One Good Thing About Magic

Magic finds me in steps, not sudden bangs. Rather a series of sparks that build to booms. Stars align, gears shift and click, coincidences craft miracles.

Always I can trace the threads further back than I first supposed, back to when they were mere filaments, barely visible. Almost like these lessons have been spinning and weaving since birth.

Today I look decades back, to my frustrated wooded walk up Ashland Creek, pressing my troubled love into pursed lips, silent and restrained as always. I stomped fiercely at the unfortunate soft track until my own friction ground me to a stubborn stop. I looked up, and from my hilltop perch, exhaled a sound across the creek. Just a sigh, nothing much. But just enough to catch my ragged tension and pull, just enough for some subtle release. I felt my eyes expand. I exhaled a bigger sigh, then a little moan, still modest, still reserved, but a release nonetheless. The creek seemed to twitch and crack with color. A glimmer of…something. ‘Huh,’ I stood for another still minute, thoughts on pause. Then turned and stomped my way back to my troubled love. 

I never made much noise. At least not once the teenage years hit. People around me made enough noise, and I never wanted to seem so out of control. I have all the same crazy inside, of course, so I made noise in other ways. I wrote, I ran, I ate.

I watched the world silently, expressing emotion only once the worst had passed, through perfectly polished performances. Tears fell silently, songs sung softly, discontent shared shamefully.

But there were moments, important moments now that I look at the whole story, at all the threads carried through. 

The trip to Cuba, a month of frenzied traveling with two Spanish women, I walked down a deserted beach and started talking to myself. Just to hear my own voice, my own language, to soothe myself. 

The healer at the yoga retreat, who looked at me in my parasite ridden, travel weary haze, and said, “I think you need to sing more.” 

The month on a sailboat in Panama, with the Brazilian man who night after night demanded that I play my ukulele and sing. That gift of validation he gave me. 

The morning warmup I taught the troubled teens in Hawaii, slapping our muscles as we stretched our exhales from soft sighs to feral screams. 

The summer I grieved one of the most potent loves I’d ever known, and learned to finally sob, to moan as I cried, instead of choking back sound and holding back healing. The one moment I surfaced after a long, rattling cry to realize the memory I mourned was gone, purged and cleansed with the tears. 

These last years there has been more singing, confident and assured. There have been more sobs, easier and freer. There have been little internet clips and advice, linking humming to the vagus nerve, linking my experience to science. Little threads winding into cords. 

This month my voice came back. I’ve been songwriting these years, and I’ve gotten used to the cycles that creativity commands. I’ve learned not to panic when it goes, because I’ve seen that it always comes back. Like a lover who needs to travel. So, I did my thing, dove deep into the projects that needed all my energy, and as they tapered, creativity came back to reclaim its space in my life. I got back to my songs. I played with recording equipment, I watched movies. 

The week before my second ever Karaoke night, I’d watched the Whitney Houston movie, and was thus inspired to sing ‘I Have Nothing’ to the small group of friends gathered in the seedy roadside Mexican restaurant. It went terribly of course. Not only do I lack her vocal range (obviously), but I realized I had no vocal strength for belting classic ballads. Sure, I can sing my fluttery folk songs with a mic and acoustic guitar, but I want the freedom to rock out and let it rip like the divas. I was inspired to train.

I started in my outdoor kitchen, in the car on the way to work. Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh…ee, ee, ee, ee, ee…up and down the scales, sliding my voice through the cracks, training it to be smooth. I practiced big breaths into my belly, forcing more air through the little cords, training them to hold strong. But still never too loud. Someone could hear. Across the valley, on the sidewalk. My voice got stronger, but I still couldn’t let loose. 

Meanwhile another element found me. I finally accepted my friend’s invite to sit in his ice bath. I still wasn’t sure what, but I was guaranteed there would be benefits. The temperature read forty-seven degrees. “I recommend you just get in quickly,” he said, as he explained the procedure. I didn’t know what to expect, so I didn’t let myself hesitate. I stepped over the edge of the tub and sunk down, dunked my head and came up stunned. “Breathe,” he said calmly.

Right, breathe. I had forgotten. I took a breath, and my exhale came out as an involuntary “haaaaaaaa”, which somehow seemed to help. As long as I moaned, the aching electric shock of cold seemed to disappear. Maybe, just maybe I could have stayed silent and controlled, but it would have hurt that much more. I shivered, convulsed, moaned, pursed my lips and “hahaaaaa-ed” for three minutes. And afterwards I felt…cleansed, free, unlimited, and so grateful to trust a friend (and myself) enough to be out of control. I never used to trust anyone with that.

The next plunge was not so cold, but I made sure to moan and sigh, and I realized that I like that part of it, how it forces me to be out of control, to make noise, to surrender to what my body needs. With everything else I’ve had to teach myself to let go, with grief, joy, and even sex.

I plunged before dinner last night. We had to stay up late for an eight o’clock reservation at a farm-to-table supper club. I was meant to go with my best friend from out of town and his local work colleague. But he delayed his trip, and so I would just be going with his colleague.

“I can’t cancel the reservation,” she wrote, “But I could invite Sarah as the third seat.”

And so serendipity had me seated in the quaint, elegant restaurant across from the very woman who’d read my tarot a month ago. Who I’d instantly felt drawn to in an unavoidably magical way. A soul who sees the world in the same way. A soul who sees through worlds, beyond the surface. A presence that reinforces my own sense of such things, that reflects and amplifies my own magic. 

Slow season made us the only guests in the restaurant, so we lounged and drank our BYO wine, and savored the delicately crafted dishes, and through our threads of conversation we came to Sarah’s most recent sound ceremony, where she taught vocal toning for the chakras. She explained, with her matter-of-fact, no-nonsense gaze, how the vibrations of our own voice can tone and strengthen the different energy centers, the chakras. How she was diving beyond the rhetoric of it and into the science, through her training in sound therapy.

Now, I had always needed to create my own explanations for Yoga dogma. I couldn’t get behind Chakras until I learned that they line up with hormonal glands in the body. I still don’t understand the spiraling energy, or why each chakra is assigned a color or a shape. But as Sarah spoke, as all my silver threads of coincidence and serendipity wove to shape that exact moment, the idea behind sound vibration made complete sense. Not because her words were flowery or wrapped in Yogic zeal, but because all my little steps had lead me to that door, and my experiences resonated with her words enough to walk through. 

This morning I found a chakra toning video.

First I sat a short meditation. I don’t meditate nearly as much as I used to. It used to be my sole practice. Just as ashtanga yoga before that, and running before that. Each one lead to the next, each more subtle than the one before. Maybe I just get bored with practices, or maybe they each serve a different layer, and I’ve been sinking through the levels.

So this morning I tried the humming…uhhhh, ohhhhh, eeeee, ahhh…three breaths for each chakra, for each tone. By the end my head was buzzing, the world was bright, I felt a release, I felt excited to add it to my morning routine. To add it to my voice exercises.

There was supposed to be a small summer wave today, so I braved the rain and drove to the beach. I found a spot with potential and paddled up and down the coast looking for a break. The ocean was wind-whipped and seaweed flavored. A south wind carried warmth and smells that reminded me of home, of the Caribbean how I experienced it on a different, smaller island, not here where winter waves turn Puerto Rico into the North Shore of Oahu. I sat in a familiar sea, almost connected, but still lost. 

Weeks of hard work had de-conditioned me for rest and relaxation. Out alone on a beautiful bay, I still craved company, romance, all the loud, unreliable forms of release. Maybe I should paddle in and go for a run? Somehow that didn’t seem like it would touch my discontent this time. My thoughts wound in my chest. If I can’t be settled on a day like today, then when? How? Should I just accept that my default state is unease? 

I sighed, heavy.

Then I sighed again. And paused. 

The heart chakra, I remembered. I “ahhh-ed”, then “ahhh-ed” again, louder, higher pitched. I felt better with each sound. No waves came, so I sat and ran through the chakras as best I could remember, then moved into my vocal warmups, looking around to make sure I was still alone on my warm, windy sea. I widened my mouth and sang louder, sliding my vocal cords through the scales. 

Minutes passed and I breathed and hummed. The ocean came alive, a fuller green against a deeper, gray sky. The wind hit me soft but exhilarating, rocking me in choppy wavelets, sending sprays of foam. I turtle popped its head and I smiled and “ooo-ed” at him. 

The film between my skin and the world shook and cracked and flaked away with the vibration of my voice. My cells woke and stretched to drink in the sounds, sights, and sensations around me. I sunk off my board and floated, floated, totally absorbed, cocooned. As if I’d run for hours, or meditated for days…a magic more potent and permeating, a calm more complete, than all my elusive highs.

And all those moments had lead to this new tool, this new power. Each practice that came before, each conversation, each drop of wisdom, hitting at just the right beat so I could hear it and hold it and cultivate it. To this direct route to magic, to connection, to nervous system regulation. Just with my own breath, my own voice. All the power of connection contained in my own body.

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