If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Holotropic Breathwork these past 10 days in Germany, it that I am a violent person. Violence was all around me when I was born. My mother almost died, I heard and as a result, she suffered post-partum depression and I was shipped out to live with my grandmother in another state of the USA. I don’t remember any of this, but you see and begin to feel things when you take part in a program like this Breathwork.
My father was violent at times. You couldn’t have a dainty coffee table in our living room. Achilles Contoveros would smash it with his fist when he got emotional. I don’t know how many cheap wooden tables we went through when he got excited. It reminded me of my Italian friends who told me their families did nothing but yell at each other at home!
A Catholic priest taught me how to box when I was just 10-years-old. The German minister would put gloves on me and set up a match with a kid two years my senior but who was my same height. I held my own and never once cried out when he hit me upside the head and hurt me.
I got hit upside the head when I reached my teenage years. Each April, I’d end up with a black eye after getting into fights whenever I acted out trying to get the attention of girls. Some bully would call me names and I’d never bite until he called me the one name: “faggot.” We’d really get into it and I’d give almost as much as I got.
Soon, I found myself learning to fight in the army. I was good with a weapon and someone saw some leadership skills and invited me to attend Officers Candidate School where I became the second youngest second lieutenant in our graduation class. I became an officer and a gentleman at the ripe old age of 20 and was leading men in a combat zone in Vietnam just a short year later. I guess you can’t get any more violent than that.
Next came my fight with authorities as a muck-raking newspaper journalist, trying to dig up the dirt on bad government officials. I relished a good story pointing out malfeasance whether it was at the township level or a born-again Christian church that had ripped off the followers. I continued my rebel ways while working as a union organizer and then enrolling in law school to be a labor lawyer.
God had other plans and I got a D in Labor Law. I then studied an area where I’d end up serving the most violent parts of our society. Criminal defendants in a city called Philadelphia. I once tried 10 jury trials in less than 10 weeks and hardly ever requested continuances in my legal career. I fought with all my might. I didn’t know any other way to serve someone’s Constitutional Rights.
Violence hit home about 10 years ago. My wife fell down a flight of stairs in our home, suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury which she never recovered from. Post-Traumatic Stress from the war cropped up and soon I faced what psychologist called care-giver burnout. I placed my wife in a nursing home and turned to the study of spiritual things where I practiced Buddhism and the study of the Kabbalah.
Demons still clanged to my new way of life I couldn’t release my attachments from so many things I should have learned to have non-attachment for. I felt so much like a character the Buddha met who was one of the most violent men the Enlightened One ever came across.
The man’s name was Angulimala. He was cursed by a false prophet who convinced him to create a necklace of thumbs to reach liberation. Angulimala had to remove the thumbs from people, often killing them in the process. By the time Buddha met up with him, he had put 999 thumbs together.
The Buddha helped the violent man to see the light and to renounce his negative actions. He accepted the dharma teachings and became so devout in his practice that he was able to achieve an Awakening in one lifetime.
No, I don’t foresee that for me. All I want is to develop more skillful means to express myself in nonviolent ways so that I don’t scare off people with harsh and blunt words. I intend loving kindness and must choose words to accommodate that feeling. I need a filter and I hope I learn to stay grounded enough in Breathwork to stay within the boundaries of love.