No Bird on a Wire

Frozen magazine page.


By the year 2007, I had been suffering from stomach ailments consistently since I made a cross-country move from Ohio to Colorado in 2002. I would feel fine and then, BOOM, I’d feel like my stomach was stuffed full, as if I’d just finished a gluttonous binge. But I hadn’t. It was as if my system would come to an abrupt halt, cogs and gears and all. I’d been to more doctors and bodyworkers than I could count on one hand. Nobody had a clue what to do for me. 
  

Around that time, I had taken one of my Alzheimer’s clients to a urologist in Boulder. The urologist recommended my client also see her husband, Tom Bunn, an acupuncturist/Chinese Herbalist who worked in the same office. Tom specialized in what's called "muscle-testing," a gentle, non-invasive technique that explores the body-mind as a whole. 


I got to talking with Tom about my stomach ailments and he suggested I make an appointment to come back and see him. 


By the time, I showed up at Tom’s office, I was exasperated, feeling pitiful and helpless. He asked me to sit on a wheely stool facing him. He instructed me to close my eyes and hold one hand out in front of me, as if I was holding out an easter basket for him to peer into. He started talking under his breath, pushing down on my hand, which no longer felt like a thing that was attached to me. He said something and my arm went limp. He said something else and it held strong. He asked me to wheel around (hence the wheely stool) and tapped along my spine while repeating a series of phrases I could barely hear. He was having an entire conversation with my visceral body—the cells and muscles and energy flitting through—and my brain was not invited to the party. An outsider would've surely been curious about this strange and quiet dance we were doing.


Time passed in that fluid non-linear, mountain-driving, way it does when channeled through muscles and veins rather than the high-traffic thinking of the brain. After an hour had passed, in a blink but also an eternity, he reported that my aliment was trauma-related and located in the liver. It could be healed with Chinese Herbs and a few more sessions. And it was.

 

From that point on, I trusted Tom without reservation. For the next decade, I followed him like a groupie through four offices, visiting every few months, sometimes for name-able ailments, sometimes for a soul tune-up for generalized anxiety and the like. Each visit was the same as that first one, in that he would take the information I had available—sometimes it was simply a symptom—as a starting point. Then he would use his tools and his eastern magic to go deeper, getting to the root of things, and also treating whatever needed tending en route. Health was a whole-being situation. To this day, with all my years of encountering everything from talk-therapy to cranial sacral and massage, I have yet to experience anything like it as far as the sheer magnitude of healing. 

Sadly, he has since moved to Florida. Now, the closest thing I have to Tom is words

  

***


When I show up at the page/screen fully and without any masks, the words lead me to a place with more perspective, a bird on a wire with a bigger view. Much like Tom.


As I said in my very first post on Momtemplative (tumblr), 


Without fail, when I take a moment to reflect on my day using words, a more distanced viewpoint presents itself, like seeing life through a healthy clearing, a subtle distance, where my wisest (fill-in-the-blank: funniest, most compassionate, most thriving) self tends to perch. 

The version of me who is disconnected from words (read: disconnected from a higher power) is a person who spends her time pawing at her cubs and mate, grunting for them to just follow my instruction!, lamenting the hours left in the day until she can have a drink or a smoke to soften the relentlessness that is parenting. Let’s just say, she’s not my favorite. 


But lately, even though I show up again and again, pen-in-hand, my words feel forced and clinical, shallow in breath. There are weed-vines of self-doubt, dense as hemp rope, and my thoughts come out curated and ultra-pasteurized. I recognize them on the page as a sort of Flat-Stanley version of myself, words that are stuck in wanting to sound—be perceived—a certain way.


When I started writing regularly again with Momtemplative at the beginning of the year, my aspiration was to reconnect with a writing practice in order to reconnect with myself from a deeper place. Now, my desire is to connect with a deeper place in myself in order to reconnect with my writing. Both sides.


(Even as I write this. I have one hand on my laptop to keep it from sliding off the throw pillow on my lap, and the other hand is twisting and twisting the hair on the top of my head. This is a habit, my weed-vine mind has instilled to keep me even more entwined. The moment my hand goes up to twist-the-hair, always the same spot, top-of-the-head, left, it’s like the channel between my heart and head has snapped shut. So, I have taken to wearing a bam-bam ponytail on top to intercept the aggressive habit. Or I’ll put on a winter hat, regardless of season, like a cork.)


I wonder what Tom would say about that one.


***


My mom has been staying with us for two weeks and will be here for another two. The idea of her going back home wrings out my heart like a wet rag. I’ve become accustomed to overhearing her and Opal having sweet chats about school and life, and her and Ruth as they play for lengthy, well-paced stretches of time. Their tempo isn’t rushed, since there is nothing else my mom really needs to be doing but exactly this. It may set Ruth up for tantrums when her playmate returns to being primarily me, and this mama has other things to do as well, like laundry. But it's nourishing for me to see Ruth getting this gift of an adored playmate for long, unmeasured periods of time. That, along with temporarily sleeping in the room with Jesse and I, feels like submerging her in the TLC she so desperately deserves in this no-playdates vaccum of COVID.


I dread having a house without my mama gently and lovingly working her way through the space, supportive of every nuance and emotion. And then there's the moment I start talking about Opal going back to school in less than a week—a sudden, surprising decision that came to us from the district in a simultaneous chorus of DINGS via text, voicemail, and email. 


When I think of these things, but am not yet (for whatever reason) able to feel the flat sadness or the uncharted dread that comes with them, my writing feels strained and effortful and I would rather have a hard, undiluted drink.


***


Lately, when things get wild in my house—a kid is screaming, another kid is screaming, food is burning, the basics—I've taken to placing my hand on my chest to, just for a sec, feel. As if my hand were listening, ear to the door, to what is happening in there


In this era of ultimate stress on the body, mind and soul, the scales are tipped sideways. I suspect we need to counter the onslaught of stressors with even more of the self-regulating and tending than ever before in recorded history. Like the gorgeous potted flowers on our back deck that lived for weeks, abundant and happy, watered daily. Then the temperatures shot to the upper-nineties for over a month and, even with the daily waterings, they died. They needed more. 


Our therapist, Joe, used to say, if you are waiting until the end of the day to tune-in, it is already to late. If you are waiting for vacation time to check in with yourself, it’s way too late. It needs to happen all along, in small ways, like an IV drip. 


There must be time to at least acknowledge the raw, unsettled quivering of my insides—slow walks in my tree chapel, reading the delicious stuff, spacious conversations with people who also want to take stock of their inner rooms with a flashlight and a curious mind. Otherwise, the channels are blocked, the words won't come. My rib-cage door is dead-bolt locked, and it takes nearly all my precious writing time to crack that baby open.

 

***


Pema Chodron says, “Looking deeper, we could say that the real cause of suffering is not being able to tolerate uncertainty— and thinking that it’s perfectly sane, perfectly normal, to deny the fundamental groundlessness of being human.”


When the words don't come, my instinct is to spend my time searching for them—often aggressive, obsessive foraging. The ransacking of rooms, the emptying of drawers. Writing becomes a desperate mission of muscling through—a far cry from the avenue of connection it has the potential to be.


Yesterday, I awoke feeling teeny, inconsequential and helpless in the face of a world that seems to be falling apart. Anxiety inhabited my stomach, and crawled to my throat, as if I'd swallowed an entire ant colony. (The ant-colony feeling happens on a very-regular basis these days.) Sitting down to journal led me to words of self-judgement and aggressive comparisons. Working on a blog piece led me to heavy-handed critiquing and tail-chasing, never-ending edits. 


I do that. Until I realize I'm doing that. 


Then, I—perhaps a bit reluctantly—swing the pendulum in the other direction, to more actions of tuning-in, more trusting, more connecting, even as my stomach is effervescent with trepidation, even as everything in my system wants to keep blindly gnawing away. Softening—the opposite of forcing it—feels terrifying and utterly wrong. Trusting the words will come feels, dare I say, negligent. 


But if, as Pema says, this is exactly as life is—the love and loss, the tightness and expansion, the utter uncertainty of the pandemic, the election and how the respective shitshows will all play out—then standing knee-deep in the sloshing muck of groundlessness seems to be an honest place to perch. I can feel the words, the thoughts, the understandings as they brush, bonk, slam against my wet calves like wild, reckless fish stuck in a solid current. 


For now, maybe they are not to be caught and recorded—just noticed.  


For now, the bird-on-a-wire, with her unique wisdom and perspective, may just have to wait. 






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