I often tell people that I learned more about pranayama (yogic breathing) through suffering from asthma and allergies for years than from anything else. A story I tell less often is how I learned to find peace and serenity in meditation while under mortar and rocket barrages in Baghdad a few years ago.
In a past life while working a short stint at the US Embassy in Baghdad (long story…), I used to be awakened in the morning by an alarm telling us that rockets and mortars were inbound to our little collection of trailer homes behind the embassy along the Euphrates. This usually meant rolling out of bed and onto the floor to get under my armored vest…basically into balasana (child’s pose) with my arms tucked under the vest - to wait and wonder if some shell would come crashing through the tin roof of my trailer and ruin my day.
Sometimes these alarms would go off while I was in the shower or sitting on the toilet. So, my roommate and I made a deal that if either of us was hit while on the can, we’d pull the other off so we wouldn’t go out like Elvis…but I digress.
It was during those mornings (and often late afternoons) while hearing rockets whizzing overhead and hearing the crash of mortars landing nearby that I learned how to find inner peace. Powerless to do anything but crouch and wait (perhaps even to die), I learned to let go and try not to be attached to the outcome of the situation but rather to tuck inside and be one with my own breath. At first it was a way to overcome the fear of hearing the crashes getting closer and closer to me (before they stopped) but later it became a way to access a much deeper level of meditation and get a better glimpse of my true self.
Why is it that it takes such drastic situations to make us truly focus inward and strip away the things which block us from connecting to our true selves? Why did my mind wander so in quiet rooms back home but find such focus in a war zone of all places?
Ever since those experiences in Baghdad, I’ve been able to check out and meditate anywhere. In the middle of a busy airport? No problem! Sitting next to a crying baby? Piece of cake! In a beautiful mountain meadow? Now you’re talking!
Sure, we’d all like to have that serene place to meditate or practice yoga but in an ever-louder, ever-crowded world such places are far harder to come by. Of course, that place within ourselves is always available, provided we remember to look for it.