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I have struggled with serious chronic asthma all my life. I started meditating and in general felt very relaxed. However a few years into the practice my asthma became very serious. One night I fell asleep and dreamt of crawling under a rock and falling asleep forever. I said to myself (in my dream), 'no, I must carry on'. I then woke up only to find myself hardly breathing. I think I almost died that night.

I want to keep meditating and dedicate myself to 'the way'. I feel great happiness and peace this way. I also don't want to be so at peace as to lose my life. I have allowed myself a level of anxiety ever since and wake up at night regularly which is important in order to take medications when I need it however I feel the anxiety of course means I'm no longer at peace. I have also tried to increase medication and move to a better environment but my health has not improved.

What is the buddhist way in this situation?

Possibly another way of phrasing this question is how much should I struggle to stay alive. I'm not scared by death but also I don't want to die.

I'm happy to hear perspectives from different practices and lineages.

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  • Apparently "sleep apnea" is fairly common. but because it happens during sleep people often don't know they have it. A doctor can diagnose it and maybe prescribe a solution.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 24, 2023 at 21:13
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    Thanks, I don't have sleep apnea, I have asthma. I have recorded my sleep a few times.
    – atreeon
    Jul 24, 2023 at 22:08

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While a peaceful and relaxed state of mind is a good effect from meditating, if one is too attached to this peaceful state, it can get in the way of progress. When the mind is too absorbed in a peaceful state, awareness is lowered resulting in a lowering of discernment. We need a level of discernment to know if there is still work to be done and generate the desire to pursue the work till its completion as illustrated by the practice done by the venerable Sariputta.

Your described experience about dreamt of crawling under a rock and falling asleep forever is, I suspect, a form of attachment. It might had arisen from a subtle (albeit subconscious) desire to be away from it all (the stress and difficulties in life). It may be very peaceful, relaxing and seductive but it is anatta and it will not last. You should recognise this clinging and see that it leads to suffering. The Buddha pointed out only Nirvana offers a lasting peace.

So then stay alive to practise the Dharma. As long as there is still work to be done in the Dharma, dying will not free you from samsara. I suggest you consider doing mindfulness practice consistently throughout your waking hours (this will not interfere with your normal meditation). Don’t have to force it instead use your asthma as a motivating factor. Take note when the condition is better or worse. Try to reflect on any possible changes that could have trigger the change. Experiment if certain exercises or food help to improve or worsen the condition. Notice if different types of environments have an effect or if stress level impact as well. See if different ways of breathing help to improve the condition both during meditation and when not.

There is so many things you can try, experiment and tease out to see how they impact your condition. The goal is to eventually sharpen the discernment, focus, alertness and awareness of the mind. We are not doctors but if you do eventually figure out a way or system or approach to improve your condition, you could also share your experiences with others for their benefits.

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Buddhism doesn't offer so much for chronic physical ailments, apart from non-attachment (acceptance) & endurance.

I watched a video yesterday that included this person, how he started heavy exercise due to chronic asthma.

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I once heard a doctor tell me that when someone is suffocating they feel anxious (they were explaining why they would prescribe an anxiolytic) and so, I take it that anxiety is a normal, physiological symptom or "sign" of suffocation.

So to answer the question in the title, I guess that yes it is "ok" to feel anxious, like it is "ok" to feel pain if skin is burned or cut.

See this answer which begins,

According to my teacher, the enlightened attitude is to see pain is information

If I understand the question, you say that when you experience the feeling of anxiety then you use that as information that it's time to wake up and take meds.

That is "skillful", isn't it?

Plus I guess that the feeling of anxiety is a feeling and therefore part of the five aggregates.

Something else that may be worth reading again is DN 16. Two things I remember from that, one is that the Buddha stayed alive because of "resolve" (and I think it was because of resolve as well that he would exit jhana state), the second was that it was during "signless" meditation that he was free from pain.

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