“Your breath is the porthole into the now.” – Deepak Chopra

It’s been a little over 2 years since my mother’s double lung transplant. In Teach, Breathe, Learn I wrote about my mother’s lung condition and how her courageous journey has made me even more grateful for my breath.

Beyond the classroom, in my personal life, I’ve experienced how the practice of using the breath and body as an anchor to come back to myself with compassion and care can help alleviate suffering. A few years ago my mother was diagnosed with a severe lung disease; in less than a year she lost more than half of her lung capacity and had to go on supplemental oxygen. It was a stressful period of my life; soon after my mother’s diagnosis I had to make my big move back to the United States from India. Within months, doctors informed my family that my mother’s only hope for survival was a double lung transplant. It was a scary time. I had only recently discovered the power of my own breath, and my mother, the one who breathed for me when I was in her womb, the one who brought me the breath of life, was now quickly losing her own ability to breathe. During the months in which we waited for an organ donor, I’d remind myself that in a very real way my mother genetically lives inside me; somehow when I breathe, she breathes too. So with each mindful breath, I sent her love and worked with my fear and sadness about her condition. Being able to soothe and comfort myself while resting in acceptance of my mother’s sickness helped me manage an incredibly difficult situation that I had previously had no way of handling. Mindfulness practice had also given me the tools to really be present with my mother in a way I wasn’t capable of being before. Thankfully, my mother eventually received a donor and now, more than a year after her successful double lung transplant, she’s a walking miracle of medicine. While I’m grateful for my mother’s new lease on life, I’m also more aware of the impermanent nature of all things. Mindfulness enables me to fully savor and cherish the time I have with her.” (p. 24 – 25)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to make one of my mom’s dreams come true, she got to see Oprah Winfrey in San Jose on the “Life You Want Tour.” I feel deeply blessed that my mother helped create conditions for me to truly live the life I want—a life of deep meaning, adventure, boundless love and service. The least I could do was have her experience this weekend of inspiration with Oprah and her trailblazers (Deepak Chopra, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell, & Iyanla Vanzant). I’m grateful that this time has provided her with some new insights as she charts the path for the rest of her life at age 62.

The two-day experience felt like a combination of church and dance party. Throughout the weekend Oprah had all 10,000 participants go through exercises where they visualized what they wanted for their most Beloved, recognized the importance of using uplifting, positive language, and analyzed their life as it is now to vision what they want it to be. Oprah’s main theme is best expressed in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” In order to truly connect to our deepest calling we must commune with spirit and to do that we have to drop into the silence. In the words of Rumi, “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” Again and again the participants were reminded that our spirit guides are not difficult to find and impossible to lose.

I had the pleasure of meeting Deepak Chopra with a small group of Thich Nhat Hanh’s student in India back in 2009. Now, with an American audience he offered a few Spiritual Laws to live by:

  • The world is a reflection of your inner state, understand the essence of relationship
  • Intentions are not for yourself but for the common good
  • Learn to center yourself in the true soul beyond the ego (the gab between your thoughts—meditation) You can use a mantra to do this, a mantra is just an instrument of the mind that goes beyond the mind much like the gathas from Thich Nhat Hanh that I share in my book
  • Free yourself from emotional toxicity, hostility, resentment, jealousy, guilt, shame, and fear. A strategy for doing this is an updated version of the acronym I learned in my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training at UMASS medical school to teach MBSR: STOP, S = Stop, T = Take at least 3 breaths, O = Observe what’s happening inside, P = Proceed with compassion, love, and peace
  • Keep yourself healthy: joyful, energetic body; loving compassionate heart; reflective, alert mind; lightness of being—RAISE YOUR VIBRATION

Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame talked about the Heroes Journey and in her sharing of the QUEST I saw so clearly that the five years I spent in India on a spiritual adventure had all the elements of the Heroes Journey (Crossing the Threshold, Dark Night of the Soul, & The Great Battle where (thanks to the teachings of my Beloved Teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh) I emerged victorious. Gilbert’s talk resonated with a talk I heard four years ago in New York City with Marianne Williamson and Robert Thurman speak in New York City. Williamson’s Course in Miracles rests on the fundamental teaching that in life we always have a choice between LOVE and FEAR. For me, mindfulness helps me understand my fear and work with it skillfully so I can ultimately choose LOVE.

“May all your storms be weathered”

Iyanla Vanzant gave a funny and moving talk where she emphasized the importance of looking at one’s life as your friend and having a daily spiritual practice because this is what tells you what to hold on to and what to let go of. You can’t force yourself to do something that doesn’t matter to you and our most treacherous prisons are in our minds—life doesn’t play tricks on you your mind does. Good friends are the ones that tell you what you don’t want to hear and courage is doing what you need to do before you are forced to do it. Life will tell you what you need to hear, you just have to be willing to listen. Life is always telling you the truth, your job is to recognize and accept it.

I unfortunately missed Rob Bell’s talk but from what my mother shared with me he spoke a lot about how our human bodies are living miracles and going through suffering is essential for deep awakening and true appreciation of life. Mindfulness deepens the true appreciation and gratitude essential for deeply meaningful living.

During Rob Bell’s talk I was sharing a precious moment with Oprah’s BFF, Gayle King. I shared with Gayle that I was a student of Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) and that Thay was in the hospital. As soon as I shared that she expressed her love for Thay and that she would let Oprah know how we are all praying for his recovery. As I sat through the workshops I held Thay deeply in my heart, bringing awareness to my breathing and sending him love. The latest update I heard was that he suffered from a brain hemorrhage last Wednesday but is showing signs of recovery. Life is precious, and Thay’s mindfulness teachings have given me the tools to live deeply, connect authentically, and open my heart fully—these are the ingredients to living the life I want 🙂

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s closing heartfelt sharing to Oprah she offered something she read on Facebook when Nelson Mandela passed away, “If you have been so fortunate to live during the time of Mandela do not waste his teachings.” She then shared that “If you have been so fortunate to live during the time of Oprah Winfrey, do not waste her teachings.” With Thay’s current medical condition I think it’s most appropriate to commit to never wasting his teachings. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to him and for all he’s done for the world.

“If your cup is small, a little bit of salt will make the water salty. If your heart is small then a little bit of pain will make you suffer. Your heart must be large.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Let’s all grow our hearts as wide as the world!


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