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The Chainsaw

Last week I picked my son up from his evening tennis practice. As he tried to origami himself into the passenger seat he reminded me of a praying mantis. All long extended limbs, seemingly oversized joints, and the ability to fold himself down into almost nothing. “Hi Mom” he said in a voice so low it made my heart hurt. He’s 15 now and I’ve only been letting him sit in the front seat for 2 years. Someone once told me that in my state kids under 13 can’t sit up front. I’m a stickler for a rule, if it's a rule that I agree with. Otherwise (of course) rules are made to be broken.

My phone had been sitting on the passenger seat when he got into the car and as he handed it to me he stopped and said “what is that?” He pointed to my screen where in the dark of the car you could clearly see that my phone was on its maximum brightness, that I had been listening to Spotify, and what I was listening to on Spotify was “chainsaw noises”.

“Oh that?” I chuckled. “Sometimes I have to listen to that instead of my thoughts.” “Why?” he asked, looking puzzled. “Sometimes even that loud snarling chainsaw noise is better than what goes on between my ears” I explained. “You can’t be serious” he scoffed, now looking concerned. “Sadly, I am serious. Deadly serious. Chainsaw serious.” I laughed. “But why would you listen to that? Why wouldn't you listen to something soothing? Something relaxing?” he asked, still confused. “Oh I do. Mostly I listen to books on tape, the BBC, sermons by Michael Singer, meditations by Mooji and Pema Chodron. But sometimes those softer voices can’t get through and I need to fight fire with fire.” I tried to explain to him that the raw, aggressive, almost violent chainsaw noise sometimes snaps me right out of a negative thought cycle. It reminds me not to get caught up in my thoughts. “Thoughts don’t really exist” I explained. “They are merely phantoms, floating around in between my ears, they are often just very loud brain noise. And often, in my case, these thoughts can be mean, critical, negative and unproductive. They can overwhelm me. The chainsaw sound is like, electric shock therapy for my mind. It jolts me out of a negative thought spiral. So that's how I use that noise, like a “SNAP OUT OF IT, Buddy!” Or, like a brisk slap across the face for my mind.”

“Alrighty then” he sighed loudly, resigned to his mom’s profound weirdness. Then we started chatting about tennis and Novak Djokovic's stunning victory in the most recent Australian Open. According to a verified rumor Novak recovers from his tennis matches in some sort of pod. A pod that mimics altitude changes and gives him a “competitive edge.” Is the pod a form of blood doping? Or a brilliant move by Novak’s team? No one is really sure. This device is called the CVAC pod and apparently Novak is the only player on the ATP tour who has the money, the nerve, and the belief in unregulated science to use it.

Once home I Googled images of Novak's CVAC pod and decided that I don’t care how good my tennis game gets, I'm never getting into that contraption. The whole thing looks way too confined and claustrophobic for my taste. Then I remembered that a decade or more ago, the big fad in my fashionista world was getting yourself into an isolation, or sensory deprivation, tank. This is another sort of pod, pitch black, lightproof, soundproof, filled with body-temperature water. The more sophisticated pods can also cut off the sense of smell, touch, taste and the ability to know which way is up or down. This is supposed to be relaxing. 60 minutes minimum and up to three hours or more once you have acclimated. Honestly, I would rather have Marathon Man-esque dental work than float in that thing for a minute.

The idea of the isolation pod is to cut off all stimuli so that you can relax. But it’s not outside stimuli that causes my mind to race. It's my mind that causes my mind to race. Cut off all the stimuli you like. It's still going to be running in there, chasing in there, thought-cycloning in there - and who would want to be alone with that? I use outside stimuli to distract myself from my thoughts. I’m certainly not getting into a dark wet pod to float alone with them all for an hour or more.

Isolation pods came and went. I think I’m not alone in the world. Most people don’t want to be alone with their thoughts for an hour. Or at least most drug addicts and alcoholics don’t. “Never go into your head alone…it’s a dangerous neighborhood” is a refrain I often hear at A.A. meetings. So I felt vindicated when I read more about the isolation pods and about how the craze over them arrived, and then died out quickly, years ago.

I ran to my son to show him proof that my chainsaw-noise-brain-rebooting was not such a crazy idea after all. “Look” I announced, showing him an isolation tank in my most and-mother-told-you-so voice. “This is like Novak’s pod. These isolation tanks were all the rage several years ago but it never took off. See? No one likes to be alone with their thoughts. If they did, those pods would still be a thing. So maybe your mom is not that nuts after all.” “Well…” My son considered the photo of the isolation pod in front of him. “I get not wanting to go into that thing, but re-booting your brain with a dose of chainsaw, volume 11, is not quite the same.”

He had a point. Then he looked at me and said “maybe you think too much. Maybe you should just not think so much”.

At that I laughed out loud and gave him a big hug. “Yes! I shouldn't think so much.” I said, still smiling and clasping him in my momma bear death grip.

“Ok Mom. Whatever works for you” he said, deftly and rapidly detangling himself from my grasp.

On that point, I agree. I do think too much. But until I learn how to consistently calm my interior thoughts, that raging roaring chainsaw noise, that slap across the face for my mind, will just have to do the job of rebooting and quieting my mind for me.


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