Life Disrupted: Suffering Teaches a Jagged Lesson in Gratitude

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It can be tough sometimes to nail down the exact beginning of a thing.

The beginning of a relationship, for instance, (did it begin when you first saw him? when you first touched her? when you suddenly realized you couldn’t stop thinking about him? on a date? in a fight?) or when you first began to enjoy decidedly grown up stuff like I don’t know . . . coffee. Or the opera. Or beets.

That’s why it’s fairly surprising to me that over the past three weeks I have come to discover not only the beginning of the stuff that’s hard to pin down but the beginning of everything.

You guys: the beginning of everything.

And it’s so small, so teeny, so ridiculously minuscule that to be able to truly appreciate it is nothing short of miraculous.

It’s breathing.

With breathing comes every single other thing.

Without breathing comes nothing.

Mindfulness starts with breathing.

Awareness starts with breathing.

Writing starts with breathing.

Thoughts and love and hurt and music and imagination all begin with breathing.

Gratitude starts with a breath just like joy and forgiveness and laughter and presence and everything we could ever think or speak or create (even beets).

Everything zen begins with breathing.

Everything disruptive and healing begins with breathing.

Since we do it close to 30.000 times a day (plus or minus) we take it almost completely for granted. It’s tough to appreciate what feels like a given, right. Which is why it came as such a marked discovery for me to recognize the beginning of everything.

Do you know the way to really appreciate this little ‘breathing’ thing? The way to come face to face with this exotic yet obvious revelation that the beginning of everything is the breathing?

Despite what I thought, it’s not meditation. It’s not slowing down.

It’s not exercise or mantras or beads or prayers.

The way to fully appreciate the sheer magnificence of the beautiful art of breathing is to catch yourself some acute bronchitis (don’t actually do this).

At least that’s how I did it.

For the past three weeks I’ve been consumed with this tremendously irritating, disruptive, painful and dismally unattractive virus of the sort that seems to resist even the copious amounts of antibiotics, steroids, syrups, pills, vitamins, oils, vapors, inhalers and elixirs I’ve been prescribed or concocted of my own devices.

I don’t sleep much. My voice – when it manages to surface – sounds like trash, and the Cough. Mother of mercy, the Cough is a fucking monster. It’s of the impossible variety that just. Will. Not. Let. Up.

All these days, all these nights, violently broken into shredded intervals of busted up consciousness.

When you can’t breathe without erupting into fits of gasping and choking (or trying not to) you are constantly reminded of the luxury it would be to just breathe.

You fantasize about what exquisite decadence it would be to just allow that beautiful, silken air to thread in and out of you unobstructed; like the elegant, invisible stitching of you into the presence of your life.

Before the illness came on, each morning I would sit in meditation and make love to the breathing, totally immersed. I was grateful, sure, but not like I am now.

What I didn’t have a full grasp of was how the connection I was cultivating in that practice was also the beginning of every other thing. The mindful breathing was literally delivering me into everything else I would do with my time and energy that day.

That’s why even writing hasn’t been such an easy thing for me to manage. Not for lack of trying but because it seemed that whatever the ghost is that moves me into the creative space had gone. Disrupted breath, jagged thoughts and a peculiar kind of un-mindfulness took hold.

One I’m sure I would not even notice had I not been so moved by mindfulness in my daily round before.

This disconnection – like this bronchitis – was not one I was prepared for but it is one I am trying to learn from (no mud, no lotus, yeah?).

“Hello, my suffering. I know you are there.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh, No Mud, No Lotus

What a gift I realize, the breath is. What a gift meditation is; just the simple act of sitting with a calm body and steady breath. What a gift it is to be able to have the groundedness to let that breath open you up to working creatively on a thing with the presence of mind and health to really navigate the freedom of that inner space.

It’s all connected, you see, this flow of breathing, of presence, and of creatively bringing forward something beautiful.

Mindfulness begins with breathing.

Awareness begins with breathing.

Connection to ourselves and each other begins with breathing.

Writing begins with breathing.

Everything begins with breathing.

It may sound numbingly simple to say.

Until you can’t say much of anything without coughing up a lung.


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18 thoughts on “Life Disrupted: Suffering Teaches a Jagged Lesson in Gratitude

  1. Rajagopal

    Very much so, dear Allison, everything begins with an inhalation and probably ends in exhalation, denoting, basically, the only two movements or directions in life, either inward or outward, inhale or exhale, as Allison in or Marie out, and vice versa. All other movements or directions in life are just notional. Can there really be a South, North, East and West in a planet rotating on its axis? So all beginnings and endings are just that, one in and other out…best wishes…xxRaj.

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      My beautiful friend, Raj,

      Your words and presence here always feels like a warm hug. I am smiling just to see you. :)

      I love your thoughts about the only two directions or movements in life, inhale and exhale. Raj, that is so beautiful and an exquisite thing to be aware of. Thank you so much for sharing this. You say so very much in so very few perfect words.

      “one in and other out” . . . blessed be, indeed.

      So much love, light and gratitude your way, dear one.
      Allison xxoo

  2. Aaron J Kelley

    This is so true. “Everything begins with breathing.”. I listened to this blog post using Audiofy On my way into work today. I thought back to my morning and just before I got out of bed, I took a deep breath. Right before I selected my clothes for the day, another deep breath. As I decided what to eat for breakfast, a deep breath. After kissing my wife goodbye just before starting my car, a deep breath. Before I got out my car to walk into my work building, a deep breath. Sitting down at my desk before starting my computer, a deep breath. Even just before I decided to leave this comment, a deep breath.
    “Everything begins with breathing.”

    Thank you Allison, for helping me to be more aware of the blessing of simply breathing.

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Dear Aaron,
      I am so very, very happy see you here, my friend. Thank you so much for taking the time and care to leave such a beautiful comment.

      As I read your words I imagined those deep long gorgeous breaths. Such a luxury, right?

      It really means a lot to me to know that in some small way my words were able to bring you back into that sacred space where the breath becomes a celebration and a gift.

      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to share your mindfulness with me. That’s the BEST.

      Here’s to the beginning of everything. :)

      Many blessings and so much light your way,

  3. Brad

    Hi Allison,

    I wondered why you had been quiet online. I hope you are on the mend. Great perspective about the breath. I like how you weave it to all our life practices. Makes spiritual practice simpler. :)

    gentle hugs and wishes for clear lungs and breath….

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      My dear, gorgeous friend Brad,

      Your words are healing just to read them. Thank you for your presence and warmth – it means so much to me.

      Funny how I’ve been quiet online when in my little house I’ve been making a royal rukus! Today is the first in a long time that the Cough has quieted a bit. It’s slow but I’m getting there. Writing again feels much like breathing again.

      I love the simple, don’t you? I feel like you and I have a very similar affection for keeping the spiritual real and textured. I am so grateful for that.

      I feel the gentleness of your hugs and care, my dear. It is such a gift and a joy for me.
      Thank you, love. Namaste.

  4. Donna Cameron

    Lovely, Alison, another great reminder that our teachers are everywhere…even in the cruddiest illness. As always, your writing is gorgeous. Hope you’re feeling better.

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Hello, hello beautiful Donna,
      I am so touched that this little post resonated for you. You are on the mark, my good friend – this is definitely a cruddy one. And it is a very, very deep teacher. Maybe in another post I’ll tell more about the deeper stuff that this has taught me. Once I’m firing on all cylinders again. :)
      And thank you from the bottom of my heart for your gorgeous compliment. It means the world to me to know my writing brings you joy.

      Blessings and light your way, always, always.

  5. Richard

    Hey beauty, the gift you have to translate your experience is angelic. Thank you for your words, your love, your heart, your spirit. We all love you so… :)

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Oh Richard, you are such a gorgeous, gorgeous friend. I missed you, my love!

      I can’t thank you enough for being a light in my life and such a source of inspiration and strength. We angels have to stick together, yeah? :)

      I’m totally hugging this out with you. Peace, health, super sized love and a million blessings your way, dearest. XOXO

  6. Michael

    Allison, I hope you feel better soon, if you aren’t already feeling so. It is amazing how our physical well being keeps the channels open with the Muse. When I’m feeling the worst, it is hard to contemplate writing at all… It’s like there’s nothing to give… all the resources are invested in repairing things…

    You’ve certainly made some beautiful lemonade out of the lemons you’ve been choking on, which I admire. That is commitment… sticking to your guns… :)

    It is amazing how the loss of simple things reveals their profundity. I know exactly what you mean about treasuring one easy breath, one full inhale and exhale without worry of an autonomic cataclysm. Every breath is a treasure when seen this way. For me the breath is there whenever I come back from some temporary malaise or disconnection. It’s always with the realization of the breath, or the release comes and with it comes a satisfying breath. The breath is like at town meetings when one person passes a motion, and then another has to second it… Your heart offers an idea, and your breath ratifies it… You have to have the consent of the breath to make it stick… They work together like that I think… :)

    Wishing you a speedy and full recovery…

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Thank you so very much, dear Michael, for your kind concern. That means so much to me. I can promise you I am on the mend and a little stronger everyday. I feel like the minute I can finally speak I’m going to record a podcast just to celebrate the fun of talking! :)

      Thank you, also, for taking the time and care to share your gorgeous thoughts. I resonate totally with what you say about keeping our channels open for the Muse. You nailed it.

      I am smiling about choking on lemons because I am just now sipping water with fresh lemon. Stick to my guns I must!

      Isn’t it true, the loss of the simple reveals their profundity – you are on the money there, too. I absolutely LOVE how you describe the breath as a second to the ideas of the heart. What a beautiful way to think of how they work together – gorgeous. And it’s funny because sometimes we can think of spirituality as being all “in our heads” or sort of separate from our physical beings. But it’s all interlocked isn’t it. Lessons (as the elegant Donna mentions above) come from everywhere.

      Thank you so, my friend. I totally feel the warmth of your spirit and the healing of your light. I am so grateful for your presence here.

      Peace, always, always,

  7. Darshith

    Hello Allison,

    It’s so good to have you back here :) How is your health?
    About the post, it’s as perfect as you, as me and as everybody else :) As perfect as breathing itself ;) Such a simple thought and it’s really the beginning of everything :) It feels good to know that even in ill-health you were trying to think upon something to write and share and make all of us realize <3 Much love and wishes to one of the kindest friend ;) And of course, that's you :P

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Hello, hello gorgeous Darshith,

      Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE your spirit? I totally do. You have such a beautiful heart, my friend. Your words feel like the warmest hug.

      I am healing slowly but steadily. A friend of mine recommended the use of osha root which I have now worked into my daily diet and it does seem to be helping with the respiratory condition. I am very grateful to have found it.

      Your comment is so touching, I love how you say this: as perfect as breathing itself. That is the BEST. I’m holding those words close.

      I really do think about what to share with you guys all the time. I meditate and ask, “What can I offer them in love?” If it brings you joy, I am happy. :)

      So very much love to you. Stay absolutely just as stellar as you are.

      Thank you for being in my world, angel.

      Biggest hugs and truest peace your way, always,


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