A Perspective on Life

by Chimezie Ogbuji

A bike helmet

A bike helmet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Train Tracks

Train Tracks (Photo credit: tony_donnelly)


A little under over an hour ago, I had a near death experience that I felt compelled to write about.  To a person who isn't aware of what I'm going through now or what I have been going through for many years, this might seem a bit hyperbolic.  However, I suspect that when this whirlwind of injustice I'm going through is finished, that today's events will be even more symbolic for me.

Lately, I've taken to bike riding every day near the Shaker parks where I am.  I ride about 5 miles one day, 3 miles the next day, and so on.  I'm 35, and getting to the point where my mind still thinks I'm as athletic as I used to be but my body is telling it otherwise.  My professional life had become very sedentary and the essential hypertension diagnosis that is the downside of the genes I've been blessed with has made me very self-conscious of my health.  Major changes in my life have given me the opportunity to rededicate myself to an active lifestyle.

Yesterday, my 12-year son and mom were teasing me that 5 miles is not that much and hardly a reason to have sore muscles afterwards.  So, I was swelling with alot of hubris as I was racing down the bike path that I take everyday, this afternoon.  I normally continue on the bike path and backtrack, however, as a result of the hubris, I decided (in a split second decision) to bear a very sharp right off the path towards a train track crossing.  My intention was to lengthen the path a bit and take a semi-off road path in the process.

I had a helmet on and some open-finger gloves and was blasting Outkast's 'Elevators (Me and You)' in my ear, feeling emboldened from the adrenaline pumping through me as I was peddling as hard as I could.  As I approached the train track crossing, I noticed there was a drop from the path to the wooden planks and I think - at the time - my intention was to hop down and back up.  However, about 10 feet from the crossing, I realized - in absolute horror - that the drop was much more significant and there was no way I was going to make it at the speed I was going.

I remember a shriek of horror escaping my lips - barely audible - and me panicking and pressing on the brakes.  Either I pressed only the front brakes or the back breaks were not as strong as they should have been, but the nearly fatal result was that my bike began to capsize forward in slow motion as I was thrown off the bike towards the crossing comprised of wooden planks and solid-iron train tracks.  I was flying towards the tracks at about 10 miles an hour and at an angle of about 45 degrees, head first.

My instinct kicked in and I tucked into a tumble, taking a majority of the impact on my left shoulder, then my helmeted head, and eventually my right knee.  I'm certain that were it not for the lucky angle in which I was thrown from the bike, my tuck, and the helmet which took a direct hit after my tumble, I would have been more seriously injured and probably would have been knocked unconscious.  This would have had fatal consequences, as I'll explain later. 

Now, when I started to get up, lying sprawled in the middle of the train tracks under the rays of a sun overlooking an incredibly beautiful day, I took measure of my injuries and was stunned to find out that the most damage I had sustained was a series of surface wounds on my left knee.  The back and left side of my head, which crashed into the floor of the train tracks, was not hurt in the way that would have led me to be concerned about a concussion.  In a previous life (so to speak), I had my skull bashed in such a way that I needed several stitches on my skull and was therefore aware of the sensation of a serious head injury.

However, the helmet did its job.  I got up, and my immediate emotions were: shock at being able to walk off the tracks, sheer joy from being okay, and then eventual embarrassment.   

I looked around and saw there was no one in sight.  I think no one witnessed this horrific bike accident.  I walked off the tracks to my bike, which was also relatively unscathed, with the exception of the back wheel which was wobbling a bit.  I gathered myself, pushed the bike to see if it was still functioning, and then froze in a chill as I heard the rush of a train ride through the spot where I was, no more than a minute or two after my incident.

I'm certain, that if I had been knocked unconscious, with no one to witness what happened or warn the oncoming train, there would have been yet another horrible chapter added to my life, except it would have been the last one.

I rode my bike gingerly to determine I hadn't broken anything, which is a good thing because I have no health insurance anymore.  I turned back around, stopped, got off my bike, and immediately sat under a tree to meditate first and then contemplate my near death experience. In retrospect, my life didn't flash in front of my eyes in the moments I realized I was tumbling at full speed towards the depressed crossing.  Rather, the only thought I had was: "I don't want to die, I have so much unfinished business!"

It wasn't until I sat down under that tree that it all hit me and I realized how petty all the craziness I have been going through is in contrast to all that you stand to lose when you die.  It was then that I realized also that the only other injury I had sustained was the shoulder that I tucked to break my fall and that took the initial impact.  

There was an ugly bruise on it, but nothing more.  The bruise, which doesn't show so much on skin as dark as mine, partially covered the inconspicuous tatoo I have had there since Halloween night in New Orleans, 1996 that reads: Umunne Kwenu.  It is a formal address given when speaking to a gathering of Igbos and literally means: 'Son's of my mother [my brethren], affirm yourselves.'  

So, I got up, smiled from the knowledge that I escaped a horrible death, called my mother to let her know what happened and rode my injured bike and body home.  The three lessons I take from this: 1) There is always a small victory in being able to walk away from a horrible situation 2) Bike helmets are life savers, for real 3) The fragility of life always has the power to wipe away hubris and almost any other such emotion in a split second.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Some Words about Meditation (The Matrix Analogy)

I've found this spot near shaker lakes where I can do my Tai Chi Wu forms. it is isolated from people, virtually untouched wooded parks. We seem to have quite a lot of those in the greater Cleveland area and I'm coming to appreciate them. This one is perfect because it is overlooking open water right below where the sun sets (as you can see in the picture) and all the best Tai Chi (QiQong) practitioners I have had suggest doing it outside. So, I did at 9am this morning because I needed to make some decisions and noticed my thoughts were getting cloudy and overrun with emotion.

Tai Chi, the philosophy underlying it, and meditation used to be just anecdotally interesting to me (some time in University of Illinois during a Non-western Literature class, I was introduced to the poetry of Lei Tzu and became interested) and then recently my hypertension has gotten to the point where it needs to be managed by medication and I have some difficulty doing so because I believe (at a purely intuitive level) much of high blood pressure (mine at least) has to do with the cumulative effect of living in an industrialized, modern society. Everything is fast paced, on the go. There is always some (mostly material) milestone we are always chasing.


I was never consciously aware of this state of mind. The idea of the Matrix (the movie plot) is where I was first able to concretely able to articulate it. The mind state of just being plugged in, living out a meaningless life (because the life is basically software simulating modern industrialized society in order to preoccupy our minds as our bodies are being used as an energy source unwittingly). Back around the time called 'The Warring States period' (about 600 years before Before Christ) there was a flourish of philosophical literature in Ancient China about the same idea and practitioners of meditation honed their art by making a science of describing the mental process of unleashing yourself from the mundane (they even actually called it 'the Matrix' which makes me wonder if that is where the Wachowski brothers got the idea or at least the term ). They formulated the state of hurried mind, overrun with the 'ten thousand things' as they called them. If you pay attention to how people obsessively text, chase polls, plug into the 24 hour news cycle you might see a pattern of society consumed by self-indulgence, accelerated chatter, and enslaved by technology. Even me, I'm guilty of obsessively scanning Facebook, posting short nothings about something I saw or reading about some other nothing someone else saw or heard about. Reminds me of when I used to play Counter Strike.

The basic idea of the particular kind of philosophy of meditation that I've been studying is to stop thinking (rather than to focus on a particular thing on its own). I told this to my son once, and he didn't understand what it meant to 'stop thinking'. Sounds impossible, right? It isn't. When you are able to become aware of this 'matrix' state of mind and pay attention to your breathing, you can *maneuver* your thought process until it comes to stop completely. There is a specific way you are supposed to breath. I'm not as good as describing it as the people who became practitioners of this, but - as I understand it - you breath like a fetus does; so the air goes to your lower abdomen and not your chest. You breath slowly, with your tongue in a special way (at the roof of your mouth) and your head suspends like you are a marionette and there is a string attached to the top of your head up to the ceiling. When you control the breathing and it is soft in that way, you start to 'turn the light around' - i.e., turn the focus of your perception on to yourself and your thoughts - by becoming aware of your thoughts, where they come from, and what they are - dismissing them one at a time as you do so.

You continue to extinguish your thoughts by becoming aware of them until you are no longer thinking and everything you do is done from pure intuition rather than from your 'conscious' mind, the one that is like Neo before he realized he was just plugged in. From what I understand, there are ways you can empirically verify you are in this state by seeing if you have a buoyant (intoxicated) feeling. Similar - in some sense - to how you might feel if you were hyperventilating and your pores are wide open (or you are on a narcotic or some other illegal drug). The other effect (and this is *my* conjecture) is that you aren't anxious and cease to remain a slave to the gossipy, text messaging, twittering state of mind that modern day society wires us to have (a sort of *de facto* Matrix).

Usually, when I have done it properly, my blood pressure easy drops from 140 over 90, to 110 over 70. I have to measure my BP periodically to determine if the water pill (essentially) I take is working and don't need to try something else (in some ways, my friend who is a Physician has told me, Hypertension is a Syndrome in the sense that it's etiology is not fully understood).

Tai Chi is the perfect calisthenic exercise for me because it is a completely coordinated physical exercise engineered to maintain a meditative state of mind, while strengthening and stretching the body, providing all the benefits you would get from a similar calisthenic exercise: Yoga. This might sound naive, but I'm confident if I am diligent in Tai Chi, meditation, physical activity, disciplined etc. I might get to the point where I don't need to take a water pill to manage my particular chronic disease. So, I have a legitimate motivation, despite the fact that I get the idea that my family members - who are devout Christians in the same evangelic manner that many First, Second generation Nigerians are - often subtly suggest that I'm spiritually 'lost' and obsessed with Chinese culture and in desperate need for 'God to take over my life and for me to give myself to Christ', etc. I have this conversation with people who love me frequently and more often than I can count. I'm always polite and never try to dig to deep into it, because to explain takes too long. But I wanted to try to explain it here for a change.

Meditation has changed my life and *my* testimony (I use the word in the same evangelic sense as they) is how I've been able to maintain after having to bury children after unspeakable tragedy (so much so that I have yet to talk about it on a blog where my brother and I write a ridiculous amount about alot of things). It is something you can't explain but can only experience. But meditation, and my interest in the writings during the period of the warring states period also has to do with the similarities between the times we live in and the times the authors and practitioners lived in. There is alot of chaos, confusion, false ideology and vast power struggles; some visible, most not. The philosophy underlying the calisthenic exercise of Tai Chi was born in a time of chaos when people were trying to understand how a people living subject to violent forces were able to maintain an ethos that made sense, gave them tools to live healthy, gave them a moral framework that required some amount of spiritual discipline, and steeled them against turbulent times.

As I've gotten better in understanding how to adapt to change, doing the fetal, meditative breathing thing, and become more intuitive about the Tai Chi core forms, I've been trying to find local places where I can practice the 'right way'. So, I found this spot that is perfect for it. I think I'm going to go back frequently.