It’s Saturday night. I feel something tighten around my throat, around my soul. I don’t name it right away, slipping into the amnesia of “everything’s fine” and forgetting to slow down enough to notice the wisdom of my body, the messengers embedded inside even the subtlest of symptoms. The body’s communication system never fails to amaze me, and I’m equally surprised by how easy it is to ignore it. With all the years of doing inner work, it’s bewildering to me that I don’t register my body cues as loudly as a screaming child. But I know why. I know that we’ve all been raised in a disconnected cultured, one that prizes the head and mind and intellectual cues far over the body’s. I don’t berate myself, but feel wonder and curiosity at this phenomenon.
Before I go to sleep I do my regular bedtime ritual: Gazing out at the apple tree in our yard who stands majestic and steady, full of reliable comfort and ineffable guidance. I look up at the night sky, the blackest black patterned with shimmery silver stars. I raise my arms above my head, breathing deeply and imagining that the dark and the stars and the tree are entering my palms and traveling down my arms and torso, into my belly, down my legs and into the soles of my feet. An elixir of stars. A potion of apple-blossoms not yet budding on the trees. A bowl of delicious darkness. Invisible mothers surrounding me, holding me, guiding me into sleep.
But somewhere between 3am and 3:30am I awake. I can feel that I’m not going to fall back asleep; a pulsing energy, a subtle vibration sends electrical currents up and down my limbs. I get out of bed quietly so as not to wake up my husband and go downstairs. Cat greets me, fellow creature of the night, blinking up at her human mother and perhaps wondering about this intrusion on her sacred sleep.
Again, I gaze into the darkness. But this time I don’t feel comfort. A small river of worry enters my system, that familiar intergenerational habit that has been handed down through the generations of mothers and says, “If I worry enough I can prevent bad things from happening, and if I let go of worry and choose trust, I’m tempting fate.” Here’s what my witching hour worries sounded like that night:
Our older son, our younger son, flying, oh no, school anxiety, social anxiety, loneliness, friendship, math stress, covid stress, birthday approaching, turning 12, turning 17, no rituals, is my throat scratchy?, do I have covid?, my nose feel weird…
…and so on.
The thing about the worries that arise at the witching hour is that they all feel so real. Of course, all worries and intrusive thoughts feel real; that’s what makes them challenging to deal with. But there’s a particular conviction that arrives in the middle of the night, at least for me, bolstered by the telltale and classic anxiety thought, “If it’s coming in the middle of the night it must be stemming from my intuition/unconscious, which means I’m probably tapping into something true. Maybe my son shouldn’t fly tomorrow! Maybe I’m having a premonition!”
Most nights, however, I’m able to catch the thoughts by the tail and channel them in another direction. Instead of indulging the thoughts, I tiptoe back into bed and drop into another space: the space below thoughts, and even below feelings. The space of soul with imagination at the helm of the inner ship. This is what I imagined:
I send my worried like boats down the creek. I place each worry on a leaf-boat and imagine it surrounded by light and the wisdom of ancestors who sing and dance on the banks. An owl hoots, and a mate returns the call. My worries are held in the web of nature that resides only in trust. One by one, I watch my worries float downstream, held and guided, until at last I sink back into sleep.
I’ve shared in several posts, including this one that I wrote over eleven years ago just before our younger son turned one, that worry is the work of motherhood. If we’re to be sane at all as parents, we must actively work with worry, otherwise it will do a workover on us daily. Like all manifestations of anxiety, working with worry is a practice, and when we hone the practice over time – hundreds and hundreds of choice-points when we name the habitual response and send our minds and souls down another pathway – we can come back to center more quickly.
Worry is, fundamentally, a misguided attempt to control the future. The worry-brain believes that if it worries enough it will prevent bad things from happening. It’s one of those mind-glitches that feels true because we’ve indulged it thousands of times, but it’s not true. The hard truth is that we have control over very little in life, and we certainly can’t control the future. I hate this part of life more than anything else, but when we love deeply we risk deeply, for embedded in loving is the possibility of loss. And, at the core, this is what we’re trying to control and protect against: the fact that we can lose the people and creatures we love most in the world. In my opinion, it’s a highly faulty plan. But it’s what it is.
So we choose: to jump on the worry-train and reinforce the faulty belief that worry is keeping our loved ones safe OR to send worry along the riverways and into the stars, to recognize that at the core of worry is the magnificent love we carry for others and life itself, and that when we can tap into the depth of that love the tears arrive, and the gratitude, and the joy. Imagination, prayer, poetry, gratitude, nature: these are all expressions of love, and one thing we know for sure is that love is stronger than fear. I can choose to dwell in fear or I can choose to dwell in love. I choose love.