From the Atlas of My Experience Installation
Breathing in. Breathing out.
Breathing in. Breathing out.
I concentrate as I sit meditation in my yoga class.
I breathe through my nose and out through my mouth. I feel the curl of current as it runs over the tip of my nose into my nostrils and down into my lungs filling my chest, expanding my diaphragm. I sit like this each night of the week, and many early mornings feeling the strength of air push nature’s molecules of cleansing wind through my body. The yogis call it prana or life energy.
I use the winds of my breath to push away distressing thoughts to calm the waters of my mind. To focus a specific thought into a single drop of dew falling into a thimble and pour that idea onto a seed to take action later to make those dreams real.
This was my pranayama practice before. Before I got sick.
But I use the same practice to focus on a poster on the wall while the hematologist tries again to draw my blood to prove that I’m healthy enough to receive chemotherapy that day. Once the needle is in, I watch her fill three vials with dark red liquid, my life force one with the gray and maroon stopper, one with a yellow stopper and one with the pink stopper. This is or weekly ritual and days when it takes more then two tries or some holiday. I leave with a little pin, a plastic heart, an Easter egg and I feel like a brave little girl.
I repeat my breathing with the nurses. I focus on Simon’s eyes loosing myself in those bright blue orbs that usually moisten as he watches my dark brown irises condense, squeeze as the kind nurses take their turns at the back of my hand and warn me that they will attempt to find a vein that will survive the puncture without collapsing or rolling away.
It is easier when I breathe with Simon rather then just looking away from their work. Sometimes I wiggle my toes as nurse Anne told me to do, sometimes this tricks my skin into becoming butter instead of stone. I learn that all my breathing techniques do not work when I stare at the red sharps container with the skull and cross bones on it. For it reminds me that it is poison going through the tubes, poison to kill the cancer and all other fast growing cells in my body like hair and nails, white then red blood cells, the marrow where the blood regrowth can happen all of it poisoned. As the treatments progress and walking around the block with Paula first seems challenging and then nearly impossible at our old pace until one day I have to say, “You need to slow down. I can’t go that fast.” I just can’t get the air deep enough into my soul to keep up.
And looking into her blue eyes, we know I’m really sick. We can no longer know that I will get better, I see the fear in her eyes a reflection of mine and I decide I can do it. I breathe deeper and fan my fire with a little anger at my stupid body for being so slow. To let this stuff effect me… but inside I still quake and I will for nearly 18 months while I concentrate on my breathing and struggle with how hard it has become to change my blood pressure, my mind, to know that I am improving day by day.
It is that full 18 months later, my hair regrown and skimming my shoulders when I look into blue again knowing that I’m going to be okay.
For the first time, I felt truly myself before I stopped being angry at my body for betraying me but instead walk from the Port Authority to 5th Ave. wearing my backpack filled with my overnight necessities and I look up at the patch of sky between the sky scrapers and let the tears stream down my face in gratitude because I wasn’t out of breath, I wasn’t struggling. I was just going along with the crowd, not scouting for a safe place to rest, not wanting to shout slow down, feel your breath.
Each one is precious as you breathe in and breathe out.