Echoes fade and memories die: Autumn frosts have slain July. Still she haunts me, phantomwise, Alice moving under skies; Never seen by waking eyes. – Lewis Carroll
And, in the still dark of night, suddenly, I’m awake again. First I roll one way, then the other. I’m hot, then I’m cold. I struggle to get comfortable, trying to relax my neck, and unfurl the tension in my hands and forearms.
Eventually, I give up, and stare at the ceiling, flexing my toes back and forth. I listen, and hear the creak of wood, the whir of heat, and beyond that, the first birds beginning their busy chatter. Sighing, I reach for my kindle book.
This has become something of a pattern for me. In my waking hours. I feel fine. I’m not aware something terrible has befallen me, yet at night, I awaken suddenly, night after night. In my dreams, I am pursued by nameless specters.
It is clear there is something on my mind, yet I feel powerless to name it, or attribute it to any one problem. Instead, stress is more a constant friend of mine. If I pay close attention, I notice her presence during the day also. I hang up after a conference call to find my jaw clenched, wondering how long it has been like that.
Most of the time, I’m too busy moving from one thing to another to even notice these subtleties. Rather my body needs to hit me over the head for me to wake up. I tell myself this is a positive thing. Being busy can be a cure for what ails, keeping me from overthinking. But there is such a thing as unthinking too. Searching for answers, I wonder how to unburden my mind, unraveling the complex inner-workings that mark our synapses, and dictate our feelings.
I have a sense if I can understand, I can find a solution. However, the answer had better not be eliminating afternoon tea or evening wine. A parent has to have some vices in life, and both of these pair so nicely with chocolate.
Do you ever notice if you tell yourself ‘relax’, nothing happens? If anything, the tightness seems to hold ever-fast. But, if you say, ‘breathe’, the effect is quite amazing. I can feel my chest expand, shoulders fall, and my pulse decline. Suddenly, it seems as if there is more space, in my lungs, and in my mind as well. That space allows for clarity, clearer thinking, and unbiased feeling. It is in this space, and stillness, that I can begin to sort through the things that mire.
Ogres Have Layers
Like ogres, and onions, the mind is multilayered. While discerning an issue on the surface is quick, those beneath can fester. Sometimes I feel like the princess and the pea; I know I’m not comfortable, but I can’t find the source of my issue. This is when I need to peal it back, a layer at a time. If I start with a top of mind frustration, be it an event from the day, an exchange, an off-hand email, it seems to lead to something else. A few layers or lines down in my spider map, I reach the source, which often has little to do with that initial frustration.
Sometimes problems need time on their own. When I feel truly uncertain, I turn to the comfort of a hobby. A few chapters in, or an hour or two spent in the garden are like communing with a good friend. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, the problem starts to sort itself out, rather like a knotted necklace.
One year my roses flowered late into the season, and I worried about pruning until they were dormant to avoid stressing the plant. However, winter came that year with a sudden fury, so I couldn’t prune until the growing season started again. By then, my roses were overgrown, and brittle from carrying too much bulk. Likewise, getting to a problem before it becomes too big is a rare talent, one that’s often overlooked. Humans have such capacity to adapt, that we learn to live with situations that we can in fact change. Becoming more attuned to notice the beginnings of a stressful situation is helpful in diffusing it before it flourishes.
Observe to Understand
Ever notice that sometimes people just want to be heard? Our tendency as friends and family is to help, to jump to problem solving, to make our loved one feel better. But oftentimes, all people want is for someone to listen, really listen. I think our minds are no different. It’s easy to become distracted in our daily doings and goings on, such that we stop listening to what is on our hearts. In spending some time with ourselves, we can learn what we truly want.
When I listen, I want not to ignore the voice in my head that pushs-back on a hated task. Maybe there’s a way I can outsource this, and use my own time more productively.
I want to understand which it is that keeps me up: is it my failings, or guilt over things I have done hastily? I think these can equally can angst: a harsh word spat in anger, or the sparkling gem of goals left untouched. But perhaps the two are linked. If I can find my way to avoid filling my calendar and my life with stuff and to-dos, I won’t be so rushed, or need to rush my kids so. So to, would there be time to dream a little dream, not allowing my ambitions to grow dusty.
July may be gone, with the first stirrings of winter on the way. The holiday season brings busy tidings of good cheer, but gratefully, I realize, the nights are long, and cold and black, and in this lies peace.