the Zen of sneezing
Who can’t appreciate a good sneeze? It is satisfying in a very fundamental, visceral sense. As the sneeze arrives, your whole being signals its imminence, bending with anticipation toward a good outcome. I don’t need to tell you the pain and disappointment of an aborted sneeze. Equally abhorrent is the distorted or misdirected sneeze. The sneeze that dispels some or all of its force against the throat and tonsils is a cruel mockery of a fine thing.
When done correctly the sneeze is divorced entirely from act of will. It seems to overtake you, arising from deep within the bowels and transferring its energy without loss or inefficiency through the lungs and out the nose. I think it is appropriate to think of well-formed sneezes and non-well-formed sneezes. A well-formed sneeze is like the proper execution of a Japanese tea ceremony – pure intention leading to pure act. A non-well-formed sneeze is not only inelegant but ugly and useless.
I had a professor who said that in her private practice much of dealing with anxiety was teaching people to breathe correctly. The anxious mind is so overwrought that it seeks to control even this simple, fundamental act, trying to abscond with the involuntary breathing muscles and creating a disgusting hybrid of forced breath that compounds stress and anxiety. So with sneezing. Control must be relinquished, though it is difficult to do so. As delightful as a sneeze is, one can not coax it. It can be invited, but not pressured. One can take a posture of openness and readiness, and that is all. A sneeze which is allowed to mature in its own time is a marvel. It neither hurries nor waits.
Thus the benediction ‘God bless you’ is appropriate only in the case of a non-well-formed sneeze, for such sneezes are indicative of the mind which has not subjugated itself to the rule of Christ. Such a mind seeks to terrorize heaven and determine not only the ‘day and the hour’ but also the manner of events that are beyond our control. But the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. One can only prepare the way and abide in patience and attention.