The darkness enveloped me.
Only six and I knew if I moved I would die. My only hope was to focus on the thin line of light in the distance.
This is part of the story I told myself to cope. This was one of the nightmares I lived vividly until about my 14th year. It wasn’t until recently that the stillness I conjured as a story to save myself would, well, save me.
For years I wondered why such an evil nightmare would torment me. It wasn’t until only a few years ago that I realized the dream was more than that; it was a constant recollection. You see, growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, strict, corporal discipline was in order at all times. My parents did not do this, but those who would sometimes watch us did. My fault was being an overactive boy, a hyperactive boy. This was dealt with by frequent spankings, often and hard. When watched by others in the church, and when the spankings didn’t work, I was made to face my greatest fear: the darkness.
The stillness. This is what I conjured up in my mind amidst the darkness of a basement or a garage or in my room after being told of demons who would possess me if I did anything wrong—the stillness would keep me safe. If I didn’t move, the darkness could not touch me. The demons could not possess me, though they played games knowing I was watching.
This distant memory turned into a nightmare. My hyperactivity continued through high school, but so did the stillness. Often, to cope, to let go or to find myself, I would turn to that place where there was no harm—only calm, only the breath. This is where I would often go wherever I was, mostly in nature and, oddly enough, garages. To get away when I felt stressed, I’d often find myself on tangents for hours, just in the silence, in the stillness.
Perhaps this is part of why I conceptualized these experiences as a dream to be remembered later. I had to get to the place where I could deal with the reality of it. I got there by coming to a point in my life where I could let go. I let go of the spankings. I let go of my hyperactivity, of the people who didn’t or don’t like me because of who I was. I simply let go. In the sheer terror of a six-year-old and in letting go of those experiences, there was one thing in common—the stillness. This comfort, this center, was with me when I was a miscreant, when I lost loved ones, when I was afraid, scared or mourning my past.
It’s been only recently in the scheme of things that I’ve realized what this was, what this is. This is my meditation. Perhaps my mind reached out for some sign of life outside myself while in terror of death, though no real threat existed I’m sure. There, in the silence, amidst my hot wet tears was my breath. I took comfort in it and it protected me from the darkness, from the demons.
Now, still, it is my refuge. No longer does the absence of light terrify me, nor do demons. Still, I find myself seeking silence. The sign of life, the stillness, the breath; just as my fears and oppressions would vanish as a child, so do they now.
No matter where we are, when we are, there is the breath.
Benjamin Britton is a volunteer RN, full-time student, full-time IT guy, full-time father of three girls, full-time husband and part-time yogi. His wife fondly refers to him as yoga-vegan-tree-hugger. When he’s not in books, fixing computers, entertaining princesses of all sorts or enjoying the nature of Colorado, he’s reading elephant journal and conspiring to better the world!
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Ed: Amy Cushing