One Last Breath

By Kevin Wood of

With his final exhale, he slipped away.

At that moment the world ceased to exist.

I could have been floating. More likely it was a feeling of desperation and overwhelming exhaustion. Utter sadness. An inability to comprehend the situation.

Even though I was surrounded by friends and family, I still felt completely alone. One moment they’re there. The next moment they’re gone. The body remains, but they’ve left.

Having the direct experience of death can alter the course of your life. The changing from one form to another. The last exhale. The endless stream of tears connected to a person who’s no longer there for you. All the love in the world can’t cancel out the black hole that death brings into your life.

Having your heart broken through loss forces all of your heart’s contents to pour out. Good or bad, painful or meaningful. The stream flows. When you block this stream you bring endless amounts of suffering into your life. Letting it flow can be the hardest thing you’ll ever learn, but well worth it.

Death is taboo. Talking, or thinking about death isn’t socially acceptable. This makes your forced transition period even harder to comprehend.

Watching my dad die brought an extreme sense of urgency into my life.

With that came an incredible feeling of the need to make every moment more meaningful. It didn’t happen right away, but in the months and years that followed the trivialities of life continued to fall away.

Soon, I was only left with myself, alone with my truth. I didn’t want to acknowledge it for a while. Starting a new life in the midst of so much turmoil didn’t make sense.

What I didn’t realize is that, in that instant, I had changed.

I had set down all the buckets, books, and weights I was balancing and forgot to pick them up again. I took a step to the left and started off in a new direction. I began to wander.

My truth was shouting at me as loud as possible, but I wasn’t ready to listen, at least not yet.

I wanted to keep what I had collected: my possessions, my friends, my identity. My life.

When life smacks us across the face, we have two options: run and hide, or step up to the plate.

I chose to run.

I retreated from the world into myself. Who would have thought my period of greatest growth came through the greatest personal disaster I had ever experienced?

The outer world didn’t exist to me. I found solace in the hallowed halls of meditation. Hours and hours on the cushion; trying to make sense of this complex world, looking for a stable thread of deeper meaning I could grasp on to.

Some call it seeking – To me it felt like hiding. It was easier to process and understand when I was the only being I had to take care of. Little did I know this time spent nurturing myself was to help me prepare for my next big step.

Through all of this my inner world collapsed. My status chasing dreams, my aspirations based on the ideals of others, my needing to feel important. It all fell away. I cracked open.

Spilling my guts onto the highway…

I hit an emotional valve and I was leaking. A crude wake up call to the life I was living. A life designed by someone else. The facts were written on the wall and all I could do was look away.

How could I have been wrong for so long?

When faced with the truth, especially if it shows us a different path, we do everything we can to ignore its reality. To ignore is easier than to face the reality of life-altering situations. We prefer our constructed, imaginary version over the raw, broken reality.

Through this journey I found support from those I love; the ones who pushed and pulled me out of the dark to face the world.

The decision is always on our shoulders, but sometimes when we’re in so deep, it takes a swift kick from someone that loves us to help face the light again.

It takes courage to come back, to show our face to the world again. We are different. We’ve had our insides ripped out. Most people can’t understand.

How can you truly open your heart to the world again, when you feel as if your heart is already gone?

Strive to remain open.

You may need pliers at first to keep your heart from flying shut at the first sign of pain. It’s too easy to run and hide.

The real test comes in holding your ground. In staying and fully experiencing the world again.

The first step is the hardest. After that, momentum builds…

You start to live like a warrior, saturated in the philosophies of ancient traditions.

It is the warrior, who in times of battle can keep one eye on the task at hand and the other on his open heart. The fierceness toward living must always be there, even after tragedy.

Personal disasters have the potential to re-define our lives. They feel worse than the wind being knocked out of your stomach, a thousand times over.

Still, each time you get up and stand proud.

That is real courage.

You must develop the muscles of resiliency and adaptability. Life is hard, but there’s also an underlying beauty that pervades all struggle. The silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel, whatever you want to call it, it’s there.

Without the struggles, the lows, and the swimming in the depths, you’ll never reach the heights you’re meant to reach. Opposites pervade all existence.

It takes immense courage to face the darkest parts of your ‘self.’ To deal with the after effects of running headfirst into the brick wall that is reality.

Building your life back from scraps is the task of a lifetime. Life suddenly matters more, so you have to find a way to build a puzzle out of all the new pieces you’ve found.

Every single day I add a new piece and continue to build. I continue to heal. I continue to grow.

For this I am thankful. My time spent in my own darkness has given me the ability to see more light.

When you’ve been swimming in darkness for so long, it can seem like you’ve lost the ability to see the light. But it is never gone forever. The light switch is always just one flick away.

Become like the phoenix and rise from the ashes of your own disaster.

Use your pain as fuel to drive forward into your bliss. No dip can last forever. [click to tweet]

Remember, it is always more worthwhile to face the reality of your situation, no matter how painful, than to repress aspects of your own world. Play with life fully, even the jagged edges.

When you fully give yourself to your experience, a beautiful thing begins to happen. You heal, your heart grows wider, and you begin to learn. The painful times become another teacher. Maybe the most forceful teacher you’ve ever experienced.

In the end you are left with a lesson you’ll never forget.

So I urge you: Engage with your darkness and play through your rough patches.

Have the courage to face the world as it stands, right now, in this moment.

There will never be another one like it.

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Kevin Wood is a writer and coach who helps people connect with their hearts to live a life of freedom. His stories and programs are all geared towards one thing: building a generation of heart-centered warriors. You can connect with him at Counter Culturist and begin to build your path to freedom with The Inward Revolution Manifesto.