I had a chuckle at myself a couple of months ago. I had been mentioning the 3-4 am witching hour – the time when many people wake up overtaken by panic or anxiety – in my blog posts, and then I found myself waking up at that hour myself. It had been a long time since I’ve woken up at the witching hour, but in mid-December I woke up twice to find the clock begin with the number three: 3:47 then 3:17.
Instead of fighting it or judging it, I became curious. Instead of trying to will myself back to sleep, I followed the invitation of psyche and divined its wisdom. And then, as I always do to make sense of my experience, I wrote:
It’s 3:17. I don’t fight it. I lie in the darkness for a while and become curious. I gently notice. I breathe. I sense a sadness in my heart. I breathe there. I notice that I’m hungry. I consider walking down to the kitchen for a “midnight” snack, but I’m cold and I don’t want to leave the warmth of blankets.
More time passes. My hunger becomes more insistent.
I feel a shimmer of joy as I walk down the stairs. The house is silent, a rare occurrence in a house with two boys. I stop on the stairs to take in the Christmas lights and the dark trees swaying outside. I move quietly, so as not to wake anyone up. My cat has followed me downstairs, and I smile at her: fellow creature of the night, sweet feminine nighttime wanderer, moon lover, living on natural time where night and day blend into one seamless circle of life. I get a snack, then carry it upstairs to huddle next to the heater vent, where I eat and drink a little.
I feel safe in the darkness, huddled in the holiness of a cold December night. My senses are more acute at this hour; the food tastes “extra delicious”, as my five year old would say, without any other distractions. I sit and eat and chew and swallow – a mini mindfulness practice – and then notice a memory filtering up from body: waking up in the middle of the night in my first trimester of pregnancy with a hunger so ravenous I thought it would empty me from the inside, then eating banana oat muffins with almond milk, my whole body singing in pleasure at this delicious combination of sweet with cold, the texture of muffin meeting the creamy liquid.
I wonder at the date – December 17 – and become curious: Was that the day I found out I was pregnant eleven years ago? I look back through my journal and find it was December 20th. Close. Yes. The body remembers. I feel another wave of sadness. I smile and I cry. I don’t need to know exactly why. I hold both feelings and trust in the non-linear language of psyche that can tolerate paradox and opposites. It’s all okay. I read through other old journal entries and a sadness so deep rises up in me. I cry. The treasure map of psyche has led me to a pain in my heart that needs attention, a pain that’s not always easy to access in the middle of a busy day.
I have to force myself to get back into bed. The night, the silence, the timelessness – it’s like a nutrient my body craves – and I could stay up for hours enveloped in this world, reading back on old journal entries and traveling down the pathways of memory and feeling. But my alarm bell in the form of a five year old will wake me up bright and early, and I won’t be a patient mother tomorrow if I don’t get more sleep, so I whisper thank you to the darkness, the invisibles, the goddesses of night, the wisdom of psyche, and settle back in to bed.
Many years ago my 3am awakenings did not feel so serene. There was a time when I was awoken by nightmares at 3 or 4am, my whole body shaking and my soul screaming out. When I would resist, the panic would rise to tumultuous levels, my bones shaking like an earthquake. But at other times I was fascinated, for as long as I can remember I’ve been a follower of dreams. At the time I couldn’t decipher the messages, but I knew they were important, so I would faithfully pull myself out of bed and write them down. When the fascination – the compassionate curiosity – took over, I could walk through the anxiety and arrive at some serenity.
Curiosity is the key. Viewing your life as a treasure map and what we call symptoms – anxiety, depression, insomnia, somatic aches and illness – as cues and signals along the journey is what leads you to your own quiet, inarguable wisdom. Wisdom speaks to us all the time. We are, it seems, walking reservoirs of this timeless wisdom and creative wells asking for expression, our anxiety and insomnia and depression speaking in the only language it can.
Who might you meet in the middle of the night next time you’re awakened at 3am? What soul-self longs to lead you down the stairs or into the closet where your memories, dreams, and creativity dwell? There is a story waiting to be told. There is wisdom waiting to be divined. When you approach your life with curiosity, you will be guided into the spiral labyrinth that leads you into your true Self, the place where your self-trust and your own compass live.
The message will differ from person to person and from each stage in your life. Some of my clients talk about the witching hour as a time to connect deeply to spiritual guidance. Others are awakened by the telltale signs of anxiety: heart pounding, chest constricted, mouth dry. Regardless of the tone of the hour, the messages are there, asking or even begging for you listen. The listening begins by shifting to a mindset that asks, “What’s wrong with me?” to one that trusts in your innate goodness and instead asks, “What is the message? What is it that psyche is wanting me to learn?” For the dreams and awakenings at the witching hour don’t come from our conscious mind, and it’s for this reason that they are like flecks of gold transmitted from our own wells of wisdom that live deep inside, beneath the layers of thought and mind. If you want to move forward out of the stuck places and into more light of awareness it would behoove you to turn toward and listen instead of to judge and run.