[Pnews] Veronza Bowers: In search of a sound – lessons from bamboo
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 26 10:00:07 EST 2019
Veronza Bowers: In search of a sound – lessons from bamboo
December 25, 2019
Veronza Bowers, now 46 years in federal prison, survives and enables
others to heal by blowing his beloved Shakuhachi bamboo flute. He writes
about how he learned of its magical healing power: “A small piece of
bamboo, 1-foot-8-inches long, had opened doorways which had previously
been welded shut. Shakuhachi had done in one and a half hours what no
human being had done in three years.”
*/by Veronza Bowers/*
In the spring of 1985, I was gifted with a beautiful wooden recorder
from a friend from Lebanon. I immediately fell in love with its sound.
That sound led me to the C-concert flute and a long horizontally held
bamboo flute. I spent many hours each day blowing and learning.
In the evenings, because I lived in a single occupancy cell, I would
practice softly blowing my bamboo. On the wall, I had a bigger than
life-sized picture of the beautiful Winnie Mandela – just her face with
those big pools of Black African Magic Woman’s eyes casting a spell on me.
I would just get lost in her eyes and blow ever so softly. From that
blowing, a sweet melody was born and became a song with a jazz band and
I called it “Ode To Winnie” – with lyrics. We entered a talent show and
won first place and had to do an encore, to a standing ovation.
In 1987, I was transferred from USP Lompoc in California to a state
prison in Washington and couldn’t take my instruments and found myself
NEEDING TO BLOW. While thumbing through a Mother Jones magazine, I ran
across an advertisement of a man who made bamboo flutes and Shakuhachi.
Never having heard of Shakuhachi, I ordered a bamboo flute from Monty
Levenson – and thus began a lifetime friendship.
Whoooaaa, the sound of breath sliding across bamboo was sooo much
different from the sounds of my silver flute and wooden recorder. But in
order to play it required that I spend a lot of time stretching my
fingers wider apart to be able to cover the holes. I was too impatient
for that, so I contacted Monty and told him that I wanted to exchange it
for one of his student model Shakuhachi.
When my Shakuhachi arrived, I didn’t have a clue as to how to even
produce a sound. I spent weeks trying to figure it out, blowing across
each of the four holes on the top side of my 1-foot-8-inch piece of
bamboo. THAT couldn’t be the way to make music with it. Then one day it
was as though my Shakuhachi said, “Blow me like you used to blow soda
pop bottles when you were a little boy.”
Ahhh, THAT was THE sound I’d been searching for! From that day on, the
bamboo of the Shakuhachi became my teacher, my Sen-sei! I would blow for
hours each day. I would blow one single note (one sound, if you will)
and hold it for as long as I could, making it as whole and as beautiful
and sweet as I could. With my eyes closed, I would watch and listen to
that single note expand to its fullness and gradually fade into a
haunting, yet as beautiful and sweet SILENCE.
Then, in 1990, I was transferred to USP Terre Haute, Indiana. There I
established a meditation group and called it Meditation Healing with
Shakuhachi. The following is an account written by me in 1990 of an
amazing healing experience we all participated in. It was published in
The Annals of the International Shakuhachi Society and in The Journal of
Noetic Science – quite an honor.
Veronza says he wanted the tree in the picture because it was as far
“away from all of this concrete and steel as I could get.”
*Meditation healing with Shakuhachi*
I have lived the past 24 [now 46] years of my life as a federal prisoner
with the Bureau of Prisons number 35316-136 appended to my name. For
those of you who have never been inside a maximum security penitentiary,
it might be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine it is a place where
the plaintive sounds of Shakuhachi can be heard. Ah! But it is true.
I am honored and happy to be able to share with you a story about a
young man – whom doctors had told would never walk again – and a piece
of bamboo. This is a story of the human spirit and will at their finest,
and a story of the healing power that is within Shakuhachi. In 1987,
this young man (let’s call him Punchy) was shot in the back in Detroit,
Michigan. The shot and subsequent operation left him completely
paralyzed from the waist down. Call it coincidence, fate or simply the
way things happen, but in that very same year I was introduced to
Shakuhachi by a man named Monty H. Levenson, Shakuhachi maker and now
Three years later, on the recreation yard of Terre Haute Federal
Penitentiary in Indiana, I first saw Punchy – he, being pushed in his
wheelchair around the quarter mile track; me, sitting under the shade of
a lone tree blowing my Shakuhachi. I closed my eyes and continued to
blow. The song in my heart reflected what I had just seen and my
Shakuhachi began to cry.
After about two weeks of watching Punchy go for his daily ride, I made
arrangements through one of his drivers to meet him. I explained to
Punchy that I practiced an ancient art called Hands on Healing. I
explained about Touch for Health, Acupressure, Tsubo Therapy, Shiatsu
Therapy, Jin Shin Do, Massage Therapy and Meditation Healing using
sounds and colors.
We talked about Chi and the circulation of energy, chakras, stretching
as well as other kinds of physical therapy and exercise. I looked into
his eyes and told him I’d like to try to help him. Although he had never
heard of such things and was unable to hide his skepticism, he agreed.
Where? How to begin? That was the burning question in my mind as we made
arrangements to meet the following afternoon. I knew that I would have
to examine his entire body from head to toe and would have to work with
him daily for quite a long time. We would have to be committed to each
other and to ourselves. This would involve much work, way beyond
As agreed, we began the following day. After a solid month – six days a
week, two and a half hours a day – of breathing exercises, acupressure
treatments, stretching etc., we were basically where we were when we
started. Punchy was locked up inside of himself where I could not touch.
I knew that unless he would allow me to come in, unless he could open up
and share with me his deepest pain, no amount of massage and
manipulation of muscles, no amount of stimulation of nerves, no amount
of stretching, no amount of anything would result in an improvement of
Were the doctors, with their professional diagnosis, correct in their
approach? Or was Punchy, a young man, who had so much energy inside of
himself, being sentenced to a wheelchair for the rest of his life? Is it
true that the solution – if there is a solution – to any problem lies
within the problem itself? A breakthrough was needed.
I had recently started conducting meditation sessions with members of
our Rastafarian Community in the chapel during which I blow Shakuhachi.
I asked Punchy to attend. For this special session I gathered together
seven men, all physically strong and emotionally and spiritually
The seven men would represent the Sun, the Moon, Mother Earth and the
Four Directions – North, East, South and West. I explained to them
Punchy’s condition and what was needed of each man as well as all of
them as a collective body. The following is part of a Self-Monitoring
Cross-Consciousness account of our first meditation healing session
written immediately following the session by Darrell, one of the
Veronza in about 1990
“A wounded Brother was placed on his back in the center of the room. We
were instructed to form a circle around him, lying on our backs with our
heads nearest to him and focus upon channeling positive energy so that
he might be healed.
“We were instructed to breathe in a rhythmic and harmonious flow,
inhaling deeply to the count of five and exhaling deeply to the count of
five until we were in perfect unison. A flute began to play. With my
eyes closed, I can hear the melody uttering words of transient delight,
making it hard to resist complete relaxation. I have given myself
totally to the Wounded One.
“There is a light. I used it to focus on as I attempted to channel my
energy towards the Wounded One. I concentrated on the lower half of his
body, for he was unable to walk. The light was drawing near and growing
dim, the musical sounds freeing me from anxiety. The light now, ever so
near and dimmer still, as the sounds of winds from the flute hovered
over my body. I am conscious as my body releases the tension from the
controlled breathing and begins to act upon its own to recover its
natural pace. The hollow sounds of beauty making me ever so comfortable
as the dimness of the light slowly turned to a red.
“The flute player is standing over me. I am aware of his presence, but
why am I moaning? Why can I not respond to acknowledge him? Where am I?
Can I help my wounded Brother, and who and where are the drummers? My
body won’t respond, but I am conscious. I can hear everything and the
breaths of everyone; we are all breathing out of time. Everyone has lost
the rhythm except the flutist. He has acted as a tour guide down the
pathway of total redness, almost leading me towards serenity, if it
weren’t for the pain. What pain? Whose pain? So much pain – but why am I
still moaning? Where am I?
“It appears that I have allowed the flutist, the tour guide, to take me
beyond the realms of my control. I can sense serenity, but the pain. Oh!
The pain! And why do feel as if I’m not alone? The corridor, or pathway,
which has turned blue some time ago is now glowing and has a strange
aura. The silence broke. ‘Rub your hands together’ It was the familiar
voice of the tour guide, and I made motions with my hands, which, which
was all I could do to make him aware that the command had been heard.
“I didn’t quite know how to function, for I was distant, incoherent and
a slight bit delirious; but I could sense that he knew, for I was still
trapped in space. ‘Rub your hands together so they generate energy, and
then rub the warmth over your face. Wash your face with energy.’ I was
able to comprehend the fact that this was, no doubt, a command, and I
found myself obedient, my body began to respond, my eyes opened. It was
After the session had ended and everyone else had returned to this
plane, Punchy was still out. When he finally awoke, he blurted out,
“What happened? Where I been?” Everyone laughed.
I was terribly excited and anxious to talk with the Brother who had been
moaning and rolling his head back and forth. I needed to know what he
had seen, what he had experienced. He and I got together immediately
after everyone had left the chapel. As I blew Shakuhachi at the top of
the stairwell, he recorded what you have just read.
Ahhh! The breakthrough! On so many levels. A small piece of bamboo,
1-foot-8-inches long, had opened doorways which had previously been
welded shut. Shakuhachi had done in one and a half hours what no human
being had done in three years. Shakuhachi had made it possible, via
Darrell’s psychic bonding with Punchy, to connect with and to deeply
understand Punchy’s psychological and spiritual pain. During our next
working session, Punchy and I discussed all that we had both learned and
for the first time he opened up completely.
From then on, we began each working session with Shakuhachi. A healthy
diet with vitamins, a combination of disciplines mentioned earlier,
meditation and circulation of Chi, weight lifting for upper body
strength, stretching, stretching and more stretching for leg strength –
the strength of the tiger lies in his flexibility – and a determined
will, all combined so that by the end of the summer, 10 months after our
first meditation healing session, on Dec, 10, 1990, Punchy could do 100
full squats non-stop, walk five steps on his own, and walk behind his
wheelchair with me sitting in it and push me one full lap around the
quarter-mile track on the yard.
I wish I had more space to share with you the details of this inspiring
struggle of a young man determined to walk again and the neverending
mystery that is Shakuhachi. I am deeply thankful to my dear friend Monty
for introducing me to Shakuhachi, and I am eternally grateful to
Shakuhachi for so graciously accepting my breath and for allowing me to
be an extension through which healing can pass. [This entire article
<http://www.veronza.org/J-KJArticle.html>, which first appeared in Kyoto
32, Summer 1996,*//*can be seen on my website <http://www.veronza.org/>
with photos in color.]
Good friends and members of Veronza’s “Inner Strength” class are Omar in
the white kufi, Prince Heru in the black kufi, Teko with dreadlocks and
Timmy. Veronza says of Omar and Prince Heru, “These two Brothers really
looked out for me and helped me survive in my fight for my life against
two deadly beings, cancer and pneumonia.”
*Healing the healer*
In 1998, I was transferred to FCI Coleman, Florida, the first medium
custody prison I was sent to after having been in maximum security USPs
for 27 years. Shortly after my arrival, I established the All Faith
Once the warden saw that we were serious and many men joined with us, he
allowed us to have a five-day Meditation Retreat. That attracted the
attention of the Dharma instructor of the Gateless Gate Meditation
Center in Gainesville, Florida.
To the honor and delight of all of us he brought with him a Rimpoche
(Monk) from Tibet – and 38 men of our group attended. I was given the
honor of blowing Shakuhachi for the first and last hour of each session
for the entire retreat.
Upon hearing the first note of my Shakuhachi, the Rimpoche was moved to
tears. Later, through his interpreter, he said: “I was so overwhelmed by
the beauty and purity of that single sound, my tears flowed freely from
my thankful heart. It reminded me of home.” He bowed and I bowed – and
we all bowed to him and he bowed to us.
In May of 2017, I was diagnosed as having lymphoma (a cancer that
attacks and invades the lymphatic system), and transferred to the
Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., to undergo chemotherapy. My
white cell blood count became so low my immune system was compromised
and I contracted pneumonia. I was moved from the fourth floor to the
fifth and hooked up to an IV machine that pumped antibiotics into my
bloodstream. (For a detailed account, please see “Veronza, don’t die in
prison! <https://sfbayview.com/2018/07/veronza-dont-die-in-prison/>” in
the Bay View.)
A good friend of mine was in a room – a cell – three doors down from me.
I went to visit him and was shocked and pained to see how the cancer had
eaten away his body, and his legs and stomach were sooo badly swollen.
Sighhh. He was in a constant and terrible pain.
I went back to my room/cell and fetched my Shakuhachi. Even though I was
very weak myself from the pneumonia, I leaned against a wall in his
room/cell, closed my eyes and just BLEW my Shakuhachi. After about 10
minutes, I opened my eyes and saw my friend smiling, even as tears
streamed down his face. He said: “Brother Veronza, that was sooo
beautiful. ALL of my pain just went away. It was like those sounds was a
river and the pain got washed away by the current.”
From that day on until he was moved into the hospice area, despite my
own weakness, I would will myself to go to his room/cell and BLOW
Shakuhachi for him – and for me – and for all the other sick and dying
men in rooms/cells on that floor. My friend passed away – all alone in
There is sooo much more I’d love to share with you about my wondrous
journey with Shakuhachi and the effects it has and continues to have on
me and the people who have been touched and moved by its sounds and
But for now, I just want to thank my dear friend Monty Levenson for
introducing me to Shakuhachi – and I thank the bamboo that is Shakuhachi
for being my Sen-sei and teaching me to blow and for accepting my breath
and allowing me to be a vessel through which healing and peace can pass
on to others.
In Emptiness and Nothingness
/Veronza Bowers, Jr. (Daoud)/
/Send our brother some love and light: Veronza Bowers, 35316-136, Butner
Federal Medical Center, P.O. Box 1600, Butner NC 27509, and visit his
website, //www.veronza.org/ <http://www.veronza.org/>/. Veronza has
served more than 46 years in the federal Bureau of Prisons, 15 of them
past his mandatory parole release date of April 7, 2004. Learn more at
//Jericho/ <https://www.thejerichomovement.com/profile/bowers-veronza>/. /
Listen carefully to hear Veronza’s voice and that of his Shakuhachi.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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