What happens when you can no longer breathe? I have said “That when it is my time to go, I will give up this life with grace.”It has been a blessing, a beautiful if at times messy masterpiece.I imagine myself like “Cool Hand Luke” staring up at the church ceiling shouting, “You can come and take this little Ol’ life any time you want it, Old Man!” But all this is a philosophy that comes easy to the philosopher. It changes when you are on the threshing floor and you are not sure if you will be able to draw the next breath. It turns out that I really want to live! It took me my whole life to realize that this life is not a curse. It took me my whole life, for my eyes to see the beauty that abounds throughout the creation and hides itself in the smallest form. I started to struggle seriously for breath while in flight,with the U.S. and my beloved community in the rear view mirror. My soul was filled with peace and gratitude, having witnessed my son become a man, with his beautiful bride and the beginning of a new life.Watching my friends and students, become teachers and leaders, grabbing the mantle of our beautiful dojo, a vessel of the heart where all are welcome, loved, and empowered.
Yet, now my body was struggling for air. There was a light inside, a place from which I watched this drama unfold, taking notes, learning, and growing. I spent a night in Amsterdam, up all night, using every Shaolin trick in the book to control my breath. Compassion for our Grand Master rose like a phoenix from my heart. I told myself, “For you, this is one night. This is what he faces every day and has for the past ten years.” The suffering of all who suffer was also close at hand. I made it through the night. I found relief from a Serbian angel the following day who walked me through the gracious and efficient Dutch health care system. I was able to meet with our good friends Sybelle. Arnold, and Bibi, without any sign of being worse for wear, or sleepless.
We returned to Florence and Suzanne kept asking if I was O.K. “I’m turning the corner” I would say. This became our joke. This corner was a cul-de-sac that kept returning to the same place. The breathing problem became worse. It all came to a head on my mother’s birthday.
I hadn’t slept for three days, I couldn’t lie down. I couldn’t sit down.I was on my feet, struggling, not knowing what to do. Then I came under attack. It was a coughing fit that brought me to the thought I may not be able to take the next breath. I used my inhaler each time as a rescue. When Suzanne awoke the next morning, I tapped out. Time to try out the Italian Emergency Room! We walked very slowly down the historic cobblestoned streets of the Renaissance.
In the shadow of the Duomo I received a severe attack. I stopped and held on to the pole of a crooked scaffolding. As I fumbled for my inhaler and fought the fear of death. A vision of a small 8 year old boy appeared before me like a Florentine ghost. It was me, the original asthmatic, the root of this crisis, he was looking me in the eye.
“I can’t breathe!” He said. “How am I supposed to breathe in a world, like this?’
I knew his dilemma well. Abandoned by his parents who chose drugs over him. Often wandering the streets alone, at two years old, three years old, and four. Then given away to foster parents whom spent their days and nights trying to expel some imagined sin from his soul. They were determined to beat, ridicule or shame it out of him. But even the boy knew they were only trying to chase away their own demons! That they themselves felt unworthy in their own skin, but made him and his little brother their whipping boys.
I found my inhaler which gave me a little more time. We continued to the hospital. I was on my way to be healed and find relief. But now I knew that it was this boy that needed the healing. We signed in at the emergency room. They made Suzanne leave the waiting room and I began to wait. I was there for a long time. The suffering around me gave me patience. The attacks came like a routine, with the mad fumble to get my inhaler in time! I didn’t know what the other patients were thinking but in such moments, the gnawing oppression of judgement melts in the vulnerability of being human.
Then the final attack came hard and brutal. But this time I came under the spell of a strong inner intuition. I felt I had to face it. I refused to reach for my inhaler. Although outwardly under siege, inwardly I took a Bruce Lee stance, looked death in the eye, and waved it forward with my fingers. “Come on death, what you got.” Or perhaps like a California woman said to her rapist “Not today, Mother@#*@!”
Something was trying to escape from my chest, I ran to the restroom. I painfully coughed up fluid and phlegm into the sink. As I saw it laying there an inner voice said. “The root of your unworthiness!” I drew a sweet breath. I could breathe again. I stood up I felt the center of this attack had been ripped out. It no longer had a stronghold. I opened my kindle and turned the page on the book I was reading. The next chapter serendipitously appeared as “Healing your inner child.” It was an exercise that walked me through the steps of sending love to the wounded boy on each step of his journey through pain, rejection, and fear. When this process was finished he stood before me joyously, knowing that he was loved, He was no longer abandoned or abused. I checked my own chest. In its once vacant center I felt light rush in. It stood me up. The source of this light was beaming, “You are my son, in whom, I am well pleased.” I checked my heart, the core of the unworthiness was gone. I knew that I would no longer have to fear this attack. It came at me several times but quickly wilted under my new found confidence and peace. My name was called and I went through all the treatments and tests and was released.
For those of you who know me, I have appeared to have been on fire my whole life.
Partly, I was chasing the light that lived in the heart of the boy before the world reigned its darkness on him. But partly I was running from this demon called “Unworthiness” who was relentless in stalking my every achievement. I had pulled at this weed many times, but it seems the root remained. I share this because in my experience I have seen that we all suffer the attack of this “spirit of unworthiness” to one degree or another. Some are defeated by it and live their lives under its authority. While others seem to have beaten it with their bravado and success. Yet, these are often the most burdened. They have just learned to mask the demon.
It is a lie, you are not unworthy! You are a beautiful child of the light, living in a world that has been trying to fix you since the day you were born. At some point in our lives, we all have to look deep within ourselves and remove this root and claim the inner light that is our birth right.
The journey to freedom is multi- dimensional and eternally unfolding. Today I am a little lighter, more humble, more of myself somehow, and most importantly I can breathe! I am alive!
In Gratitude, Si Gong