June 29th, 2022
It’s 4:30am. My alarm is set for 5:00 but my body-psyche always knows when my son is going to fly early and I wake up well before my alarm goes off; it’s that built-in mom alarm that knows almost everything about our children. Everest has been training hard for his private pilot’s license these last few weeks, which requires a certain number of hours flying at night, doing maneuvers, and flying solo.
He’s on the last stretch of his training, and on this warm summer morning he’s scheduled to do a cross-country solo flight, which means that he lands at various airports around Colorado. I always feel nervous when he flies, but I feel particularly nervous because I know he’ll be flying on less than optimal sleep. Hair tousled and golden, he doesn’t look much different than he did as a toddler; his shining essence, his light, is the same. God, I love this human so much and it hurts every time I have to let him go.
I ask if I can make him some scrambled eggs and toast. He says yes. We have a finite numbers of days before he leaves for college – about a year – and I feel an urgency to take every opportunity I can to fill him up with nourishment of every kind.
We meet in the kitchen and talk about this and that as dawn breaks. I furtively check his eyes to see how awake he is, even though he tells me he’s fine. How do I let my 17-year-old son fly an airplane on less than five hours sleep? I let him because I trust him. I trust that he makes good decisions and that if he truly felt he wasn’t awake enough to fly, he wouldn’t. We hug goodbye and I push my dramatic mind out of the way, the one that always wants to tell me stories about goodbyes. You know the ones :).
He texts me when he arrives at the airport, responsible young man that he is. He knows I can track his phone but he likes to stay as connected to us as we do to him. And then there’s nothing left for me to do but try to go back to sleep. I climb into bed, exhausted, full of anxiety, wondering how long it will take me to wind back down into sleep.
And then the images start – those intrusive images that find you in the liminal spaces when defenses are down and fear of loss is high. I haven’t had these kinds of intrusive images while he’s flying in a long time so I’m taken by surprise. And, as you know if you struggle with intrusive thoughts or images, it’s hard not to take them at face value.
Am I having these intrusive images after not having had them for so long because it’s not anxiety at all but a premonition of harm? Is something catastrophic happening at this very moment? Is the plane too hot? Is he feeling faint? Nothing causes me to lay prostrate at fear’s feet more than fear around my children’s well-being.
But I desperately needed to sleep. And I knew there was nothing I could do in that moment. My son was thousands of feet above the earth in a plane by himself and I, his mother, was in a bed in our home. As the intrusive images gathered in power, I had to will myself to turn to my spiritual practices. There was no other way to surrender into sleep and to retrieve my center point.
How to turn anxiety into trust when the fear was so thick my throat was closing and my muscles were vibrating? No sooner had I asked the question then a lighthouse of a thought arrived to bring me back to safe shore: Maybe he’s not alone. It’s true there weren’t any other humans with him, but maybe he wasn’t entirely alone.
And so I called on the ancestors, allies, and protectors that I trust in my bones are with Everest when he flies. I called to my husband‘s deceased father, also an aviation enthusiast, who worked on planes in World War II and with whom Everest shares not only the love of the sky but also his honor, his integrity, his intrinsic spiritual awareness, and his blue eyes.
I called on the birds of prey to whom Everest has always been deeply connected: the eagles and owls with whom he shares his love of flight and his extraordinary vision.
And lastly, I called on Everest own soul, he’s calling and passion which showed up within his first year, and my deep trust in his ability to navigate both the skies and this life with clarity, skill, and precision. Gathering my worries and handing them over to these invisible places allowed my anxiety to settle and my body to drift into sleep.
Do I know for sure that Everest’s grandfather is with him when he flies?
Do I know with certainty that Everest’s totem animal, the owl, is watching over him?
Of course not. But it doesn’t matter. When I direct my mind to these places I am comforted and soothed. If I feed the anxiety and intrusive images I’m a wreck, I can’t sleep, and I’m no use to anyone. But when I remember the turn my fear and worry over to something bigger than myself, my body relaxes and I’m able to let go, not only into sleep but also into the unknown of my son’s life unfolding.
I don’t know of any other way to manage parenthood – or life – with sanity and centeredness than by relying on practices that offer footholds and lighthouses amidst the stormy seas of living with uncertainty and possibility of loss. I rely on my practices daily, especially when it comes to my children, but also when health anxiety or any other form of anxiety creeps in. As I’ve often written, the opposite of doubt and uncertainty is not certainty but trust, and it’s these practices that help us grow a reservoir of trust that we can then dip into during high-intensity moments.
Most of us grew up bereft of meaningful, personal practices that can catch us through life’s tenuousness, and so we cling to the false footholds of intrusive thoughts or compulsions to try to regain a sense of control. But those never, ever work. You probably know that by now. And you’re probably ready to learn a better way – one that connects you to your long lineage of ancestors and to the loving web of life that is always waiting to catch you, if only you knew how to ask in a way that is aligned with who you are.
Remember: Breaking free from anxiety and intrusive thoughts isn’t about getting rid of anxiety and intrusive thoughts; that’s not possible or even desirable. It’s about creating a reservoir of well-being and a storehouse of practices that are readily available to catch you in a web of comfort and redirect you to your stillness and centerpoint so that you don’t have to fall down the rabbit hole every time anxiety shows up.
This is what I teach in Grace Through Uncertainty: A 30-day course to heal worry at the root and become more comfortable with change. I’ll be leading the course live for the fifth round, and it starts this Saturday, July 9th, 2022. I very much look forward to connecting with you there.
Below are the dates and times for the Grace Through Uncertainty group coaching calls. Only about 1/4 of participants are able to attend the live calls, but both calls will be recorded, so you will have access to the recordings if you are unable to attend. There is also a very active and closely moderated forum for course members where you will have an opportunity to connect with each other and receive guidance from me and my co-moderator as you work through the material.