The chance to be alive and breathing

Subject line comes from the song, “Parabola” by Tool.

Nearly eight months ago, J., a former co-worker of mine (and one could argue, employee, as I was his manager for a brief period) committed suicide. We weren’t super close, though when another former co-worker/employee told me he died, I wasn’t surprised when she told me the details of his death.

We weren’t super close – it’s hard to be that, sometimes, when there are shifting management roles. I was a supervisor when he was hired and I remember helping to train him. We talked briefly in the two years I knew J. that he struggled with depression. I shared with him that, in my own Stephanie way, I understood. Depression was not new to me and is something I have had my own battles with.

Over the past nearly-eight-months, I have often thought of him. Of his laughter, of the way he would work to interact with our customers, and the stories he would tell. I would swear that I see him on the streets (though I now live nearly a thousand miles from where I knew him).

A former yoga teacher of mine, at the beginning of our practice, would say to give up the practice, make it into a sadhana, to offer our time on the mat as a spiritual practice. For me, there are links to Tonglen practice, the practice of giving and taking. Pema Chodron describes tonglen as one way to open up to the pain of others, to create compassionate space around difficult issues. Even though we weren’t close, this former co-worker’s suicide is something I have been carrying with me.

Four Noble Truths
Four Noble Truths (Photo credit: Miguel Ramirez)

Recently, as I have been training for a 10 mile race, I have been thinking about the convergence of these two items – J.’s life and death, and sadhana. Yesterday was my last long run (10 miles) before the race. As I was struggling through the last three miles, I kept thinking about struggles that we, as humans, face on a daily basis: depression, anxiety, loss, grief, death, suffering. This life is not easy. As one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism states, life is suffering. How do we sit with suffering? How do we acknowledge our own suffering and that of others? How do I offer myself to this world, know that if I choose to live fully and openly, it will probably hurt? How do I continue to do that, and remain open?

Because J. has been on my mind so much, and there are many people in this world who deal with the darknesses of depression, I have tried to begin offering up my running as a practice – as a way to open my heart. With every breath, every step, every mile, I try to remember this chance to be breathing, and to breathe in what I can of the pain and breathe out the meditation of running… to try to send what I receive in my practice out to others.

In that sense, when I run, I do not run for myself. I run for what I may be able to send out into the world.

If you are currently experiencing thoughts of suicide,
please know you are not alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ~ 1-800-273-8255.


4 thoughts on “The chance to be alive and breathing

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