There is a room over our garage. They call it a bonus room. It’s not a real room for lack of closets. The space is surprisingly expansive- the last stop on a tour of our house and the neglected last step of moving in. Here, we keep mismatched dressers, random lamps, weird bed stands, and a cushy, leather chair, leftover from single days. Out of town guests make intermittent use of the king-sized bed, situated in the opening at the end of a long, narrow entry. In this opening, three windows, dressed with blackout blinds, face directly east, west and south. When facing the west window, on a clear day, the Cascade Mountains are here, in this room. Empty frames and odd blankets line the walls, homeless amongst our married couple decor. A built-in bench lounges below the west window, filled with clashing decorative pillows, leaning sleepily. Empty cardboard boxes wait to be receptacles for outgrown baby clothes and misfit toys. When you’re in this room, the noise of children and dishes and the activity of my family’s living can barely be heard. The rumble of the garage door below, the scrape of a neighbor’s garbage can are far away reminders this space is connected to a vibrant life. This seemingly soulless room has become the place I come to connect with my soul. This corner of my house, I now regard as sacred.
Insomnia and its buddy, anxiety, have pushed me here, to this sacred corner. I battle them in the wee hours. Waking at 2 and 3 and 4am, I start the process of willing myself back to sleep. I count backwards from 100, listen for the cries of my children and the steady, certain breathing of my husband. I pop a melatonin, eat a banana, slink to the living room to read. The clock is not my friend. Mostly, I lay paralyzed with fear-coated thoughts about my children’s lives, my shortcomings in this new role of stay-at-home mom, the hauntings of my huge suburban house, the shadows of this outwardly fantastic life. It’s hard to stay in the light in the middle of the night. The shadows creep in, take over. They fill the corners of a tired, vulnerable mind, telling an idealistic mom she is not nailing it and, in fact, she’s failing it. It’s not enough. Why didn’t you? You should have. You’ll never be. What if? The shadows take over... The cry of my baby girl or the shouts of my son, normally an unwelcome interruption to my slumber, provide a jerk to Earth-- a welcome interruption to my waking-dreaming spar with the dark. Their bodies and breath and needs are grounding. And somehow, sometime, I return to sleep. In the morning, the stunning faces of my people assure me I am not failing. But their always-too-early energy is a stark contrast to my intense need for more clarity, more rest, more space, more peace.
And so, because of my deepest desire to be present with the people I’ve waited for all my life and because I believe in the power of swear words, I say, “fuck you, insomnia.” If I’m awake, I’ll be in the light. There is a place in this dark house I can light up, without interrupting the sweet dreams of my family. There is a corner I can take and make my own. A corner in that quiet room up there. If I’m going to be tired, I’ll be tired from meditating, writing, and yoga-ing instead of hungover from illusionary combat with doubt and fear.
Eyes wide open, warm coffee in hand, I’m emboldened by the claim I’m staking in my home, in my heart. The east window bay is the only bare corner left among the busy stackings of the bonus room. An old quilt is rehomed under the window. Folded several times, it now provides a mountain-facing meditation perch. A silver, bendy desk lamp shines on my corner, putting me in the spotlight of the otherwise dark and still room, the spotlight of my dark and still house, and quite possibly in the spotlight of my dark and still street. I ceremoniously flame a tea light candle. Stacks of books by modern spiritual teachers provide heavy material to push and scrape the mental gunk that’s holding me back. Here, through breath, movement, writing, and Deepak Chopra’s ancient wisdom meditations, I begin to connect with my Self. This Self, unearthed by intensely caring for and fearing for my people, is a more aware, more creative, wiser, and more grateful Self than I’ve ever known. There is a consciousness beyond little ol’ me. In fact, a consciousness that is Me. I begin to brighten the black swirl of doubt, enlighten the weighty shadows. Instead of allowing thoughts to consume me, I insert breath and space between them. There is separation. Here, I am not my thoughts. Here, I notice my thoughts. There is a life changing difference. I feel like a Jedi. These are Jedi mind tricks! I am not forcing, I’m using the Force.
In my sacred corner, fear, lack, and insecurity are outshined by hope, abundance, and strength. I light a path for my too-often reactions of irritation, sadness, and guilt to become breathing, patience, and forgiveness. Writing clears the cobwebs to creativity, a major part of my pre-motherhood identity. I come to know creativity as a lifesource. Yoga, a regular practice for the last 15 years, becomes an art form. As I talk myself through sequences I’ve created, describe postures that nourish my muscles, lungs, joints, I rediscover my voice. A certain voice. A powerful voice. An eloquent voice, worth listening to. I am not often recognized, seen, heard, or affirmed in my role as stay-at-home mom. But here, I recognize myself. Am I here to learn this lesson? To learn that all the praise and cheers and certificates of achievement that have motivated me my whole life... are within me? Yes, this lesson, and many more.
At first, the Force is something I only access upstairs, in my spotlight. The peace of my corner quickly dissipates at tears, kicks, and a tortured “NOOOO!” during a diaper change. I’m still enraged by a purposeful dump of all the itty bitty pots and food in the play kitchen. As usual, the cries of my tiny daughter, violated by a scratch from her dominant brother, wrench my gut and bring out mama bear. The piles of unfolded laundry, the dried playdough on my socks, and countless started-but-not-finished tasks continue to close in, overwhelm and distract me from the beauty of my children. My downstairs life is completely disconnected from my upstairs portal.
And then slowly, with practice, I carry peace into the first hour of my day. Then all the way til naps. Here and there, I reflect on a whole day without one memory of anger, reaction, or resentment. The nights are not torturous because I’m not trying sleep. And by some miracle, I have more energy, brighter eyes. The foggy, thin cloud that was my essence, begins to feel more like a lightsabor-- centered, colorful, moving with deliberate, loving swipes and empowered with creativity. I find a sacred corner in the shower. I breathe consciously in my parked car. The mirror is a place of presence, mantras, life-giving affirmations. Standing in front of a sink full of dishes, I connect with All. And then one day, like a true, greasy-haired Jedi, in the middle of an epic three-year-old tantrum on a crumb-covered, juice-spattered, toy-littered floor, wearing pajama pants coated in dog hair and breathing in my own body odor, I’m noticing. I’m observing. I’m separate. There is space between reactive thoughts, there is breath, there is recognition, there is even a smile. There is a choice between dark and light whenever and wherever I am!
The details of my sacred corner are not important. The things I do there matter not. The fibers of my sacred corner, of YOUR sacred corner, are these:
A place, physical or mental, to retreat with yourself.
Time--minutes even--to listen.
Space to breathe, insert space between thoughts. Meditation is said to be more energizing than sleep itself.
Discovery of the things that feed your soul.
Bold observation of the dark. Noticing, but not becoming. What is here?
Intentional movement toward the light. For every shadow, there is a light source!
And so, because of my deepest desire to be present with the people I’ve waited for all my life and because I believe in the power of gratitude, I say, “thank you, insomnia and your buddy, anxiety, too.” You took me to the dark, so I could see my light.