When Cheri Huber was thirty years old, she pointed a gun at her stomach and pulled the trigger.
The doctor was at her bedside when she awoke. Smoking a cigarette without tapping the ash, he leaned over her. “You need to figure out why you are still alive,” he said.
Huber recounts that experience in her book, How to Get from Where you Are to Where You Want to Be. I was reading that book, recommended by a friend (who used the book to get out from under $15,000 in credit card debt), while I was traveling for work at the end of my pregnancy with Leone.
Huber’s failed suicide brought her to Zen Buddhism and was the catalyst for her to change her life.
One of the most radical assertions in the book is that if you count your breaths from one to ten for five minutes every day your life will change. Her students who have been practicing Zen for a long time ask when they can move onto something more advanced.
But Huber says there isn’t anything.
Count your breaths.
For five minutes.
Unfortunately, I got into a ferocious argument with the taxi driver in New Orleans who was trying to rip me off and I mistakenly left Huber’s book in his cab so I haven’t actually finished reading it. While he and I were exchanging angry words, I was barely breathing. My Type A personality is to Zen what high blood pressure is to good health. Still, I started counting breaths every day, usually in the bathtub, to get ready for Leone’s birth.
Now that the baby’s here it’s harder for me to carve out time to meditate but I’ve been trying to count my breaths anyway. I almost always manage to make it through the first ten breaths before my son calls, “Mommy, come wipe me,” my daughters need help with their homework, or Leone does a projectile spit-up.
That’s, say, 50 seconds of counting out of the 300 I hope to one day be doing.
Counting your breaths changes your parenting. It changes your life.
I think it might be working, 17 percent worth anyway.