By Mike Williams
I’m not sure how my silhouette in frosted glass can send that type of message, but it was a kind statement I appreciated.
Walking into the meeting, I was greeted by the vendor, “I could tell that was you by your swagger.” This caught me off guard; I had to ask what he meant. “There’s just this way you walk that says everything is going to be alright.”
Once, many years ago I called myself a Buddhist. I had no idea what the sutras were saying, but I sure thought I did. I had read the books and dug beat poetry, so I was a Buddhist right? I even had an Alan Watts beard going because the wannabe philosopher was just begging to be recognized. In the meantime, I was also well known for my temper. It wasn’t unheard of for me to have outbursts of obscenities or to throw a chair or two now and then. If there was a swagger, it was angry and violent. Not very Buddhist of me, was it?
Some people read the right passage. Some people meditate. We all find our way.
For the angry, violent man I was, it only fits I would find my way through crisis circumstances. My blood pressure was at a level with a very high risk of a stroke. My heart hurt as it fought its way out of my chest. With blurry vision, I took the first nitroglycerin. It had no effect. My pressure was still climbing. I was having trouble breathing when I took the second nitroglycerin.
I heard them call for crash carts, “Code Blue in room 3!” When I woke up, there was a nurse who simply said, “You passed out.” In my mind, I died, and the doctors fought hard to bring me back to life. This isn’t a ghost story. I didn’t die; I blacked out. The situation I was in wasn’t as dire as I perceived it to be. In reality, after a few minutes, my blood pressure normalized.
I wasn’t out that long, yet everything had changed.
The obvious conclusion is I went through some sort of spiritual awakening. After all, I had spent my life pretending to be a spiritual guy with deep understanding. Instead, I had decided I went crazy. Living with mental illness all my life, anxiety wasn’t something new. Had I not been so scared, I might have realized it was an anxiety attack. It doesn’t matter though. Whether it was anxiety or my death, the result was a radical change in how I think. Faced with the finality of this life, I found a different perspective on what matters. Those things that made me angry, those things don’t matter.
None of the things I thought were so important mattered to me anymore, yet everyone around me still cared about them. I work in a high stress, high consequence job. When things go wrong, it can get very bad very fast. “But did anyone die?” That became my go-to statement.
Who is this new guy? It was funny watching people bring me bad news, cringing as they waited for my outburst. The outbursts aren’t there anymore. It just doesn’t matter. What matters are moments. It’s belly laughs with children. It’s sand between your toes on a perfect summer day. It’s this moment you and I just shared. It’s not what was, what can be, or all those horrible “what if” scenarios we make up in our minds. It’s what’s happening right now.
If this is crazy, then I’ll take it.
I returned to my Buddhist studies, and they make sense. I wish they weren’t written so confusingly, but I guess that’s the point. We’ll understand when we’re are ready to. Finally, I am. Everything is going to be alright.
And I’m keeping the beard. Without it, my round head looks like Charlie Brown.
Mike Williams and his children solve the problems of the world from their front porch swing. Fortune brought him to his greatest teacher, a profoundly disabled child who taught Mike the value of quiet observation and deep belly laughs. Though he has spent his life studying the teachings of the Buddha, it wasn’t until his son taught him the value of being aware and in the moment, that any of those teachings made sense to him. A longtime advocate for mental health, Mike uses these observations to help others understand that the world is a lot bigger and more beautiful than we like to think it is.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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