When I turned eighteen years old my dad called me into the kitchen where I saw him sitting by himself. He had just came in from the machine shed and he smelled of grease and dirt where he often spent hours working on farm machinery. Sitting on the table next to him I saw a little tin cup that I had never seen before. He told me to sit down as he had something to share with me. This was odd because my dad never really spent much time talking with me about many things, but I could tell this was important. He pointed at the little cup and said, “You know what that is?” I said, “Looks like a small child’s cup.” He smiled and said, “You’re correct. This was mine when I was quite a bit younger than you. I just found it out in the shed when I was clearing out some old boxes. I’d like you to have it.” I was surprised as gifts were unusual in my family, especially personal ones like this. I picked up the cup and began to turn it over in my hands. When I looked at the bottom of the cup I noticed a small marking on the underside that looked like a balloon tied to some kind of pitch fork. I looked up at my dad with curious eyes, and it was then that I noticed a small tear rolling down his cheek. This was something else I had never seen.
My dad was a very quite man, who spent the majority of his time dedicated to working on our small farm in south-eastern North Dakota. When he spoke, we tended to listen to him intently because his words were often few and direct about whatever topic was on his mind. My siblings and I always new our dad loved us, he just never showed it in a physical way or through the words he spoke. You could tell everything you needed to know from they way he looked at you and his body language. This method of raising us made us all very observant of the world around us. We were sensitive to movement, intentions and sequences of events. For example, watching him work on putting up a fence, you had a sense of the rhythm and sequence of how the fence was constructed. When he would hold the wire up to the fence post, you knew the next step was to staple the wire to the post using a hammer, so you would just do it without being told. Some of the ways we worked as a family was kind of like dancing, instinctively knowing the next step and movement.
Even at eighteen years old, I never really knew much about my dad or even his family for that matter. My siblings had told me some stories they’d heard from our cousins that my dad’s childhood was pretty hard. His parents, my grand parents, were very strict orthodox catholic people who lived and raised their family in a remote region of eastern Germany near Dresden. Their whole lives revolved around hard work and strict discipline doled out by my grandfather on a regular basis. I was told that my dad and his nine siblings shared a large barracks type room on the third level of the large farm house they lived in. The room had five bunk beds where the children were paired up by age from oldest to youngest. I was told the room had a wooden floor with only one small round window near the peak of the roof. There was a large trunk sitting on the floor in front of each set of bunks where the kids had to store all of their personal belongings. There were no shelves, dressers or chairs in the entire room and it was painted a dark forest green color. Only one small light bulb hung from the ceiling that barely lit the room in any significant way. I also had heard from my oldest brother, that there was some kind of horrible accident that had happened years ago to my dad’s family, but no one spoke about it. Ever.
As I sat there at the kitchen table looking at by dad, I couldn’t help but sense that this small tin cup had a significant connection to something or someone in his past. I placed my hand on his and said, “Thank you dad”. As soon as I touched him, he immediately pulled back away from me and wiped the tears from his face. He cleared his throat and blinked his eyes a few times as though he was waking from a trance.
I said, “Dad, you okay?” He looked at me directly and focused his eyes on mine. “Jeremy”, my dad said, “this little tin cup is very special to me. I thought I had lost it years ago when we moved here to our farm, but today the Good Lord saw fit to bring this cup back into my life. This cup is the only thing I have left of the house I lived in as a young boy. You may not know this, but when I was about 10 years old, my childhood home was ravaged by fire, destroying the entire house and my whole family died except your uncle Hans.” I was shocked to hear this information. I knew that my dad and Uncle Hans were orphans, but we never knew how they came be that way.
“Wow, really dad? What happened, what started the fire?”, I said. He said, “Well Hans and I were outside feeding the last of the pigs before going into the house for dinner. All of the others had gone in before us to start cleaning up. I remember dumping the last bucket of old table scrapes in the trough when we heard a series of loud popping noises coming from the direction of the house. I looked at my older brother and said, “What was that?”. He said, “Those were gun shots!”
My dad continued his story and said, “We both dropped our buckets and took off running toward the house. It was about a 100 yards away, but it seemed like an eternity before we even got close. As we were running, I was thinking about how things had seemed even more tense than usual around the house. I remembered hearing mom and dad fighting in their bedroom the night before. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but there were loud shouts and I could hear my mom crying in sobs. At one point, I heard a door slam with footsteps going down the stairs to the main level. I thought about how my mother who just stood in front of the kitchen sink, staring out the window while we all ate our breakfast earlier that morning. I remember how my dad would make these occasional grunting noises and glance over at my mom.”
I couldn’t believe what my dad was telling me. I never knew any of this before and I could tell that, for some reason, he was finally ready to tell someone about this part of his life. I sat there mesmerized, as my dad said, “When Hans and I where about half way to the house, we could see a bright orange glow coming from the front windows of the house and smoke was starting to billow out of a few open windows. As we got nearer, we both started screaming and yelling fire, fire, get out… get out!!!”
With these words, I could hear my dad’s voice crack as he caught his breath while holding back his sorrow. “We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”, my dad said. “When we reached the front door, Hans grabbed the door handle and jumped back yelling in pain from the burn he just received from the scalding hot metal door knob. I put on the pair of leather gloves I had in my back pocket, turned and pushed the door in yelling for my family, “Get out… Fire!”
My dad’s eyes were wide and his face was flush as he said, “Just as I stepped into the blazing front room, I was horrified to see my mother and all my siblings sprawled out on the floor, all with horrified expressions on their faces and blood coming from their foreheads and chests. I could hardly breath as the smoke was filling my lungs. Hans had reached the room and grabbed me from behind by the shoulders yelling, “We have to get out of here!” I pulled away and yelled, “Dad, Dad! Where are you!” With that I looked over toward the kitchen doorway and saw him sitting on the floor. He was holding a large pistol in his hands that I’d seen many times before. It was from his time serving in the German army under the tyrant Adolf Hitler. My dad was saying something over and over, that I could barely make out. It sounded like he was saying, “Only pure blood. Only pure blood.” He just kept saying it over and over. I yelled at my dad to get out of the house and he raised his eyes to meet mine and I could see a crazed wild look in his eyes. He looked at my brother and has he did, he raised the gun and pointed it directly at Hans and pulled the trigger.”
As I listened to my dad tell his story, I thought, this was incredible! I had no idea what to do with this, but I couldn’t stop listening and I knew I shouldn’t interrupt. I could feel that he was on a roll and needed to keep the story going, and to be free of its grip on him. As he spoke, he was very animated, with his hands and arms flailing about and rocking in his chair as he told his story. It was almost like he was seeing and reliving it all again.
“It was like I was having a nightmare.”, my dad continued. “In that instance, I simultaneously braced for the gun to fire and jerked backward crashing into Hans. I heard the gun fire and both my brother and I tumbled onto the floor. I could hear Hans scream in pain. I quickly turned over and saw him holding his left arm with blood coming out. I saw that he was hurt bad but still moving. In the same instance, I spun around to see my dad trying to get to his feet all while pointing the gun in our direction. I screamed, “Dad what are you doing?!” and just as he steadied himself to fire again, we heard a loud CRACK from above us. We both jerked our heads up to see one of the large ceiling beams above my dad give way and crashed directly down on top of him. I rushed toward my dad only to see one of his hands lying motionless from under the burning beam.
The intensity of the fire was growing and I knew it was too late to help him. I turned and saw that Hans was crawling toward the front door. I ran and grabbed him around the waste and even though he was twice my size I pulled him up, and in a blur, we both ran out of the house just as we witnessed the house’s front porch and roof cave in.”
With that, my dad stopped his story and looked at me as if coming out of a dream again. He shook his head and reached for the glass of water sitting on the kitchen table and drank it all. As he set the glass down, he said, “I lost almost my entire family that day. It wasn’t until years later that I heard more stories that my father and mother spent several of the first years of their marriage trying to have kids, but weren’t having any luck. Being a virile German man, my father just assumed my mother was barren, but then surprisingly, my mom became pregnant with my oldest brother Frank. And just like clockwork, they began to have kids one after the other until all 10 of us were born. I just never would have dreamed I’d loose them all in such a horrific way and least of all by my own father’s hands.”
“I remember a few days after the fire”, by dad continued, “my brother and I sifted through the rubble of the house and the only thing of value we found was this little tin cup that my mom always had on her night stand.” And with that, he reached over and picked up the cup where I’d placed it. He said, “I don’t think I would have ever found it if it hadn’t been for our neighbor Ephraim helping us that day. He seemed to take the tragedy pretty hard now that i think of it. He was a good man who lived alone in a small house about a mile from our farm. Every year for many years he would help my dad during the planting and harvest seasons. Ephraim was a Jewish man who was kind of a loner in our part of the country. We thought the world of him because he would always make us kids a small gift on each of our birthdays. This seemed to work out because all our birthdays happened when he was working at the farm. We always wondered why he was a bachelor. Some say he had a girl in his younger days, but their love was forbidden, and her family moved her away to live with a distant relative in Dresden.”
My dad looked at me and he seemed to be a lot more calm. He looked at me in a way that spoke to me his love, and he smiled. “I just want you to know Jeremy. I love you very much. I know I don’t say it.. well, at all really, and I’m sorry for that. I know this was a lot to hear in a story of my childhood, and how Uncle Hans and I became orphans. I don’t know if I’ll ever know why my dad did what he did, but I thought it was important that you knew. I just hope that as our years go forward, we try to talk more. I know I’ll certainly be trying my best.” With that, my dad stood up from the kitchen table and put his hand on my shoulder for a second, and then strapped on his bibs and walked out the door to the yard. I watched him out the kitchen window as he walked away with a huge urge to hug him, but I knew that it wasn’t quite time to do that yet. But I knew we would get there.
I sat back down at the kitchen table and picked up the tin cup. I turned it over to examine the symbol at the bottom. I took out my pocket handkerchief and rubbed off the dirt and grime stuck to the cup from years in the shed. As I rubbed, I could tell that the symbol I was seeing was not a ballon tied to a pitch fork, but it was a Jewish menorah that had little oblong flames coming out of each candle stick. I smiled and thought about Ephraim and how he had made my dad feel as a child. I was glad that he had that kind of man in his life and I wondered what ever happened to him. Maybe some day my dad will tell me the rest of the story. Maybe…
Dwight J. Raatz
I was born in 1965 in a small town in southeastern North Dakota. My family and I lived on a small farm where my father was a second generation farmer on the land my grandfather had homesteaded in the early 1900’s. My father had taken over the family farm about the time I was born. He diversified his efforts at making a living by milking cows, raising beef cattle, pigs and chickens. We also farmed several sections of land where we raised a variety of grain crops. For me, my childhood experiences were by many standards, unremarkable. I am the youngest of 5 children. I can never remember feeling like we were poor or rich. I always felt safe, cared for, and I really can’t think of a time that I needed anything. I will admit that being the youngest child, with my next oldest sibling being about 5 years older than me, I did tend to get more things from my parents than my siblings. I don’t really know if it was because my parents had more disposable income as I grew up, or if they somehow felt differently about buying things at that time. I don’t remember being a needy or a complaining child in any way either. Life just seemed to go on and on and I was mainly an observer of it. I can’t really recall interacting with my siblings or my parents in any great depth, other than working on the farm or at the evening meals. With the age difference from my four siblings (each of them being about a year apart in age), I tended to spend most of my time alone from what I remember. I was often wrapped up in listening to music, reading the encyclopedia, or later on, playing with any sort of electronics I could get my hands on. Other than the occasional teasing from my one brother, I didn’t experience any real trauma as a child. Or at least that’s what I thought anyway.
In one way or another, I believe that we all are searching for some sort of peace for our lives. From my observations, some of us have similar struggles, but at times, very different perspectives on our struggles or even how to resolve them. When I think about the various ways people experience trauma, it really has a broad spectrum. Depending on how you look at life or your belief systems, trauma can even begin pre-conception. Most certainly it can be agreed that trauma can begin in the womb with exposure to various drugs, physical abuse, or even environmental factors. I believe that even the feelings and emotions of the mom and dad toward being pregnant can cause trauma to the child before they are born. Then moving forward, you have the actual birth itself being the first standard trauma that everyone has (no matter how well the pregnancy and birth went). If you can imagine spending 9 months being completely carefree and supported in every way, then suddenly forced into the world to deal with gravity, breathing, hunger, bowl movements, you name it. Heck, that’s pretty traumatic right?
No matter what your traumatic experiences have been, they play a part in how your life is shaped, the person you become, and how you view the world. Some of us have very good support systems and/or families that are highly aware and conscious of their bodies and emotions. This can help you to grow up more balanced and you naturally have various ways to release the tensions of trauma through physical activity, deep conversations, and overall support from those you love. This however is not so common from observations of my little corner of the world. So what do the rest of us need to do when we experience trauma? Well, some will stuff the feelings, some will act out in various ways including anger, depression, anxiety, self mutilation, danger seeking, drugs, over-working and various other destructive methods. Then there are others who have tried more “positive” avenues like therapy, psychics, energy healing, meditation, religion, athletics, etc. It seems to me that most, but not all, methods tend to start with the mind when trying to find peace. The mind is indeed an important place to focus the healing practice, but only when you approach that healing from a positive perspective, that is focused on releasing tension in both the mind and body.
It’s very interesting to think about all of the classes I’ve taken and methods of “connection” or rituals I was shown. While many of them are important and relevant, I could never really understand why they had to be so complicated (e.g. having to speak a mantra in a particular way, moving your body in a particular manner, vocalizing in a particular tone, etc). I believe that there is purpose to these methods and they can even be valid depending on where you are at in your journey. I kept going back to my childhood, sitting in church and thinking, why does this all have to seem so complicated and wrought with possible ways to fail? I just could not believe that an “all-knowing” being that created us from dust, would even have a need for us to do anything complicated let alone be worshipped.
Like many, I’ve done a lot of the abovenegative andpositive methods for finding peace for my mind. As I look back at many of these methods, the focus seemed to be outside of my body and mind, as if the solution was “out there” somewhere. I can remember going to several psychics searching for one of them that could just reach inside my mind and flip the proverbial switch to allow peace in and the rest to go. I even got to the point where I saw so many different psychics, I would consider myself a junkie. As I spent a lot of time and money, I realized I was getting more and more angry that “they” weren’t fixing me. I realized that I was looking for the solution outside of myself. After about 10 years of trying many avenues, I finally began to see that the solutions have always been inside of me. I know this is not news really, as I’ve heard that kind of thing for years, but I never really believed it. This was until I was introduced to a method of healing that is based on a very basic human function, breathing.
When I was introduced to Rebirthing Breathwork, I initially thought it was just another fad that sounded interesting. However, on the very first session, I experienced an unexpected shift and release out of a seeming nowhere. At this point I knew I was hooked and I needed to know more, so I signed up for a year long training course to become a certified breathwork practitioner. It’s been about three years since first learning the technique and I’ve been through many sessions myself and I’ve coach many people in their own sessions. As time went on and life happened, I got distracted and stopped for several months from doing any sort of healing practices on myself and others. Then I got an invitation from my teacher to attend a workshop called “Loving Relationships” with Sondra and Markus Ray. This workshop was focused on improving all of our relationships, but more specifically our intimate personal ones.
One of the first exercises we went through at the workshop was to do sentence completion related to the negative thoughts that run through my mind. The idea was to determine our personal primary negative belief that we have underlying our thoughts. I started out with, “I’m not enough”, then, “I overthink and worry”, then, “I am a fake”, then, “I’m not important to anyone”, then, “I’m not important enough to be loved.”. As I looked at what I had written it struck me that my primary negative belief is, “I am not important”. This really resonated with me as I could see it was at the very heart of many symptoms I’ve experienced over the years.
When I was very young, probably under the age of 20, I don’t know if I ever thought much about feeling important to anyone or not. When I look back and try to remember how things were during that time, I recall being connected to a very small group of friends more so than being connected to my family. My friends seemed to fulfill that part of my life that wanted to be acknowledged and valued. They would seek me out to do things. They went out of their way to listen to me, try to understand and to relate to me their own stories. It wasn’t until I went to college and afterwards when got my first career job that I started to notice how very disconnected I felt from my family. When they would ask me how my life was going, I would tell them about my job or what I’m learning and I felt that they would just stop listening. Sometimes they would say something like, “I just don’t understand [insert whatever topic I was presenting].” I found that the harder I tried to explain my life, my career, my spiritual growth, or my thoughts, they would become more and more disconnected. Finally it got to the point that I just stopped trying. I just gave them what they wanted to hear, which usually meant saying something like, “Oh yes, I’m very busy at my job. Lot’s of projects to work on.”, and that was it. This was very common in all my interactions. I became very skilled at giving a short answer and then turning the conversation around to focus on them.
Things seemed to progress over the years where I would start to attribute people not acknowledging me in one way or another, as me not being important. This belief infiltrated my relationships with my wife and kids, my employer, my social friends, you name it. I got to the point that I felt numb to even wanting to feel connected to anyone, or to allow love to be given or received. It was easier and safer to protect myself than to be hurt by allowing someone into my heart. So it went on like this for over 30+ years. I was living my life, but in a very closed way. I was quick to have anger, which I directed inward. I had cycles of good days followed by many fraught with anxiety and depression. I worked hard at keeping all of this bottled up inside of me. I tried desperately to “protect” my wife and kids from all of this, but they suffered from the side effects despite my best intentions.
All of my thoughts around not being acknowledged, respected, smart, good enough, you name it; all came down to feeling or thinking that I am not important; not to life, family, friends, employers, or neighbors. If I were to cease to exist in this very moment, the overall rhythm of life would only experience a very small, mostly unnoticeable bump in the road. This feeling was pervasive in my life making me feel very lonely, depressed and angry. After the weekend workshop I made a promise to myself that I would start again with my own healing practices and I made an appointment with my coach the following week for a breathwork session.
When I went into my Breathwork session with Deanna (my coach), I really didn’t know what I was going to focus on. We started out by talking for at least an hour about what I was dealing with lately, I talked about my desire to be heard by others, feelings of being disrespected, and having no path for the future. Since I didn’t feel at the time that I had anything specific to breathe on, I decided to choose my primary negative belief (or primary personal lie), as this seemed like as good as anything else.
The breathing was done the same way we had at the retreat I attended. My mouth was more open, and with a relaxed jaw and with a fuller breath. I began to breath in the specific cyclical pattern for Rebirthing Breathwork, having no pause at the bottom or top of the breath. This makes your breathing a bit faster than normal. My breathing seemed unremarkable as my mind flitted from one topic to another. As I saw each thought come up in my mind, I would just release it using the rhythm of the breath. This process went on for some time until I could feel “the flip” happen. The “flip” is that moment where you move from consciously breathing, to a more automatic rhythm and your body takes over breathing. My breathing became faster yet and my body started to cramp a bit, and my jaw and hands got stiff, which is normal in this process. Deanna was there to keep me on track, telling me to relax my jaw and open my mouth more, and to breathe through the cramping. I’ve definitely been in worse shape for cramping when I first did this technique, but I’ve since learned to recognize and release that tension.
At some point I relaxed more and I could feel my whole body, or what felt like an energetic representation of my body, began to rise up off/out from my physical body. The sensation was similar to a heavy vibration that encompassed my whole body. As the vibration lifted, I could feel my physical body become more still and relaxed. Somehow I knew I needed to release this “representation” of myself, so I really amped up my breathing even more.
At times I became distracted by visions or dreams and my breathing would slow down. When this happened, the energetic “self” started to descend back into me. Deanna would coach me to focus and get on track again which would push the energy further and further out. Finally I felt that the release or separation was far enough away that it could no longer come back unless I willed it to. In those final moments my breath pushed it far enough away and I could feel it disconnect and vanish!
As I came out of a sort of trance I was in, we began to talk about the experience I had where I described each detail as I’ve written here. Deanna shared with me how she also could sense the release I was describing. Now that I’m writing this and processing more, I now know that the release was a sort of shield or armor. I had no idea what it was at the time, I just knew it needed to go.
At this point I felt like I was done and the session felt complete as I was relaxing on the table. Deanna was telling me how I had done well. Then, what felt like words from another source or dimension , Deanna said, “You are so important Dwight.” At this moment time stopped, and I could feel this transfer or a gift of love energy enter into my body and spirit. I felt shocked and very surprised by the feeling. It was like something I’d never felt or experienced before. I can only describe it as being very thirsty and you take that first mouthful of cool water and you feel it wash over your throat, chest and finally your whole body. In that moment, my breath caught in my throat and I felt a sense of laughter or joy that came out of me. It was just a moment, because directly afterward came a huge cascading feeling of a perfect mix of pure joy and sorrow flooding my whole body. In those few moments, I felt like for the first time I had allowed myself to feel love, to feel my amazing importance, and it was so powerful I didn’t know what to do with it. I was sad that I’ve been without this miracle in my life. I could feel the pain and sorrow releasing and joy receiving. The sorrow was from knowing that I’d starved myself from feeling love. My body and spirit were, what I can only describe as, being released from a concentration camp, a starved, emaciated skeleton of a person walking out of the wire gates of the prison. This flood of emotions manifested in my body by letting loose with sobbing, short breaths and a sense of fear of the letting go. My voice came with the sobs in short bursts as I fought the release, but Deanna coached me to let go and breathe! At that moment I had to decide. Was I going to trust that I was safe by letting go? Was Deanna safe to do this with? What would happen to me if I let go? Would I be able to come back or would I be lost in the emotion of this? In that split second of thought, I decided it no longer served me to keep holding on. I needed desperately to grow and to release the pain, and this was the moment. I trusted Deanna and I trusted this process. The breathing allowed me to let go of the last blocks, and to even sob harder than I can ever remember before in my life. I had no idea that all of this wastrapped inside of me.
As the exchange of released emotion and the taking in of love happened, I simply surrendered to it all. Deanna coached me along and I remember having my left hand over my eyes and forehead. I could feel the tears and sweat all over my face. My right hand was on my heart and I could feel Deanna’s hands on me. I reached for her hand and held on, feeling the connection to Earth and to humanity through her. I could hear her repeating the phrase, “You are so important Dwight.”, over and over in low soft tones. I remember my breath flowing and all of the tightness in my chest releasing more and more. It’s so very hard to explain in words the release of the pain and emotions. It’s hard to describe the thirst I felt for allowing myself to feel love. It’s hard allow myself to feel this vulnerable with anyone. What would they think of me now after seeing me completely lose it? Would I appear to be weak, not a man, not more in control of my life? I believe many of us feel this way when faced with letting go of emotions and the possibility of being embarrassed or even ridiculed for doing just that.
I began to calm and felt the wave ending. I relaxed and wiped my face and blew my nose. As I laid there, I felt an amazing peace in and around me. We talked a bit and about the experience and I tried to express what I felt, but mostly I was quiet. Then Deanna started to say the mantra again and again, “You are so important Dwight.”, in continued low and soft tones. Thinking that I was done with the session was silly because the whole thing just cut loose again! I could feel that there was more that needed to be released and my body knew it, and apparently so did Deanna. This cycle was shorter but even more intense than before. For the first time in my life, I can actually say that I not only sobbed, but I wailed with sorrow and joy. I used my voice to transmute that feeling and energy. This final wave subsided after a time andI was finally done. I lay there completely spent.
It’s very hard to describe my session in words. The big releases that I had were nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. I know that I’ve never in my life allowed myself to be so raw, to be so vulnerable to the feelings I was having in those moments. I only know that this was a life changing moment for me. I had made a big step toward my own personal freedom. I’d allowed myself to feel love and know that I needed and wanted this to be more prevalent in my life. This is a huge thing for me because I’ve found the concept of love to be somewhat of a mystery. It’s not a that I didn’t understand it at all, I just never really “felt” love to any huge degree from what I remember. I knew enough of love, to realize that I was missing something.
In the moments and minutes that followed, I did some more processing with Deanna, drank water and talked. I found it difficult to move my body. I felt like I was trying to force my very essence back into my physical body. It was hard to coordinate my muscles to even move me out of the room and the building out to my car. Since I’d had some experience with doing this in the past, I knew I needed to be extra careful as I drove home. Breathwork like other types of healing practices can cause you to be in an altered state and even feel as though you are “out of body” at times. It’s important to spend time re-integrating, and a good way to do this is by drinking water and eating a small amount of food. Dark chocolate is one of the recommended foods to eat, but anything that is organic and unprocessed.
I know this is not the end. I know there is more, but for now I’m in a really good place. I feel blessed and loved. I’m ready now to move forward into the days to come full of love!
– Dwight Jon Raatz, 10/11/2017