Story 1

“Breathe in 2..3..4..5” he whispers softly, the sound of the rain on the shutters distracting and loud in his ears.  The house settles around him as he relaxes his back, his knees, his shoulders; the carpet beginning to dig a little more deeply into his knees.

“Fuck” he thinks to himself, attempting to breathe deeply, but aches start in his knees and hips, his lower back.  The beatific expression he’s shooting for on  his face is slowly turning into a grimace of discomfort.  Thoughts of missed workouts, excuses for eating this, or drinking that.  Too many beer and dogs at the ballpark, and nachos and beer on the couch.  He wonders fondly how he ever earned his 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do or did 1 minute of straight pushups let alone the 10 he did for his test.  Adjusting slightly, fanning his toes out and settling his spine lower and back straighter, he remembers.

The thrill of standing up in front of his family, his friends, and his fellow students.  The first adult to pass through the school from start to finish, this is an exciting time for the school.  4 years of sweat, toil, bruises and effort have culminated in this day.  Standing next to his Kyung Bum Nim, Master Patterson, he is proud of his accomplishments so far, and looking forward to proving it all to everyone here, including himself.

Sighing to himself kneeling in the livingroom of his townhouse, 4 years and 30 lbs later, a soon to be 40 yr old married father of 2 is trying to get his life back.  Remembering the calming breaths he learned to take before forms combined with a lot of books on martial arts and fantasy, he pushes away the discomfort.  The aches and pains are lessened and soon forgotten.

The breath.  Always remember the breath.  In for a count of ten, out slowly for the count of ten.  A flash of memory of a karate class in college that started it all.  In for ten, out for ten.  He is back in his livingroom breathing slowly in through his nose, and out through his mouth.  Hands resting lightly on his thighs slowly move to form a cup, palms up, thumbs touching.  The counts become longer and longer, more and more relaxed.  A flash back to his test, taking three running steps, leaping off his back foot, front leg coming back in the air, ready to demolish the board held by one of the other senior students.  His aim is true as his foot shears the wood in half, landing lightly on his other foot.  A surge of remembered pleasure flushes his skin, raising bumps on his bare chest and arms.

“Always remember the breath” his mind chides his excited heart.  His blood flow slows once more, his breathing even.  Small adjustments in posture and his hips settle even more, knots beginning to unwind in his tense shoulders.  His breathing moves lower, breathing from his midsection instead of his chest.  The shift causes even more muscles to unwind and loosen, causing him to relax.  He is conscious of the fact that he hasn’t been this calm and relaxed in months and getting to this point was not as difficult as he had been afraid of.

The thought is not distracting tho, in fact, it’s calming.  “You have not forgotten” a stray thought plays in his mind.  A slight curve to the lips is the only indication of his awareness.  At times when in the midst of intense training, this has happened.  It is almost enough to shake his concentration, but not quite.  A sensation of floating slightly above his body is now present, the body almost forgotten.

Time stops, reality is no more.  He simply is.  There is no future, or past, there is only now.  And now will only move when he wills it.  There is simply the breath.  It moves in through the nostrils, bringing life giving oxygen into the sinuses, down the windpipe and nourishes the lungs, continuing life.  The breath comes out of the lungs, carrying the spent breath away, making room for more air.  As he breathes more and more, the spent breath comes from deeper and deeper, carrying with it, staleness and a sense of defeat and listlessness.  Refreshing deep breaths clean and remove the staleness from the body if only from the lungs.

“This is the temple, and this is the first step” rings in his head.  His eyes jerk open, a sense of falling as he feels himself come back to his body spreading his hands out on the carpet for balance as he regains his equilibrium.

“What the hell?” he says to himself, realizing that for the first time, the stray thought was not a thought, but almost a voice in his head.

10/3/2008 12:02

It’s two days later.

“Honey?  I’m going to the gym” he shouts up the stairs, the tshirt tight around his middle.  Smoothing the shirt over his too large stomach, he is embarassed yet determined.

“WHAT?” replies a surprised voice.  His wife comes to the stairs, an incredulous look on her face.  She takes one look at his facial expression, his posture, and the fact that he hasn’t done anything resembling exercise in almost a year and reminds him of why he married her.  Her expression changes to one of 100% approval.  “Good for you champ” she says kindly.

He smiles warmly at her, silently thanking her for not playing around.  He pulls his Red Sox cap backwards and marches determined out the door.

The door rattles 45 minutes later as he makes his way slowly up the steps.  There are aches yes, but it isn’t too bad.  His pride is completely crushed, but he also feels better about himself.  He went.  Granted, he ran intervals on the treadmill for 15 minutes, did some bag work on the heavy bag, lifted a little.  But its a start.  He pulls his shirt away from his sweaty chest, fanning the cool air against his slick chest.  Sliding the hat from his head and shucking his shoes by the door, he climbs the stairs and goes to his room.  She’s sitting there in bed, reading, looking sexy in those cool specs she bought.

“How did it go?” she asks nonchalantly.  Again, he is grateful for her support and it shows in his smile.

“Not as well as I’d hoped, but not as bad as I feared.  It was nice to get the juices flowing.”  His shirt, boxers, socks and shorts lie in a sweaty heap as he steps into the shower.  Cooling the hot water off, he stands there, letting the spray wash his toil down the drain.  He washes his hair, thinking about the workout, and trying to imagine what he’ll do differently next time.  He hears her moving around outside the bathroom door and washes his body and rinses off.

She knocks at the door just as he’s getting out and towelling off.  She opens it slightly poking her head around the jam.  “Cottage cheese and strawberries sound good hun?”  Her eyebrows are raised in hopeful support.  He just smiles and nods, drying himself fully as she shuts the door.

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