I gave blood yesterday. It's a boring thing to do, but after a while I started to feel woozy, blurry, nauseous, not good. I knew I was in trouble. As the beeper sounded to alert the technician that I had pumped out the full pint, I hollered, "I'm blacking out here." At least I think I said that. I'm not quite sure what was intention and what actually happened. I know I passed out for a few moments, because I have no memory of anyone rushing over and lowering the head of my chair, yet that is what happened. I woke up and one of the women asked me my name. I knew it. Good for me, I thought. I'm back.
In ordinary life, I am not a fainter, but I am mildly claustrophobic. I discovered this many years ago when I took a tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with some friends. The guide opened a door into the ground, and we all walked down--what, maybe 200 stairs?--into the cave. As I walked, I turned around and couldn't see the top of the stairs or the sky. Looking ahead, I couldn't see the bottom of the stairs, just lots of people. I got shaky. My knees wobbled. When we fistood on the solid rock on the cave floor, we had to wait for the rest of the people to get down the stairs and into the cave. I was restless, looking for the way out. If we were going to tour this hole these rooms that were way, way underground, I needed to get moving. It took careful, concentrated rational thought to keep myself from finding the ranger and saying, "I need to get out of here. Now."
Lying in that lounge chair after giving blood, I felt better when I could ask for apple juice. I felt better when I decided not to eat the pretzels. (I didn't want to throw up.) In Mammoth Cave I felt better when the guide started talking and I could make quiet jokes with my friends. I was pretty annoying, actually, because it took more than a little joking around to manage my panic.
Another mind-altering experience: childbirth. Three times I went to that most powerful of feminine places, undrugged and noisy. You master labor--well, you get through it--by giving yourself over to what your body is trying to do. You think of dark, circular places, places that spiral and open. Of power, of force, of breath and depth and life force. A whole other way of being, away from the sheets you lie on, apart from the room you are in.
It's what I picture when I read the opening verse of Genesis. Without form and void, in the darkness and the deep. The Spirit of God is there, moving, blowing, sweeping as a wind over the waters. The Spirit creates, by speaking. breathing the words, "Let there be."
We come back from these shaky places by asserting our will. I say my name. I ask for juice. I make jokes. I listen to a guide talk about rock formations and rivers inside the earth. I speak the name of the newborn child in my arms. I'm back.
Back from the void of unconsciouness, from physiologic panic, from the waves of labor, breathing, speaking, saying words creates the world as I see it, the world that exists in the mind of God.