I hear a frantic squawking noise and notice a little brown finch caught in a viscus tar-like substance poured in a black line between two cement slabs. The finch's feathers are becoming covered in black gunk as she frenetically flaps her stuck wings while the tar hardens. I kneel down, and as slowly and gently as I can, lift her up and out.
The finch is completely still in my hands. Then she trembles for a few minutes before suddenly flying away. In the car on the way home I tell my mom, who nods.
For years I couldn't understand why this memory is so important to me.
Recently I was re-reading Peter Levine's book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. The book compares the way that humans handle trauma with other animals, using research from the field of neuroscience and psychological case studies to explain how trauma stays in our bodies, not just our brains, and so we need to move in order to heal.
The first phase of trauma, where we feel frozen, is an involuntary physical response that takes its time, and is then overcome by movement. Human cultures often view the immobility phase as a sign of weakness, and so are unsupportive to people experiencing it, who internalize this feeling.
There is an immense amount of energy that needs to move through the body afterward, which also often has no good outlet. We can get stuck in the frozen feeling, reliving the trauma again and again. If we are allowed to let the energy move through our systems, we begin to heal.
I came across this passage in the book:
“A bird that crashes into a window, mistaking it for open sky, will appear stunned or even dead. A child who sees the bird’s collision may pick up the bird out of curiosity... or a desire to help. The warmth of the child’s hands can facilitate the bird’s return to normal functioning. As the bird begins to tremble, it will show signs that it is reorienting to its surroundings… If the bird is not injured and is allowed to go through the trembling-reorienting process without interruption it can move through its immobilization and fly away.”
The bird was me. In all those years of feeling stuck and thrashing in the tar, some part of me knew that if I could just feel the warmth of someone’s hands (being witnessed) and tremble it out (dance and move), I could fly.
We know the flight paths of our own healing. The maps are always inside, and there are always clues to find them.
Related post: The more I dance the more I write
This is an excellent interview on the related topic of PTSD, creativity, and healing. Thanks gorgeous healer Shamsi for the link!
photo by Dean Borcherds. You can buy a print here.