In the Small Hours

What is it about the small hours of the night (somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30) that allows our deepest fears to surface and torment us? My acupuncturist has spoken of how energy patterns shift through the various body meridians at different times in the 24 hour cycle, identifying for me which pathways are activated around 3 AM. Certain emotions are associated with each of the organs for which these meridians are named, including the emotion of fear. I will not be surprised to learn that the meridian and organ linked to fear is energized in the wee small hours. A healing system that has been effective for many more centuries than Western medicine has existed is certain to continue to give good answers to silly but nonetheless life altering questions.

( A check after I wrote the bulk of this essay confirmed that the meridians engaged at that time are lungs, associated with grief and loss, and kidneys which are indeed associated with fear.)

Life altering, because the course of a life can be determined by the way in which one handles the sleeplessness, the stark terror, or the merely nagging discomfort of the fears that arise. Tough it out until it passes? Make Plans C through F for how to deal with what one fears may happen? Pray for escape from the threat? Or for understanding of how to transform the fear into acceptance? Look for the spiritual lesson hidden in the fear? Identify the origins of the fear and how one’s circumstances have changed such that the fear is no longer relevant?

Intellect can interpret, redirect, calm, reason away irrational emotions. It is not very effective at reasoning away rational feelings, like the fear experienced by a military spouse left behind when the partner goes into a war zone. It is eminently rational to fear the loved one will come to harm in a dangerous environment. No matter how well armed, trained, clever the spouse may be, there is always the chance of the proverbial “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Reason also does not seem to work well, for me, against fears that are ultimately rooted in inner experiences, whether or not they express themselves as projections into our common outer reality. I have come to understand that my early conditioning by a mentally ill and abusive mother set me up to expect that good things would not be granted to me, and that happiness is not a state of being that I would be allowed to enjoy for more than snatched and brief moments in a life otherwise fated to be a harsh struggle against negative forces determined to block and overwhelm me.

Writing that last thought out, I recognize it as exactly what my mother believed and felt, and made into the truth of her own life. Sometime after she died, when I was already approaching my own middle age, I read a diary my mother had written at the age of fourteen, as she traveled to a boarding school in what was then Palestine, now Israel. It showed me a girl already lost to reality, living in a fantasy world filled with both a gallant Prince Charming and horrific ogres doing battle for her attention. She appeared to have been more convinced of the reality of the ogres than of the existence of the princes in those writings. She certainly manifested that orientation to the negative as I knew her. And she apparently instilled that expectation of the negative more deeply into me than I had realized until a very recent 4 AM awakening.

I have been reasoning away the discomfort of not receiving an expected call over the past 46 hours, with sufficient success that I was able to complete a productive day of work, relax and go to sleep at the usual time – but not to stay asleep through the meridian shift that occurred about 3:30. Awake in the dark, I allowed myself to feel the despair of loss in order to trace back its cause, and then started writing to externalize the feelings, a technique I’ve found most helpful in the past. And there, on the page, is the statement about my mother and the realization – not just an intellectual knowing but a deep-seated understanding – of how I have been affected/infected by that same expectation that the ogres will win.

Scant minutes after writing the lines about ogres and princes, the awaited phone call came in. And I learned that the sequence of events I had rationalized to explain its delay had indeed taken place. More importantly, I was shown yet again that realizing the truth of a situation is transformative. My spiritual Teacher frequently reminds us that we do not have to “fix” what we perceive to be out of balance. “Recognition is enough” he tells us. Once the elements of an issue have been recognized (re-cognized, seen from a different point of view) we are directed to take our attention off the subject matter and place it back where it belongs, on our spiritual purpose in this life. “Attention is food, what you give attention to grows, what you deprive of attention withers and vanishes.”

I was initially distraught at least partially because I couldn’t tell if my fear arose from a prescient foreboding of an impending calamity, or instead from a deeply ingrained and unconscious pattern of expectation (what on the MasterPath is called a sanskara). As indicated above, my experience of the emotions and subsequent contemplation of the experience put it squarely into the sanskara category. Releasing the sanskara’s hold on my attention and imagination came (is still coming) next. New insights arise daily, as I do my normal chores and also those that have fallen to me during my husband’s unexpected absence. I see that I am being gifted with opportunities to completely reassess my experience of being unsupported and, of necessity, totally self-reliant throughout virtually all of my life, until four years ago.

Knowing now what it feels like to be in a loving, mutually supportive and caring relationship, I begin to realize that – should my worst fear be realized – I would not be cast back into the unfulfilled void of my earlier years. I am not that same person, or perhaps more accurately I do not see that person through the same eyes as before.

For that change, as for so many other new insights connected to my initial 3 AM panic, I am most deeply grateful.

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