How to Let Go: A Dark-Night Page from my Journal

As I shared a few weeks ago, our older son, Everest was planning to solo for the first time in a glider after he turned 14 (the minimum age you can solo). He had been training all summer and had planned to fly the day after his Bar Mitzvah, but the circumstances didn’t align and it had to be postponed. Every day that week he asked when he would solo, and every day we told him, “When it’s the right time.” The following Sunday night, his instructor called to tell us that tomorrow would be the day. We decided not to tell Everest until morning to increase his chances of getting a good night’s sleep. We wanted him fully resourced the night before he would take to the cockpit without anyone in the backseat.

As I got into bed that night, I could feel fear creeping into the edges of psyche. I had walked through one layer of fear in order to let him fly at all, even with the instructor  behind him, but this was an entirely new level. I texted Carrie: “I’m so scared.” And she said, “Of course you are. It’s going to be a long night.” Those words were helpful: reminding me that fear had a necessary place here and it wasn’t about getting rid of it as much as riding through it. I gathered my nighttime, witching hour resources around me – my journal, a good pen, my prayer book – and prepared to settle in. But before I could begin my nighttime ritual of meditation and prayer, the terror inched further in.

Earlier in the evening I had allowed fear-mind to take over and made the cardinal error for handling anxiety by Googling, “Are gliders safe?” When you go searching for confirmation of fear, as you know from your own late-night anxiety Google searches, you find it, and before I knew it was I was reading articles about glider crashes and safety ratings. Luckily, my adult self jumped quickly into the driver’s seat and I shut the computer. As I sat in bed, I chose a different path to try to gain some reassurance or a foothold into containing my fear and terror and texted my rabbi telling her I was scared. She wrote back:

“How exciting, awesome, and also terrifying for you! Remember the Hebrew mantra:

B’Yadcha Afkeed Ruchi

Into your hands I place his spirit”

I cried when I read that. And then I wrote in my journal, which documents my one-night dark night of the soul, a true initiation into the world of terror that arises on the precipice of letting go of someone we love, especially when the real possibility of death is forefront. Logically, I knew that flying in a glider isn’t any more dangerous than the car ride to the airport; in fact, Everest often reminds me that the car ride is more dangerous. But the fear-mind doesn’t take kindly to logic, and there was nothing in the world that could have convinced me that letting my son fly ALONE in an airplane was less dangerous than driving in a car.

I’m sharing this journal entry with you now to remind you that fear is a part of life, especially when there’s reason to fear, but that when we meet it with our resources and allow it to move through, something beautiful unfolds: a mixture of gratitude and joy which combines to create a feeling close to ecstasy. When we meet our feelings as they are – the normal fear that arises when lovers come close to our heart, the normal grief that arises in the face of loss, both big and small, the normal vulnerability that arises as a result of being human but especially when we take the risk of loving – when we meet those core, raw feelings they don’t have to logjam in the body then morph into anxiety but can flow along the river of life. We all get stuck from time-to-time; that, too, is part of being human. But we stay more in fluidity and movement when we can accept what arises with curiosity and compassion instead of resistance and shame, as I tried to do the night before my son soloed.

August 19, 2018 – 11pm

Everest is supposed to solo tomorrow. Dear God, please keep him safe.

Every time I read what Tirzah wrote –

B’Yadcha Afkeed Ruchi

Into your hands I place his spirit –

I cry – from letting go, from knowing that he’s not only my child, and the poem I read to him at his Bar Mitzvah comes to mind (see end of article).

Each time I say the mantra, I can feel myself letting go. As I cry, I let go and I feel a sweet surrender as my tears join the river of life. 

I say the prayer/mantra over and over again as I imagine him flying and being held by hands so much bigger than mine and also by his totem animal the owl and the hawks we see soaring daily – those magnificent gliders who ride the thermals like Everest does.

Every time the jolt of fear comes I meet it with:

B’Yadcha Afkeed Ruchi

Into your hands I place his spirit.

I may weep through this night. I may be in conversation with the darkness all night long.  

And now I see all of the mothers at the edge of the forest as they say goodbye to their adolescent sons.

And now I see myself birthing not only Everest but also Asher when I crouched down low in the water and screamed out my sons and saw a circle of women surrounding me in an ancient field.

Where are those women now? They are here, surrounding me, but even if they were actually here I would still be alone. I am the only mother of this child. I am the only one who could birth him and I’m the only one who can cut the umbilical cord this second time. 

When I’m in this place, the non-essentials fall away and life is whittled down to this: my love for my son and how excruciating it is to let him go -YES – but also the aliveness, the vitality that comes from being in the center of the river of life. These times, even these moments, are crystals of clarity when I’m plunged into the poetry of everything that truly matters. 

Fear rises up. Stomach turns. I say my prayer:

B’Yadcha Afkeed Ruchi

Into your hands I place his spirit.

The prayer says nothing about keeping him safe. It’s not a prayer for a specific outcome – although I’m certainly praying for that as well – but a prayer to help me let go – a reminder that he is not only mine and maybe not mine at all. 

Fear rises up again, a wave, a surge, and this time the prayer doesn’t have the same effect. I want a guarantee. I don’t want to let him go into God’s hands. The prayer isn’t right. My fear rails against it. 

What comes to mind now is the night I went on my own solo vision quest the summer after my senior year of high school. Six of us went camping for five days with a mentor and on the 4th night we ventured out in separate directions to find a spot to camp alone for the night. I was much, much braver back then. I don’t think I could do that now. But at 17 fear hadn’t grabbed me by the ankles like it would a few years later. I was innocent to the world of panic and anxiety – at least consciously. It’s not that I wasn’t scared; I was terrified. In fact I threw up in the middle of the night from fear and release – but I did it. It was a long night. I had visions and nightmares. In the morning when I rolled up my sleeping pad I saw the imprint of a snake in the sand beneath me. I never knew if I imagined that or it was really there, but that’s how it remains in my memory. 

As Carrie said, tonight may also be a long night. Fear just sent me an image of something horrible happening to my son. Please, God, let it not be so. 

B’Yadcha Afkeed Ruchi

B’Yadcha Afkeed Ruchi

B’Yadcha Afkeed Ruchi

I will myself to remember that when I’m at the gliderport watching him fly I don’t feel afraid. Fear has a field day in the mind, but in person it often calms down. When I’m in person watching him fly I know he can do this. He is doing it. I know I’m watching a young man in the center of his calling – his daemon – and I’m in awe. Fear will try to tell me many stories tonight as it likes to do, especially in the dark of night, but I must remember to anchor into what I deeply know: he knows how to do this. He has trained all summer. He has trained his entire life. He has trained possibly lifetimes. 

This night will be about staying on top of fear. Or maybe it will be about surrendering to the terror fully, not in the way of allowing my fear-mind to run wild with catastrophic stories but in knowing that I can’t be anything other than terrified right now. 

***

In fact, terror did weave through my consciousness and unconscious throughout the night, much like the Vision Quest at 17. That night was my adult Vision Quest, where terror slithered like a snake beneath me and through me all night long. Terror, like grief, needs to be named and contained through ritual but we don’t have the rituals in our culture. I woke up at 5am with the following dream:

Jessica and Carrie are sleeping in our bedroom: Jess in the corner and Carrie near the door on the floor. I wake up at 5:30am and I’m in a ball on the bed in terror. Jess comes over and puts her hand on my back and immediately I start shaking uncontrollably – terror response moving through my body. It’s something she learned from her Brazilian dance teacher. I long for the teacher now – an older woman to guide me through this terror with ritual. I need the ritual to contain this terror about Everest flying. 

The dream brought the action: to shake as a way to release the terror. That is, in fact, how we release terror or trauma: we need to shake. I moved some energy in the dream, and I was able to go back to sleep.

Morning finally arrived. I woke up feeling like I had been battered, which I had been. I was in initiation. Initiation brings us to our knees, shatters us open, and invites growth like nothing else. 

I met Everest in the hallway and told him the news: you’re going to solo today. A mixture of excitement and fear crossed his face, but he smiled and quietly started to get ready. As the morning unfolded, I could see that he was in his own meditative space, preparing for his true initiation into adulthood. We finished getting ready, got into the car, and off we went.

As Everest did the pre-flight check, the rest of us sat at the port and waited. As we paced back and forth I noticed the ravens circling overhead, and immediately my mind latched onto it as an omen, but then immediately after that I laughed at my mind and named how fear looks for “signs.” I thought of my clients with relationship anxiety and how they convince themselves that their relationship is right or wrong based on signs. Fear will play all kinds of tricks on our minds. I said to my younger son, Asher, who is quite knowledgeable about fairy tales and myths, “Look, the ravens are circling.” He didn’t miss a beat and astutely responded, “Ah, in fairy tales that’s the omen of death.” In the light of day, I could laugh at fear’s tactics, and Asher and I shared a knowing smile. We knew Everest would be fine. 

And he was. I’m not sure I can explain the moment of watching him take off, but it brings tears to my eyes even now: tears of pride, joy, grief, relief, gratitude. Within moments he was off the ground, then soaring, beautifully flying like a hawk, and then he was out of sight. Joy bubbled up. I leaned back into my husband’s chest and he wrapped his arms around me. We did it, the gesture said. We let him go. We raised him to this moment in his life and he’s off now, untethered, this next umbilical cord cut. The sanctuary of our marriage nurtured some of it. None of us could have gotten to this point alone.

Twenty minutes later, Everest landed as smooth as silk, jumped out of the cockpit with a smile as big as the sun, and we all ran over, whooping and hollering and celebrating. His instructor dumped ice water on him, as is the tradition when someone solos, and Everest laughed. Again, I marveled: this young man who used to resist so many things, who was afraid of the dark and the night and grieved over every loss, had just flown a plane by himself.

He went into the glider as a boy and he stepped out as a man. We all noticed it: the way he pushed open the canopy, the way he jumped out of the plane, the way he walked around it as if he owned it. This was true initiation. With this one flight, he officially became a pilot. 

***

At the end of the day, as Everest and I shared our nightly ritual of a bedtime snack, I asked him what his favorite part was. First he said, “When I released the tow rope and I knew I was completely on my own.” I flashed on one of my catastrophic images from the night before where the tow rope misfired and got tangled around his plane, sending it into a tailspin of disaster. And I thought about how in the morning I was able to see the metaphor embedded in the fear: if the tow rope represents the umbilical cord then of course my biggest fear is around letting go, or somehow allowing my own fear to tangle around his dream. I smiled when he shared this with me, but of course didn’t share my process around it.

But then as I was about to walk upstairs he said, “Actually I had another favorite moment. When I was exploring the sky before I decided to descend, I looked around and saw the sun hitting the clouds and I realized I’m seeing something that only a few other pilots were seeing. The clouds were like a sea of white, and they were in between the mountains, too. It was so beautiful. That’s one of the things I love about flying: I get to see a world that very few people see.”

I looked at my son – fourteen, several inches taller than me, handsome and sweet and shining with joy – and I saw the toddler who spoke in poetry. And I flashed on a dream I had while I was pregnant about a poet-boy who swam in swimming pools reciting poetry. Everest isn’t the type to sit down and write poetry, but here he was describing this scene in the sky on his first solo flight in the most poetic way. Planes are his pen. The sky, his paper.

He’s a young man now. He is toddler. He is baby. He is every age I’ve ever known him to be. He still sits at the counter with me every night eating peanut butter toast with milk. He will fly around the world – of that I have no doubt. But I know in my soul that he will come back to this house from time to time and we will sit at this counter eating toast and milk together, and I will listen to his adventures, honoring and loving him as he continues to grow into his highest unfolding. 

I got into bed and ended my day with the two-word prayer that begins my day: Thank you. Thank you for keeping him safe. Thank you for the blessing of raising my children. Thank you for my life. 

***

For Everest: On Your Bar Mitzvah

On the day I found out I was pregnant with you

I loved you with a great love

imagining how the cluster of cells might

grow into my baby,

imagining the conversations we might have and the

person you might be,

filled with hope and possibility and the

great fantasy love of a mother waiting to meet her son.

On the day you were born,

my heart broke open

and I fell hopelessly in love

with your pure heart, your curious mind, your compassionate nature.

As you grew,

I marveled at your interest in learning about how the world works and

your poetic mind that, when you were eighteen months old,

pointed to the crescent moon above

then at your fingernail and said, “Moon.”

You grew and my love grew,

big enough to shelter us from the thunder of imperfect loving,

from the moments of anger and impatience,

big enough to wrap you up and catch you

as the storms of loss rocked you on their waves,

big enough to be

your tether as the fear of death

entered you nightly,

witnessing and praying and loving

until you grew from a child who was afraid of so many things

to a young man who is afraid of almost nothing.

On the day you first flew a glider

I wept as I watched you leave the ground,

and knew that you were no longer only my child

but that you belonged to the sky and

even beyond the sky.

I watched you soar above me and marveled that

the child who came from my body now

flew like a hawk, catching thermals and playing with the wind, and

when you landed, your face aglow with joy,

you told me that you had touched a cloud.

My awe pushed away my fear.

My pride edged out the part of me that wanted to hold on to you for dear life,

and my love for you grew even more.

Still you grow

and my love grows, and

I understand now that it expands

not so much to catch you

but to let you go,

that all along the growing and the loving were

preparing me for this day.

As you become a man before my eyes,

I know that

this love is as big as the earth so that

when you fly around the earth you will feel me there,

it’s as big as the sky so that

when you fly into the sky I will be with you.

it’s as big as space so that

when you fly into space you will know that I’m never far away.

A love so big that I can say to you, my beloved son:

May you follow your dreams.

May you fly as high and as far as you need to fly.

May you soar into your highest unfolding.

May you bring your joy to the world and leave it like the

wings of light and blessings that flew from your plane today.

May you be blessed.

May you be safe.

May you be awake.

May you be free.

May you be at peace

May you be love.

36 comments to How to Let Go: A Dark-Night Page from my Journal

  • What a beautiful simcha for Everest and your family. And for you in the crucible of fear. Such a gorgeous articulation of what it feels like to burn through the heat of it and emerge anew. Mazel tov to all y’all!

  • Sarah

    Wow. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and fear. So many of us don’t have models for this kind of love and you are giving us that gift. Thank you, thank you.

  • Jane

    Wow, this was just beautiful Sheryl. Thank you for sharing this. I hope when I have children one day I can love them with this kind of grace and vulnerability.

  • Robin

    So beautiful and moving. Thank you.

  • Diane

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It’s a big reminder for me that fear is normal and very necessary in most cases. I kept reminding myself of that when I gave birth to both my kids. Now that I have an almost two year old and a almost three month old. I shake nightly. I have so much fear surrounding the fact that I am a mother. I fear for their well being, I fear for their future. I hope and pray that I am enough for them. I need to remind myself daily and sometimes more than once that god chose me as their mother so I am enough. My fear tried telling me today as I left church that because I’m re-entering a church family that something will happen to my kids. Because now that I have extra support this will happen. I laughed/cried it off. Knowing that anything could happen at anytime brings me to my knees. My kids are my life , my purpose the reason I believe I was put on this earth. I so miss my sessions with you. You have a wonderful way to make me feel normal in a world that doesn’t allow fear. Heck my own parents have a hard time understanding me
    Sometimes. I hope that I can have 1/2 the amount of grace and vulnerability as you display. Lord knows it is what I need. With this fear comes not only with horrible thoughts surrounding my children but also my relationship anexiry. I still use the tools that you taught me. It helps so much. I just need to remind myself that it’s ok to surrender ( not give in)) but to just become friends with the fear it does serve it’s purpose. Even if it takes a ton of energy from me some days I will be grateful for the growth and education I get from it. I am able to help others and see things differently and on a much deeper level. I may always need to use these tools to help me along but it’s better than stuffing it back down.

    • It’s so nice to hear from you, Diane, and to hear about your growing family! Fear does serve a purpose, but only when there’s reason to fear in the hear-and-now. Otherwise, it’s essential that we rely on our tools for coming back to the present moment, focusing on gratitude, and surrendering to a bigger path that we can’t always see. It’s one of the most difficult things we do in life, but I know you have amazingly powerful tools at your disposal. I encourage you to rely on them daily.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for this Sheryl, it was great timing. 🙂 We were invited to go swimming at a friend’s pool tomorrow. Sam (my 1 1/2 year old) loves the water and his fearlessness terrifies me. The thought that he could drown is so scary. Thank you for reminding me that fear is normal and to meet it with wisdom and love. I know I can’t let fear run my life, but when it comes to my son, it is sometimes so hard to “let go.”

  • quietcourage

    Sheryl, this was so beautiful and a great gift to read. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you 🙏🏻

  • Thank you, all, for your beautiful comments. Sending love and blessings!

  • DeeQ

    Sheryl, thankyou for letting us into that moment in your life.
    From me there are two prominent points of thanks from this weeks posting;
    1) i cry to let go. I did this yesterday when my Dad told me he is remarrying (after the death of my mother 3 years ago) Her death was the spoon that stirred the pot of my anxiety to have it overflow in RA due to not allowing the tears and just letting go. The chapter of my ‘Mam and Dad’ is now at it’s end.
    2) showing your journal entry. I’m currently doing the breakfree course and I’ve found it difficult getting started with journaling, thankyou for showing me what yours looks like.

  • Sarah

    Incredibly beautiful articulation of a mother’s love and fear. Thank you for sharing. It makes me ache to become a mother myself, and also fills me with fear as I imagine the transition. xo

  • Natalie

    Hey, I’m kind of stuck and it’s exhausting.. I don’t get the intrusive thoughts as much anymore and I think I’m responding to them well enough, at least they don’t have the same power over me anymore. Now it’s just this dull feeling, that basically fits to your article “Anxiety and Numbness”.. I don’t know what to do and it freaks me out. I’m not only scared of doing the work, I’ve still been trying and I can’t seem to figure out what I’m so scared of, what feelings I’m covering up. I want the clarity back…

  • Eeva

    That was lovely to read.

    Maybe the ravens were there to symbolize a death. Not a physical one, but a spiritual one, a transition, as you wrote: “He went into the glider as a boy and he stepped out as a man.” On some level, something old died while something new was born. 🙂

  • Emma

    Thank you Sheryl, I was in tears as I read this! I love how although the story is real, and yet it is filled with metaphors and poetry (flying away, cutting the cord, the ravens…). Thank you so much for sharing your feelings around this monumental transition! it helps me process my own fear of loss, both as a mother and as a human being. It also resonated with me as I am getting ready for my first trip away from my 2 year old son in just a month… I’ll be the one flying away for 3 days and this has triggered so much anxiety – fear that i’ll die during the trip, fear that he’ll need me and that he’ll feel abandoned… the timing of the course is perfect for me and i really look forward to joining! Love

  • Bernadette

    What a beautiful read. Thank you Sheryl for being honest and vulnerable enough to tell us, your loyal followers/course members, that you too feel the same fears as all of us from time to time. Congratulations to your son!

  • Melissa

    Oh man this is so beautiful! I’m inspired by the way you mother and that you can so elegantly put the journey in words. I am just on the precipice of motherhood myself. I’m in my first trimester of my first pregnancy and every little unusual symptom has Fear coming out to play. I communicate this to my husband and like your friend Carrie he says of course, there is a place for this fear. And I love the “into your hands I place his spirit” because that’s ultimately what we have to do, isn’t it? They are ours, but not only ours. Thank you for this, it will give me courage and comfort as I traverse through this sacred yet tenuous time off early pregnancy 😊

  • Julia

    Thank you so much for sharing this Sheryl! Whenever I see a new blog post from you, I wait to read it when I will have time afterwards to be still . Your writing literally moves me from my head to my heart/soul and afterwards I want to savor the heart- open feeling . I’m so happy for your son’s transition and for your letting go ! Beautiful! Congratulations! Thank you for writing so that there’s more words to describe this practice of working with fear so that instead of runnning from it , I can grow from it . I love how you articulated that “initiation … shatters us open, and invites growth like nothing else”. How true! Becoming familiar with this process , has helped me more often stay the course of actually growing, rather than getting the first rumbling of initiation and shrinking back or numbing myself. I wish I’d learned this earlier in my life , however, I’m so grateful to have learned it, ( and to be gentle with myself as I practice it ). I’m so humbly grateful to feel the “vitality that comes from being in the centre of the river of life.” Thank you !

  • Wow beautiful. It made me cry especially the end poem.
    What would be the best way/route of learning all of this professionally like you?
    Love Jennie

    • The best way to learn it professionally is to learn it personally (which is a work-in-progress for all of us). I do offer an informal certification program. If you’re interested in learning about the criteria, contact me using the Contact tab above.

  • Kristin

    Hi Sheryl,
    I found your work many years ago when I was in the thick of working through intrusive thoughts and severe anxiety. I grew a lot during that time, grew in knowing and accepting myself and my occasional struggles with anxiety. I recently had a slightly more difficult episode of intrusive thoughts, I think, because all else in my life is going well and because I am pushing myself into more challenges (back to school at 29), which also comes with procrastination. I just wanted to share what I see as being the process of moving through fear in my own words. I think having an intrusive thought episode (potentially over a period of days) is like laying on the ground and being covered by a thick blanket. You can’t really see what is going on outside of you, what is true or not, very easily or at all. Also, you cannot feel much else except for the heaviness of the anxiety blanket. Intrusive thoughts are like someone outside the blanket telling you what is true, and when you continue with that train of thought you repeat it over and over to yourself under the blanket. Coming out the other side of an episode is like the wind blowing off one corner, and then progressively the whole blanket until you feel like yourself again. The helpful thing, for me, while under the blanket is to remind myself of what I know is true, even when I don’t feel it….In any case, thank you for sharing your insights and for allowing for a platform for others of us to share as well!

  • Alison

    This was so beautiful to read. A gorgeous narrative on motherhood. As someone who just recently miscarried my first child, you have truly touched me with your words and your ability to trust and let go. Thank you for giving me this hope and beauty today.

  • Sheryl thanks for letting us in. This was so beautiful and touching to read and I had tears in my eyes at points. There are so many lettings-go as a mother. Hugs to you!

  • Cassie

    This was so beautiful, Sheryl. Many blessings to you and your family.

  • Tatjana

    This was one of my favorite posts of yours. Thank you for sharing this with us. Your work brings joy to my heart and tears to my eyes every time.

  • Thank you, all, for your beautiful comments. It’s truly a joy and privilege to be able to share parts of my journey here.

  • Nuris

    Wow I’m in awe this was such a beautiful post thank you for sharing💖💖💖

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