Our life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately. Four weeks ago, we were thrown both an extraordinary gift and a curve ball with our son’s college plans, and we had to move into high-gear to figure out a Plan B.
I was thrown off-kilter; we didn’t see this coming, and it’s been painful to watch our son’s dreams both materialize in front of his eyes and, in another way, possibly require him to make a sharp, 90-degree pivot.
I’ve cried. I’ve questioned myself. I don’t often beat myself up but, in the aftermath of plans going awry, I did plenty of kicking myself: Why didn’t I insist on a more solid Plan B and C? How could I have let this happen? I have failed my son. As if life is entirely in my hands, which, of course, it is not…
Once the critic and part that thinks it can control everything quieted down, I was left with grief. And when the grief passed through, I arrived at acceptance and a knowing that our son is resilient and would be okay no matter how this unfolded.
So for the past several weeks, we’ve both forged ahead with an emergency Plan B while also holding out hope that Plan A would still come through. At times it felt like grasping at silk threads, but we still held on.
Throughout this time, I had several dreams about where he would go to college. Some of the dreams were concerning. Others seemed precognitive. Reaching into my decades-old treasure chest of tools for working with dreams, I spiraled into this current layer of seeking to decipher their messages.
Leaning Into Paradox
As I often teach with dreams, it’s not one, singular message. Dreams, like the unconscious from which they originate, are multi-layered, mysterious and kaleidoscopic. Two seemingly contradictory meanings can be true at the same time.
As I inch further into my fifties, I find myself more and more enamored by paradox: a way of both relying on dreams as a bedrock, and also holding them as lightly as butterfly wings with a fractal awareness that dreams can be both prescient and have nothing to do with the future. It’s a lighter way of holding the contents of the unconscious, one that allows for more mystery, and, I believe, ultimately more peace.
When we were in Arizona last weekend on a 24-hour reconnaissance mission for a possible Plan B, I had a dream:
We missed our flight home from Queensland, Australia (this is a recurring dream theme – being trapped in Australia and trying to get home). I’m trying to get another flight but then we end up in the cafeteria at Embry-Riddle [our son’s Plan A college] and the man behind the counter who has worked there for years tells me on the sly that it’s going to be okay – don’t worry.
He explains everything that’s happening behind the scenes, that it’s complicated but assures me that it’s going to be okay. I’m trying to relay this to Everest but things keep preventing me from telling him. But I still manage to relay the most important part of the message. Robin Williams was also in the dream at some point. And ice cream.
Every part of me wanted to take that dream at face value and lean into it as a source of comfort and reassurance. And I did. But I also held out for the possibility that it could be another sort of gift: that there are people in all realms working behind the scenes working to make sure that Everest is being taken care of, and that he will be nourished (by the “kitchen folks”) no matter where he goes.
In the midst of my heartache, as I watched my son’s soul try to reconcile this turn of events, the dream lit like a three-dimensional star whispering: it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. It’s not that the dream eliminated worry and anxiety; I’ve had plenty of worry the past several weeks. It’s that it gave me a foothold and a pillar, and, when I remembered to go there, a better place to place my worry than spinning around in my mind.
I’ve had a handful of gift dreams in my life: dreams that arrive during particularly intense times that offer a way to hold the intensity. Or, rather, that offer me an image that makes me feel held. For at the core of it all this is what we’re all longing for amidst life’s curves and challenges: to be accompanied. To be held by a wise and loving source greater than ourselves. To be nourished by the person behind the counter who has worked here for years and is telling us, “It’s okay.”
When we hold our dreams lightly and with reverence, they hold us in return. And the holding extends beyond the current challenge. As I’ve done with all of my gift dreams, when we return to them, draw them, write them, dance them, they continue to work with us and through us, shining their light and showing the way through the darker forests of life.
By the way… any associations to the ice cream? Share in the comments! And if you’re interested in learning more about working with dreams, I highly recommend Jeremy Taylor’s work.
P.S.: At the 11th hour, on Friday morning, Plan A came through. We are overjoyed and deeply grateful. Everest received a 4-year National Scholarship for Navy ROTC, and he’ll be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall as an Aerospace Engineering major. At the end of these four years, he’ll be commissioned as a Naval Officer and, hopefully, be selected as a naval aviator, then apply to NASA to be an astronaut. His path of service begins. His mission, in his words, is “To explore, inspire others, and protect freedom.”
And me? I will to continue bolster all of my practices and supports so that I can find the steadiness the allows me to fully embrace his path and encourage him to fly as far and high as his soul carries him.
This is the last week to sign up for Healing the Mother Wound: A 40-day course for daughters. The course starts on Saturday May 6th, 2023, and I look forward to connection with you there.
Congratulations to Everest! What an incredible learning experience this will be for him.
I wanted to add that I actually had a dream of being stuck (in a sense) in Australia last night and thought it odd that I was reading your blogpost today about this same theme. Living in North America, Australia often feels like the furthest point from us. It requires a long time in the air to come back home. It’s also full of unfamiliar threats as people like to joke about, spiders and snakes and lots of archetypal imagery actually. These are my personal associations, but I think there’s something to it being far far away from home (depending on where you live) ungrounded to the furthest degree, that might have some significance.
Thank you – and amazing synchronicity! I’ve had similar associations: as far away from home as possible, and “home” meaning far from my Self, center, anchor.
My husband shared this association with me the other day: “Australia is on the opposite time zone from us – we’re in spring and they’re in autumn – so in a sense it’s our shadow. And shadow doesn’t necessarily mean negative – just what we can’t see.”
Yay! What a beautiful ending to this story. I’m so thrilled for Everest. I’ve cream to me is the sweetness of life and comfort in a bowl. 💓💓💓
Thank you, Sarah! Ooooh I LOVE that: sweetness of life and comfort in a bowl 🥰🥰🥰!
Phew! What a rollercoaster these past few weeks sound. What a huge beautiful (scary!) thing for Everest and for the rest of your family, and how sweet his success feels after this initiation with Plan B 🙏what a crucible the whole process of applying for higher education is!
Speaking of which, I associated ice cream with, perhaps, childhood? Colourful, delicious, fun but also transient. I also feel like Robin Williams was such a wise, loving and hilarious creative soul and had massive trickster energy: I think he could play into this image and idea that there are things happening behind the scenes beyond our control. I may be WAY off the mark but thank you and this was fun: I love dreams!
P.S Australia featured in some of my intrusive thoughts when I was going through my Dark Night; I had fear thoughts about accidentally buying a ticket to Australia and never coming back… So interesting that it crops up in this way!
Yes yes yes, Elizabeth! A crucible indeed, and I do believe an essential part of this initiation. Interestingly, it was only when he filled out the forms for Plan B that Plan A came through. Some lessons there, I believe.
i love these associations to ice cream and Robin Williams! Big aha YES for me when I read “I think he could play into this image and idea that there are things happening behind the scenes beyond our control.” Thank you for sharing. ❤️
And how interesting that Australia showed up for you as well! Something archetypal at play here.
So many lessons! Thank you for sharing so vulnerably and courageously as ever, I feel like I’ve learnt so much just reading this story.
Much love and big congratulations again to Everest!
Congrats to your son, Everest! So glad it all worked out.
So crazy b/c we had a similar situation w/ Grace’s schooling this spring…
The middle/high school she was accepted to and ready to start in the fall announced just last month that they are closing-! Left many parents and students, including us, scrambling to look for a new school—all after the admissions season had closed-! Anger, anxiety, frustration, fear, annoyance…. All of it! But sure enough other local schools were very supportive and willing to help us and other families by extending deadlines, considering additional applications. Grace will be attending another school—and honestly she likes it even more than the school she was supposed to attend:) Whether Plan A, B or C, I am learning these things all happen for a reason—as cliche as it all sounds!!
So good to hear from you, Marybeth! And thank you for sharing the story of Grace’s schooling. The twists and turns never end!
Beautiful! I’m inspired hearing his mission. 💗 Congratulations and I also see and hold the grief. Warm wishes for all of you.
Thank you, Jamie! 💕
So interesting! And so happy to read plan A did work out in the end.
Ice cream is both cold and warming, comforting at the same time. Sounds like another paradox? Also, the Australia theme is relatable. I have an intrusive story about moving to Thailand, the other side of the world and with a completely different lifestyle then the one I actually lead.
Speaking of intrusive thoughts and stories, after years of not having a lot of them, my relationship anxiety is flaring up. Probably related to some big changes: I started working again, turned 40 and our son will start going to school by the end of this year. It scares me: what of it is true this time and I have to leave (sounds intrusive as well 😉). I have been going to a great therapist who has helped me a lot, however the way he approaches these thoughts is very triggering. He says they always come from your deepest desires and I’m probably outgroing my family/husband. Instant panic of course… Any advice on how to handle this situation?
Unless there are true red flags that are not being addressed, I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with your therapist. Time to review the course if you have it and if not, read through the dozens of posts on this site on relationship anxiety.
So happy for Everest! Congratulations!
Thank you, Shirley!
I am a longtime follower of your blog and just recently started listening to your podcast as well. They both have provided such nourishment to me over the years. Being highly sensitive my whole life but not knowing there was a term for it until a few years ago, I never felt so known and understood as when I stumbled across your blog. I find myself coming back to it especially during times of upheaval in my life because it’s so grounding to me. Thank you for sharing so much beauty and love with us.
I have a question that is not related to your post. My question is if there is a way – or if I should even try – to heal relationship anxiety when there has been a real betrayal of trust from the other side. My boyfriend of two years is the safest, most beautiful relationship I have ever experienced. I struggled with RA during the course of our relationship and broke up with him twice, which was really devastating for both of us. He was steadfast and gentle and loving with me through it all and always welcomed me back without making me feel bad. I feel (felt) safe and calm and loved just being in him presence. He is the best man I have ever known. Up until a few weeks ago, I was finally secure in the knowing that he was the one I wanted to spend my life with.
However, a few weeks ago it came to light that he had lied to me about a few things and had let an ex stay at his house several times over the past 18 months while she was in town visiting family. None of his previous relationships ended badly and he is still friends with all of them. He is adamant that there has not been attraction between them for years and that nothing happened. He admitted that he made a huge mistake by not telling me and then covering it up because he knew I would get upset / assume the worse.
It’s shook my trust in him, obviously, and has triggered the worst anxiety and ruminating I have ever experienced. I have been obsessing over every detail of the story, wondering if he’s still lying, imagining them together, and spinning these stories of how I was a fool to believe our relationship was real these two years, etc. I read comments on Reddit (terrible idea and terrible anxiety spike!) about how their boyfriends would continue to deny, deny, deny and would even seem so genuine and emotional but then it turned out they had been cheating and still lying the whole time. And I can’t let it go.
I have been undergoing deep grief because I feel that I will never be able to rebuild trust with him again so this means I have to walk away. But I really don’t want to walk away. When I’m in a calm, peaceful state, I have that knowing that he’s telling the truth about not cheating and can even understand in some part how we got here.
Tl;dr: my intrusive thoughts feel like my normal RA, but this time they are based on a real betrayal of trust. Can my partner still be a good man and the right man for me if he lied to me? Or is this one of the Red Flags that actually does mean I should walk and I am just in denial? Deep down, I believe he is still a good man who made a big mistake and I want to stay with him but can’t stop obsessing and spinning devastating stories about what happened.
It’s totally not my place to give you any advice, but I felt a bit sad seeing you ‘hanging’, so though I’m far from being Sheryl, maybe a tiny “I hear you”-moment from a stranger isn’t going to hurt?
Nobody can tell you what is the objectively ‘right’ thing to do, especially since there’s no such thing (which is something of a ‘mantra’ I have to tell myself daily for dozens of different choices, I don’t know *why* that has to be such a challenge for us sensitive folks, but it’s a pain in the butt to have such a black-and-white wiring), but from everything I’ve ever read from Sheryl over time (as I’m sure you have too, but it’s hard for you to ‘see’ it clearly now) – is that you should pay attention to that ‘knowing’, to what you can sense while having more peace, to that heart-felt “I don’t want to leave!”. It doesn’t mean it’s the ‘right’ choice and it’s not a guarantee that your relationship will last forever, but it is an indication of what your heart wants right now.
The breach of trust you feel is very real, but I also know from experience with people around me who didn’t want to hurt me but just found it easier at times to keep something from me, because they thought it wasn’t a big deal and they knew I’d be upset. It’s like a double whammy, to be 1) lied to and 2) basically be told you’re too much because you’re sensitive. It sucks hard. But I hate to say I also kind of get it sometimes?
I haven’t gone through Sheryl’s RA course, but I’m sure it’s great and has all the info that would be useful to you to illuminate your path through this pickle you’re in. I’m sure it would help you sift through the hypervigilant smoke-and-mirrors-show your mind puts on to protect you from hurt, as opposed to ‘real red flags’ which might need addressing.
I hope my thoughts didn’t serve to bring more confusion to you.
I wish you all the best!
Thank you so very much for taking the time to write such a kind and thoughtful reply to a complete stranger. Your message has been such an encouragement to me in so many ways. Thank you for allowing the highly sensitive parts of me to feel so understood even across this unknown blogosphere world. 🙂 Far from bringing confusion, everything your wrote deeply resonates with me. I am SO black-and-white and SO hyper-vigilant, and these characteristics have definitely played a big role in my current relationship, but for some reason I had never quite tied them into being highly sensitive until you mentioned it. It was a very illuminating realization.
I saw your response a few days ago, and it took me this long to respond because I wanted to make sure that my response was perfect (lol!) and that I covered everything that I wanted to say. (Please tell me this is a normal HSP-trait too?!) The time has been good because it’s given me the chance to mull over the things that you brought up.
Over the past few days, your observations and perspective somehow prompted in me the ability to get out of my head and step outside of the situation and take it in as a whole (which I have been completely unable to do for the past 6 weeks). I remembered who I knew him to be, and I have been more peaceful these past few days than I have been throughout this whole ordeal. I had never thought about his withholding things from me as a response to my sensitivity, but since I read that, I was able to see that he has actually done that in other, smaller ways as well (such as purposely not sharing traumatic news headlines) because he has wanted to try to protect me. This helped me remember and re-frame his loving heart towards me (that I’ve always known, though the fear had been managing to convince me otherwise) and also accept the part my sensitivity and hyper-vigilance played in getting us to this place. I expect there will still be some tough moments ahead as my brain travels the well-worn, ruminating paths that it knows best, but I no longer am paralyzed by the fear that staying is the “wrong” decision. I cautiously tried letting my hyper-vigilant guard back down this weekend, and since then, I have been resting again in the beautiful safety of our relationship. I missed this place so much and now that I’m back, I know it’s where I’m supposed to be. So thank, thank you from the very bottom of my heart. Much peace and many blessings to you, Tea!
Since it’s been a while since your response, I know you may not see this, but I’m still going to respond. Thank *you*, Nan, for your reassuring and validating feedback. It means more to me than you know. On the surface it seems like I gave *you* something valuable, but you gave me back tenfold. I struggle a lot with feeling like what I have to say isn’t very valuable to anyone, and that what I have to contribute isn’t ‘much’. I actually have this habit of opening a little text document on my comp when I read a post of Sheryl’s that I resonate with (basically every post!) where I copy and paste it (you know, in case the internet stops existing or something, and the wisdom goes away forever lol) and underneath each I go journal-mode with whatever resonated for me in the post, or in some of the comments, and I specifically wrote down how I saw a comment by a sweet-sounding girl who maybe would like some support and how I’m sad that I can’t follow up on my impulse to write back because of my feelings of ‘shame’ of sorts, feeling that my opinion is unneeded and unimportant, possibly unwanted and quite probably plain wrong (doesn’t seem *at all* like something acquired in childhood that I need to work to overcome, heh). I literally wrote that! And then by some weird magic I went ahead and posted my comment, and then didn’t check back for all this time because I was in no hurry to find out my words weren’t being seen or heard. I’m *so* glad I did, and I had a huge smile on my face reading your words, and also teared up a bit at the end where you write how ‘at home again’ you feel – knowing I was a little piece of the puzzle that helped make that possible. So thank *you*, Nan. You ‘sound’ like a very very sweet person, and something tells me your boyfriend knows very well how lucky he is to have you, and wouldn’t risk that very easily!
Big hug to you all the way from Croatia!
P.S. You question about whether ‘wanting to write a ‘perfect’ response’ is an HSP trait – this one I can answer with full confidence – *it’s textbook stuff*! 😉
Congrats to your first baby!! You have to be so proud and I’m sure he’s proud too.
I keep having dreams I’m initiating divorce with my husband. But in my dreams, they were very distressing for me. It’s like I said I wanted one, but then I really didn’t. I was reading about the possible meanings and one thought was I’m entering a new phase. I’ve been searching for a nursing job for the last few months and the jobs that fit my schedule needs and what I want to do are just few and far between. And so many people are applying for the same positions. I’m questioning if I need to go back to working in emergency (don’t want to) to get in somewhere. This has been weighing heavily on my mind and I think the most likely cause for these dreams!! And something so weird… last night i dreamt that we both weren’t wearing our wedding rings anymore. Today I told my husband about my dream while he was at work (firefighter). He then proceeded to tell me he actually lost his wedding ring at work yesterday! Hoping he finds it!!!
Thank you for all you do! Congrats again!