I was a very happy one-year-old. You can see it in my baby pictures. Around age two the pictures changed to looking sideways while squinting. My mother told me that around age 2 she witnessed my father scaring me with a vacuum cleaner. As he laughingly taunted me with something that I was obviously terrified of, he told my mother that he was doing this to "make a man out of me."
At seven I took the "wrong" street home from Sunday school, arriving home on time. An hour later my paternal grandmother returned after going up the "right" street to meet me. She went to the cupboard, returned with a double razor strap, and spanked me with it for a very long time. She yelled something about paying attention to instructions. I never returned to Sunday school. "Normal" childhood occurred with many other intimidating incidences, and by age 10 I had developed into a frightened, lonely child with few pleasant memories of earlier years. During my eleventh year, my fifth grade teacher (God bless Theo S.) had the class sing every morning for 45 minutes.
"God respects me when I work but loves me when I sing"
School life slowly blossomed into fun and adventure with exciting new experiences every day. I began to change from a frightened child to a joyful, happy person. Eventually, my teacher had me sing for the entire student body. My a cappella voice filled a large auditorium. Life was exciting. My ("older won=man ") 12 year old girlfriend was chosen to be on television, my grades in school were nearly all "A"s. I loved learning. I have many pleasant memories of that year. Beginning junior high school (seventh grade) I excelled in athletics where I earned letters in basketball, track, football, gymnastics, and baseball.
A year later near age 12, my father, a policeman, was supporting a wife with a ten years life expectancy due to Parkinson’s disease, a developmentally challenged two year old son, a bad back, a bone growing out of the bottom of his foot, impending deafness, and a 12 year old (me) growing one inch per month with unbridled curiosity about life and energy to spare. As fathers (and policemen) will do, he sought to put some controls into his environment. Over the next few years, between ages 12 and 14, as a result of accumulating demerits by not making my bed, taking out the trash, feeding the dog or doing the dishes, I received from my father several beatings that went beyond the point where I could scream any more. I also experienced several random traumatic incidents involving my ability to breathe including being rendered breathless for about five minutes after a sledding accident. Also, soon after turning 12, I began to smoke cigarettes. I became a "closet" smoker, could no longer sing, became shy and nervous, and almost constantly in a hurry. My athletics dwindled to uninspired, low performance, pseudo participation.
At age 33, after enduring a numbing sense of loss from a devastating divorce and loss of the presence of my beautiful three-year-old son, I realized that my life felt very empty. I was at an all-time low. I remembered that singing used to make me feel great, but I could no longer hold or match a tone vocally and the attempt at singing brought forth feelings of fear, inadequacy and frustration. I had no idea then of the relationship between breathing, emotions, self esteem, personal power, spiritual experience or even stress management but I instinctively must have sensed that singing might give me some way to come back to how I used to feel twenty years before.
This began my return to the breath. I sought some singing teachers. Sadly, they were not what I needed. I did not know this but what I needed was to re-learn how to breathe. Took me 20 years but when I did that, singing became easy.
Goethe "Look at a man the way that he is, he only becomes worse. But look at him as if he were what he could be, and then he becomes what he should be."
I have been studying and working with the breath and breathing for many years now. At age 78 I feel much younger than my age, energetic, and full of plans for the future. The incident with the vacuum cleaner has been breathed through and largely resolved. Spiritual principles, relationships, passion and a sense of purpose guide my priorities. I most often feel worthwhile and am treating myself accordingly. Though some hearing loss challenges my patience, I am often at peace, even when those in my vicinity are not. I’ve even learned to love myself and forgiven my father. He is gone now, to his next expression but I know that he loved me. Through the breath I have grieved our unmet needs as father and son. What he did was done to him, and now there’s no one left to blame. His ring is one of my most valued possessions.
Breath is life. To me this is a given. The real issue is why, how, which, when. Remember, if your breathing is restricted, to that degree, so is your life.
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