I’m heading to San Diego in the first week of May to celebrate my friend’s last days of bachelorhood before he ties the knot this summer. While I’m in San Diego, I will also be marking an important day for me in my mindfulness journey. Here’s why.
I’ve expressed in my previous posts that I have embarked on a new path of mindful living in recent months with my change in jobs from a busy downtown litigator to the Alberta public service. September 2, 2014 is the day the next chapter of my journey began. My week now consists of a daily mindfulness meditation and yoga practice (30 minutes in my meditation space in the morning, and 30 minutes before bed), as well as a new approach towards mindful eating based on a paleolithic (‘paleo’) or ancestral diet of a variety of meat/non-meat proteins, vegetables, and a significant focus on ‘super foods’ such as avocados (I cannot say enough good things about how healthy this fruit is for us!).
The ‘wake-up’ call I received – and needed – to begin my journey of mindfulness was not on account of any spiritual revelation or visitation I experienced; nor did I receive it per se because of a change in my employment. It was sadly my diagnosis of arrhythmia of the heart and gout (in the big toe) that shook me up and left me to wonder “What have I done to myself these last 5 years?”
For those who do not know, arrhythmia is, in its most basic form, a type of irregular heart beat. I first noticed it three years ago in the middle of the night. My heart felt like it was racing at lightning speed, pounding out of my chest. I recall thinking I was having a heart attack. But, when I went to see the doctor, I was sent to a cardiologist who referred to me to another cardiologist for testing (ECG, MRI, a whole battery of tests ensured). Eventually, I was told I had a “regular” type of arrhythmia – meaning, the kind that could be controlled with medication and a decrease in stressors in my work life. I was 30 years old. I couldn’t come to grips with what the doctor uttered to me, to be frank. I simply took the medication and continued on working away at my law firm job.
Now, a word about gout. It is described as the disease of kings or “rich man’s disease”. In a nutshell, an attack of gout is brought upon by a build-up of uric acid (usually in the big toe) which crystallizes and is extremely painful to those afflicted with the condition (to the point of being immobile). I knew exactly what it was when I suffered my first attack last summer. Uric acids are naturally found in certain types of shellfish, red meat, alcohol and cheese – all things which I admit I indulged in excess these last several years.
In the last six months, in addition to my paleo approach to eating, I have consciously cut out all of the above, and also processed grains (i.e. bread) from my diet. I’ve had no further attacks since last summer. Nor have I experienced any issues with my heart. I can sleep through the night now without interruption (which is completely energizing). I feel my body becoming stronger and healthier each and every day. Indeed, with the introduction of my daily meditation and yoga practice (I am digging into the writings of John Kabat-Zinn and Joseph Goldstein at the moment), I look forward to welcoming the rise of the sun each morning with gratitude and joy. I look forward to seeing my old friends I haven’t seen in years (not by circumstance but by lack of engagement on my part in the past). I look forward (believe it or not) to getting into my car at lunch to drive down to the gym for a quick noon-hour workout to re-center myself and to focus on my mind, body and breath. I dare say I have a certain and clear awareness of my simply being alive that is honest and humbling; it is an awareness that I only now recognize (as though it was completely foreign to me) I was not capable of appreciating or knowing by my simply being in my days as a busy insurance litigator.
At this juncture, I view my arrhythmia and gout diagnoses not as impediments to my emotional, spiritual and physical health – but instead as the “wake-up” call I needed to start living my life mindfully, to take my seat at meditation as a “radical act of love” (to quote Kabat-Zinn) and to engage consciously in my practice of mindfulness with intention, humility and gratitude. Indeed, I believe that my (be)coming to mindfulness has saved my life in a very simple, but profound way: it has helped me to appreciate more and more the abundant and fragile beauty of this moment, in the here and now (which is already lost to the next moment that has just come, and has now gone), the one in which we are all alive and exactly as we are supposed to be.
I am looking forward to travelling to San Diego in May where I will be partaking in the FroYo 5K run around the San Diego Convention Center. The event is taking place on May 2 – exactly 8 months from my first day of work in the Alberta public service. This will be a personal milestone for me in my mindfulness journey. I’m grateful that I will be able to share the moment with one of my best friends.
I’d like to leave you with the simple message that wherever your journey takes you, remember to always listen mindfully to your body. We only have one body and one heart. And they never, ever, lie. If you do think your body or your heart is deceiving you, you’re not listening to them in the way that you must. I wish you all love, happiness, and hope.
p.s. here’s a short video promoting the FroYo run in San Diego where one of the song lyrics in the video is notably “You and I can fly so high; we won’t let this moment pass us by”:
p.p.s. The beautiful lyrics to James Vincent McMorrow’s song “And If My Heart Should Stop” are also apt to this discussion:
“And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop” by James Vincent McMorrow
The wind changed, the first day that you came through
Cut the corn, washed it clean