Sometimes we follow a path in life, unsure of where it’s taking us. And then at some point, we see why the road we have chosen was the right one. This usually happens in unexpected ways, as was the way for Dave, a 51-year old man who is using the breathing and mindfulness techniques that he learned years ago to help him deal with recovery after his stroke.
About ten years ago, Dave needed to change something. He was at a low point in his life. Having suffered from depression and anxiety since childhood, he had tried many different medications and therapies to combat these conditions, but the feeling he was having at this point was more serious. He was experiencing suicidal thoughts, so decided to try something a little more unconventional and turned to meditation and mindfulness training.
Breathing and mindfulness helped Dave get through a rough time in life
Dave found a local Buddhist church and became close with his teacher who brought him deeper into the practice and invited him to come along on retreats. Dave became so interested in this practice and so involved that he ended up quitting his job as a chef to practice mindfulness full time. For six years, he lived at Buddhist monasteries. Dave says that learning how to be mindful and how to breathe saved his life at that time. He got to a point where he felt he learned enough to bring his knowledge and experience back home. He opened up his own yoga and meditation center and started to help others.
However, his life took him on another path, and he went back to the restaurant business and started to cook again. One day, while at work, he began to feel bad. He couldn’t really describe what was going on, but the next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital unable to speak, unable to see, and unable to move his right hand or leg. Dave suffered a thrombotic stroke in the left side of his brain that day. And the only thing he could do when he awoke was to breathe.
How focusing on breathing helped Dave regain functions after the stroke
He could feel that his brain wasn’t really working, but he could draw on his mindfulness training and breathe…in…out…in…out. Breathing saved him before and he knew it could help him again. He knew that he could rely on the energy that breathing created to help him get through this challenge. To regain movement in his hand, he focused on breathing in and out and looked deep into his brain. He used the energy that came from mindfulness to move his hand about a day or two after the stroke. He applied this also to his leg and was able to walk again after about three days.
Dave’s stroke was only about eight months ago, and he is still working on his recovery. He continues to apply mindfulness to his rehabilitation efforts. Believing that breath is the spirit of everything we do, he draws on this as he relearns to read and write. As he speaks, you can almost hear how deliberate each word is. He admits that speaking does not come easily to him yet, and he must apply mindfulness to every word. But he sees every moment as an opportunity to practice. He learned in the monasteries that everything is a practice. And he says that he must apply this principle now to every task, requiring him to draw on his breath.
Living in the moment with a clear sense of purpose
Because of his learned ability to live in the moment without judgment, Dave has had a few realizations. The one thing that became very clear to him after his stroke was that we are all here to love each other. This is, in fact, the mantra he uses to ground himself and get him through each day. And the other is that everything we are looking for is inside of us, and he remembers this every stage of his recovery process. And as he moves forward, something is strongly telling him that his duty is to now reach out and help others who have also suffered a stroke. But until he’s ready for that day, he remembers to breathe and to use the healing energy it creates.