I Almost Died. Meditation Was (and IS) My Anchor.
This is my fifth year of keeping a formal journal. Along with meditation and marathon running, daily journaling is one of my core spiritual practices.
My day-to-day experience can often feel like a roller coaster of soaring heights and crashing lows.
But after recently reading through four years of entries, it looked more like a steady barge voyaging in the night.
Why is that?
One entry in particular brought me back to a near death experience I had that shed light on that question. It highlighted the essential—and anchoring—role that meditation has played in my life.
So while our memories tend to be punctuated by moments of peaks and valleys, our real story is an unbroken cosmic continuum.
I want to share a glimpse I had into this mystery through journaling, meditation, and a near death experience.
I began journaling as a practice a couple of months after my wife survived the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing (she was a few feet from the first explosion) and my life had generally fallen apart.
It helped me, and continues to, galvanize my deeper inner resources and articulate the thoughts I am afraid to admit to myself.
And as I referred to earlier, I also skirted death a year later at the 2014 Boston Marathon. My wife had been given an invitational bib as a token of respect and remembrance by the marathon organizers.
She passed it on to me so I could officially run in this prestigious race, even though I had not achieved the requisite qualifying time the majority of runners needed to participate.
I wanted to make my running performance at this marathon a personally symbolic breakthrough. So much in my life was teetering on a precarious balance.
While I was finally finding some traction in my role as a salesman for the consulting firm I started working at, my wife just had a miscarriage – a tragic and painful ordeal not spoken enough about in our culture.
A coworker at my firm, someone I was quite fond of, overdosed and died. I spoke to her honor at her wake at her beloved alma mater, MIT.
This Boston Marathon was also the first one since the terrorist attack and the spirit of this globally renowned race and the city itself was at stake.
Perfect Weather—for Spectators
The weather on race day was perfect for spectators but not for runners: warm and sunny. I was determined to run my fastest marathon ever.
I took off at a high clip and kept throttling for miles. I thought if I could maintain the pace I was at, I would surely clock in at a pretty amazing personal best.
But of course, fatigue started to settle in after the tenth mile or so. I skipped water stops to make up for the lost time.
The sun and heat began to bear down on me at mile 16 as I entered the 4-mile onslaught of the monstrous Newton hills. My pace was hemorrhaging to a shadow of what I had started with.
I stayed grinding, half-blind with exhaustion, praying for a miracle to carry me through the last six miles.
Suddenly, in a total break of consciousness like changing the TV channel, I heard the chipper of two-way radios. I saw flashes of white sunlight and the green of trees breaking through windy canvas flaps, and burly bodies in uniforms around me.
Here’s what I remember?
Where am I?
You have a temperature of 107. We need to bring it down to at least 102.
They lower me into a metal tub of some sort, my arms dangle over its sides. Bury me in ice cubes. Water pours and crackles over them jolting my body from its coldness.
I’m afraid that your marathon is over.
How long do I have to be here?
I don’t know.
The icy water is getting chillier and my teeth are starting to chatter. The neon blue synthetic fabric of my sleeveless running shirt refracts through the crystalline surface.
At some point, after being frozen alive, they lift me out of the ice tub and lay me on a stretcher in the medical tent. My muscles begin to spasm and then lock up like an electrified tension wire.
Wordless pain squeezes through my entire being from whatever I did to my chemistry by running until I roasted to 107 degrees.
Panic and Fear
Fear abounds in me through images of being brain damaged, unable to function as before.
And then the dangling possibility that this could be that unprepared-for moment when the adventure of my life comes to a close.
I am clear that I can either freak out from panic, or not. It doesn’t feel like an easy choice, but I opt to find a way to be still. Like a ghost in a movie, I watch myself meditate in the weeks leading up the race, and then witness years and years of diligent practice passing into action.
I need all of it now…
…All of the intention and effort I had put into every time I sat on the cushion was not wasted. It never went anywhere and was alive as I lay there letting go.
I whispered support to myself like an angel on my own shoulder as I meditated at various stages of my life, tied together by this moment.
I rediscovered this journal entry I wrote a few days before the marathon:
I had a sudden shadowy thought that I was foreshadowing my own demise. But if so, if that was, or is to be the case, I would want to write now as if it was so.
If I could have some unequivocal premonition that I were to die in a few days, what would I do differently?
Love Fuses One Moment to the Next
I have no scientific evidence or philosophical rigor whatsoever to back up what I’m about to write. I believe it is love that extends our selves through time and fuses one moment to the next.
How love dissolves and transcends our experience of past, present, and future is an existential mystery I am constantly working on.
Meditation opens my mind and heart to this inquiry and journaling is my personal laboratory to gather data. I’m four plus years into intensive research and look forward to sharing more findings to come.