Last weekend was a challenging one for my family. The week of unrelenting rain here in Colorado created overflow in the creeks, and we were faced with a situation that was frighteningly close to the floods of 2013 as the normally gentle waters behind our house surged and swelled into a serpentine river and began to bite off large chunks of our land. Once again, my husband stayed up most of the night for several nights and worked all day fortifying our land. And once again, the boys and I helped where we could but mostly stayed inside, where I tried to calm their anxiety while tending to my own.
Living this close to nature brings the precarious position of our planet forefront into our consciousness. In the midst of this scare, my mind that longs for certainty was already planning our escape: we’ll sell this house and move to higher ground where we don’t have to deal with the risk that comes with living on a creek in a changing climate. But as soon as I spoke that thought aloud to my husband, my heart countered with, “But I love this land. I don’t want to leave,” and my higher mind chimed in with, “There is no true safety. It’s all illusion.” And so, as I watched my thoughts, I settled back into breathing into the uncertainty of the day: Would the waters keep rising? Would we lose more of our land? Would we have to evacuate? The neighbors across and down creek were already planning to leave; perhaps we would have to as well. But these were answerable questions. All we could do was watch, wait, and breathe.
After what seemed like an interminable several hours, the creek started to go down, and as if there was a meter that connected the level of the water to our hearts, our anxiety retreated as well. By Sunday morning, we awakened to a blanket of white snow and could safely say that the worst was over. However, when I woke up I found that the tension of the previous day had settled into my neck, making it impossible to turn it to the right. My joints were stiff and I was emotionally spent. It was Mother’s Day, and I could barely get out of bed.
While my husband caught up on some sleep (he had been up for two straight nights protection and keeping watch), my boys snuggled into bed on either side of me and we spent forty-five minutes immersed in Family Dreamtime, our new term for our morning ritual where one person shares a dream and the others share their associations and projections. Asher shared a dream which featured an owl, guardian of night, magic, a woman’s spirit, and of course the creature who can fluidly turn its neck 180 degrees. I wondered at the synchronicity of Asher’s dream and the fact that my neck wouldn’t turn, and in the moment of bringing the synchronicity to awareness something opened inside. Not a big opening, but enough to nourish my soul with a moment oxygen. I had planned to go to yoga that morning, and while every bone in my body urged me back to bed, the opening allowed me to push through the resistance and I drove to class, knowing that I needed to try to move with this tension instead of settle further into it.
Once there, I breathed deeply into the tension. The greater the tension, the deeper and more attentive the breath. In other words, I’m learning in yoga, as if life, that it’s easier to stay focused on my breath when the pose is “hard” – that the pain or tension calls my attention with such force that I have to listen. In that moment, I can either chatter on in my mind about how hard the pose is or I can breathe deeply into the challenge. Or both. Usually I do both. But ultimately if I can bring my loving attention to whatever is painful it moves and I feel a sense of flow to my practice.
The chatter moved to breath until tears broke free from hips and neck like water from rock, then walked across the lawn to merge back with their original waters, meeting the creek flow at its source and connecting me to awareness that it’s all okay. Fear is lack of relationship to the Divine, my teacher says, quoting her teacher. And again, I’m connected to the flow, the link of teacher to teacher like a line of ancestors collecting wisdom and passing it down.
At the end of class my teacher said something like: We sit so that we can develop the Witness self, our core essence that can see, hear and feel everything but not become attached to it. Yes, that’s it. That’s what I teach and what I try to live: To feel the depth of whatever feeling arises – grief, fear in the face of real danger or the unknown, uncertainty, anxiety – to lean into the “fundamental ambiguity of being human”, as Pema Chordron writes, while connecting to the deeper, unchangeable essence that is simultaneously attached and unattached to this human life.
Just two days later I sat by the creek, which had gone down two feet and now rushed past our impossibly green rain-fed lawn that stretched like a magic carpet before me, and delighted in the breathtaking beauty. How could it be that just 48 hours earlier I was sending my husband text messages that I wanted to move? “How’s that for duality?” my friend, Carrie, commented when I shared my current state with her, referencing the contrast to what I had been feeling just two days earlier.
I teach and learn the same message over and over again: Certainty is an illusion, and yet ego-mind will do whatever it takes to chase after it. We chase it by seeking the single, definitive answer to impossible questions like, “Do I love my partner enough?” and “What if I’m gay?” The ego believes that if we can just answer this one little question we will have found safety. We chase it by needing confirmation that we’re making the “right” choice, by trying to avoid failure, and by running from pain. And in my case, last weekend, I chased after it with the illusion of the perfect home, safe from any natural disaster.
Life is uncertain. The best we can do is dive into the current of YES: Yes to the pain. Yes to the fear. Yes to the grief. Yes to the uncertainty.
Later that day, after dinner, the four of us walked to the river’s edge and made an offering to the land: to Great Mother who is so much more powerful than us, and who will exact her claim when we insist on living in ways that exert dominance of Her and others; to Chief Niwot and his people, who once dwelled here and for whom this creek is named; to the river spirits and creek waifs and all of the invisibles who dwell here still. And what I’m left with after a forty-eight hour ride on these rapids of life is profound gratitude:
So grateful for this day.
So grateful for my family.
So grateful for the sun.
So grateful to be alive.
Wow, thank you for sharing! This is a great post and reading it makes me very calm. I am at the stage of transition where the anxiety about my relationship is nearly gone but I do have a lot of emptiness. I have been reading all of your posts and they are helping! sometimes it’s hard to just sit with the emptiness and not come up with reasons to be anxious. I love not being as anxious but the numbness and emptiness are uncomfortable as well. I’m hoping I’ll get through this soon. Do you have any insight on how to focus your thoughts when you’re feeling empty or how to find out where it is coming from and how to fix it?
Move toward the emptiness just as you would toward any other feeling, thought or sensation. When you move toward the emptiness with compassion and express it in some way – write, draw, dance, sing from that place – it ceases to be emptiness and transforms into something else.
Does it ever become anxiety again?
Oh Sheryl, your posts always seem to have terrific timing! After a difficult few months, my husband and I retreated down to Margaret River in Western Australia for the weekend, alone without our sons to reconnect. Away from the city, driving into green open fields, wild surf and a bulging river. Whatever it did, it soothed us. It gave us 24 hours to let us know that our marriage is bit by bit, piece by piece. We shy away from intimacy for so long, we really have to dig deeper, go further, really push through where it hurts. I have been learning a lot lately in counselling on my own, trying to find my voice. I am getting there, speaking it and listening to it.
So glad to hear you took that time to nurture your marriage, Jo. It’s absolutely essential to step out of the flow of life with kids to nurture both ourselves as individuals and the marriage as a third body.
Dear Sheryl, I am sorry you had to go through that again. Nature is just that Nature. You can’t fight it ..just like you cannot fight anxiety. Let it be. I say. Your such an inspirational person never giving up on your beautiful land. If you do have to move.. Thats ok 2. I was so affraid of change b4. Now i am ready to open doors in my career. Challenges are scary to me but I have nothing to lose. Its not so much the job itself, I am most fearful of facing people, I get nervous to be myself around new people.
Awesome! I love that you are modeling for your children the power of sharing and interpreting dreams. What wonderfully healthy adults they will grow up to be. When my children were growing up we shared our dreams each day and laughed at how funny they were. Sometimes talked about how scary they were. I didn’t realize the wealth of insight they offered in those days. Still, fond memories and as adults they still share their dreams only now we add the symbolism so that we do not miss how powerful the unconscious assistance is for the questions we are seeking.
I love that you talked about dreams with your kids growing up! Even if you didn’t talk about the metaphors, just opening up the channels to invite kids to share their dreams will create a lifelong relationship to the unconscious. I think it’s one of the biggest gifts we can give our kids.
That is so lovely….after so much fear, for you to have arrived at that heart-opening place of gratitude. Whatever our individual stories right now, I think your post speaks volumes to us all as we intertwine it into our own. Thank you so much! And thank you for sharing so many personal moments about you and your family. I loved your son’s dream of the owl and how it synchronised with your own personal experience. I am so pleased to hear you’re all safe and sound. Enjoy that “Dream Time”. It sounds wonderful!! Love, Zoe xxx
Thank you, dear Zoe. Family Dreamtime has become a deeply meaningful ritual for our family and has encouraged our kids to start to understand the language of metaphor, which, as you know, is invaluable. The sooner we can learn NOT to take everything at face value the better!
hi, I know this is out of context but I am moving in with my boyfriend of a year in a few months time, we have been long distance the whole time, and I have had relationship anxiety on and off the whole time (mainly due to someone else trying to get involved in my relationship at early stages) and I was just wondering if anyone has any tips or any advice on the transitions from going from long distance to living with each other?
we have a very loving relationship and we have a close friendship as well,and our recent holiday has brought us even closer. I would just like some insight on what is normal and what should be expected etc so I don’t freak out! any reply would be great thank you 🙂
Your posts are inspiring! Could you help Or point me to a resource – I’m having recurring dreams about Australia. Do you have advice about how I can delve into the meaning of this? And not typical, but I remember the dreams in vivid detail. I live in the USA.
My two favorite books on dreams are:
1. Inner Work by Robert Johnson
2. The Wisdom of Your Dreams by Jeremy Taylor
But I think the best way to work with dreams is in a dream group facilitated by a skilled and seasoned dreamworker. If you have anything like that in your area I would encourage you to consider joining.
Your statement of ” certainty is an illusion” really struck me. Coming from several months of feeling very scrambled in starting a new job, leaving another and considering engagement with my partner has left me in a darker place than I have been in some time. I always feel that if I had the “right answer” or If I knew that my partner was the “right choice” I wouldn’t have had anxiety to begin with. Of course even typing that seems silly as my partner is the most amazing, kind, wonderful, funny, just exceptional human being. I have completed your Open Your Heart Course and wonder if any others could help me? Thank you so much for your wisdom! I am so grateful that I found your work, I wouldn’t be with the wonderful loving partner I’ve had for 3 years if not for your guidance. I hope this bump in the road too shall pass.
“And wonder if any others could help me?”
Yes! Conscious Weddings E-Course:
After weeks of fear, crying my eyes out, anxiety attacks and stop eating (BUT, continuing my relationship), I now reached the stage of total emtiness. After accepting the fear and that this is something I have to work on and which will keep me fighting, it disappeared. The only thing that is left are my thoughts. The scared feelings triggered by the thoughts, are now nowhere to be found. This makes me thinkt hat the thoughts are true, my thoughts tell me: You want to leave him. I know it makes me sad, but i can’t feel the sadness anymore. I don’t feel anything. I wish for the anxiety back and I even sometimes try to trigger it.. I don’t want this to be my truth, but my mind tells me it is.. I don’t know how to cope with this.. Is this also my fear speaking? And if so, why can’t I feel fear anymore? Is this because I accepted the feelings of fear, is my mind looking for otherways to convince me?
I am in the same spot as you and it is scary but we both know deep down that were in loving, healthy relationships so why would we leave? It’ll go away
yes you are right. When I think about it rationallly, there are only reasons to stay and really zero to leave! But it is so hard when your mind tells you different… I read a lot of Sheryl her posts and they were soothing before, but it is like my mind uses these soothing words against me. For example:
In one of her posts she mentions ‘is your partner someone who you can learn about love?’ –> my answer is yes, but my mind reacts but you don’t want to stay and learn. And because i don’t feel a thing because of the emptiness, I don’t know what is true anymore.. But the fact that I al here and not achting on it says a lot i think!
How would u describe your emptiness? I try to look at it in a physicAl way: after stressing, crying and fearing.. It now feels like my body and muscles can’t perform any strain anymore. It feels like numb muscle pain or something around my chest and head.. Terrible feeling..
Well sometimes I’m still getting fearful feelings but not as much anymore! My chest feels tight and a lot of times I feel like I’m on the verge of tears for no reason! I feel like I should be happy! After talking to my therapist she says this is normal and it’s a stage that I’m going through! Same is true for you. I swear the emptiness is way better than feeling fear though! I’ve been through this before and I’ve been at my serenity so now I’m just waiting! Just be patient, it will get better! Don’t make an irrational decision based on your thoughts
I am thinking of buying one of your books. I am not engaged or married but me and my boyfriend Are serious and have spoken about marriage and children plenty of times. We Are going to be moving in together in our place soon after being long distance. I have had relationship anxiety on off our whole relationship (which I feel really guilty for). Would any of your books be recommended for me? Or would they not be advised because I not married or engaged?
My books don’t address relationship anxiety. You would need to join one of my courses for that.