward. However, I was about to experience another game changer…one that I wasn’t prepared for.
Hereditary Angioedema is a rare disease caused by a genetic mutation. The symptoms vary slightly in each person, but the most common symptom is swelling; of the feet, hands, face, joints, genitalia, and throat. If left unmedicated or uncontrolled, a throat swell can and does result in death. I’ve had to go to the emergency room about 8 times or so for throat swells since being diagnosed with HAE in my late twenties. In other words, I have almost died 8 times. It’s a pretty messed up way to live, but I’ve come to accept and embrace it. What other choice do I have?
I used to believe that living each day like it’s my last was all about enjoying the sense pleasure roller coaster available to this body on this planet. Now, however, via my spiritual practices, I have discovered that living each day like it’s my last is really all about transcending the need for the sense pleasure roller coaster of restlessness, and experiencing the deep, tranquil peace of my eternal Being instead.
I used to try everyday to escape my reality, but now I’ve learned to no longer sweat the small stuff. I don’t allow myself to suffer needlessly over the comings and goings of life and inconsequential bullshit. Instead, I spend each day with the knowledge that I could die tomorrow. It could happen. Do I really want to spend my last day on this planet suffering? Do you? Whether you know it or not, you could also die tomorrow…not from HAE, but there always exists the distinct possibility that you might not see another sunrise. Knowing this, how would you like to spend your last day?
Each day, we’re given a choice. We can choose to identify with the false self that changes, suffers, and dies. Or, we can choose to abide as the true Self that never changes, suffers, or dies. The choice is ours…
Om. Peace. Amen.