I had not really slept for over a year.
If only I could have slept, the not knowing would have been that much easier to bear. During the day, I muddled through. I made sure the kids had what they needed, tended to my work responsibilities, connected with friends and family, and held up an image of all is well so as not to scare folks away.
We were living through what our suburban cohort of successful professionals most dread, losing livelihood, status, and the securities that come with both. As my husband aptly noted, we were on the express elevator going down Maslow’s hierarchy. It was a lonely and anxious time.
The few times I reached out for support, I received limp responses of “hang in there” and “it’ll be ok.” Their words told me that despite their care for us, others did not care to be reminded of the vulnerability we all share just beneath the surface of our put-together lives. I could hardly blame them.
I tried so hard to sleep. Meditating, reading, crying, snuggling in with one kid, then another, hot lavender soaks at midnight, yoga at 3 am, an entire shelf of sleep aids at the ready, I tried it all. Just as my body would settle and eyes begin to drop, my mind would pop awake, as if opening to something beyond my knowing, at the edges of what my mind could grasp.
I was in that liminal space, between what I knew and what comes next; the edge where ground gives way to depths of unknown, the sandy, mushy shore that can barely hold a footprint let alone brace a future.
One night, as I lay in the living room looking out our picture windows into the dark forest surrounding our home, an image remerged of a huge blue heron. A rare and magical sight in our area, the heron seemed to sweep in through the window and lift me onto its back. Not sure if this was a dream or sleep deprived imagining, I gave over to it, settling into the cradle of its steel blue wings.
A cross between fairy and pterodactyl, my heron seemed like a messenger from the past heralding of the possible. It carried me out over the horizon and to sleep, nightly, for the next several months.
Things began to fall into place- my husband landed work many states away. We moved, set the kids up in new schools, found friends, built community. I moved my work and established a fruitful network. We rented one house, then another, until we were finally, after several years, able to sell our old house in the woods and buy a home.
Our future revealed itself to us one hurdle at a time, one opportunity as it came. Our lives were unfolding in all these new ways, though we could not see the full bloom because we were so in it.
Until one morning.
Six years and many iterations of adjustment after my sleepless year, I went for a jog in my new neighborhood. Rounding the corner, I saw, on the shore of a tiny man-made pond, a huge, steel blue heron. There it
stood, looking right at me, as though he had been waiting for me to catch up.
At that moment, I saw it all. The angst and not knowing, the trusting and letting go into the journey to what was next, the challenges turned into opportunities, and the call to continually refocus on what was most important as we sorted through the options and dilemmas. What was most clear to me at that moment was that there was nothing that we could or should have done differently to get us to where we now were. We had to let go into the journey, and land where we did, just when we did.
The unfolding had a rhythm and reason all its own, revealing itself in its own good time.
The trick I learned, only in hindsight of course, was to not assume that just because we couldn’t see what was going on, that nothing was happening.
Just as the heron stealthily stalks its prey, with imperceptible movements and keen awareness, there are quiet and invisible forces at work, bringing us to where we need to be. We don’t always get to know, but we do get to respond, when the time is right.
Beyond the gift of sleep, my heron taught me the practice of toggling between agency and emergence, when to act and when to wait… and how to stand steady at the shoreline while living into the unknown.
What do you know for sure during times of change and transition? How might you stand on or in those truths to provide solid ground beneath your feet?
What enables you to let go enough of what was to embrace or just touch into what is possile?
How might you be in the emotions that come with change, notice them, acknowledge them, and see them as a tribute to what got you where you are?