In the middle of the night, I find my head spinning with way too many thoughts. It’s rare, maybe once a month or so, and I don’t like it. Let’s be real, who does? All too often, I allow my spinning, swirling, dipping thoughts to run amok. And then the fear starts. It is distant at first and not threatening, and then it becomes closer…darker…more real. Way. Too. Real.
Not too long ago, inside of the unconscious spinning, I was shaken into a keenly aware state by a very dangerous discovery. As I began to listen to the voices in my head (you know the voices, those shaming, condemning very quiet but loud voices) that I thought I had quieted so well with aaaallllllllll these years of healing under my belt, I discovered something sinister and destructive. That one voice saying over and over again, “I’m not happy.” WHAT?! Where did that come from?
Current neuroscience research has found that our subconscious mind (basal ganglia) will often trump our conscious mind (prefrontal cortex). This is exactly what I was experiencing. I believed consciously that I was happy, but my unconscious spin in the darkness of the night was that I was not happy. Wow! What a discovery. I do believe that the foundation of joy that I have felt over the past 14 years has been real. But apparently, a small part of the extremely old “I’m not happy” neuro-pathway was still in place (8 Things Your Brain Does Wrong Every Day).
You see, when I was around 10, my brother and sister both left home for boarding school, and I was left alone at the other end of the house, separated from my parents by what seemed like in my 10-year-old-brain by m i l e s. I was horrified by the thought of being abandoned by my parents at my end of the house. I just knew they were going to leave, too. I wasn’t just unhappy, I was terrified! So, in the middle of the night, almost every night for over a year, I would pack up my bed things, haul them all the way to the other end of the universe, and sleep right outside my parents room. They were Not. Going. To. Leave. Without. Me.
Thirty-five years later, I was still carrying this fear of abandonment that came with the phrase, “I am so unhappy.” It occurred to me that it was time for this layer of the onion to be peeled away. It’s because of all the emotional work I have moved through over the past 18 years that I have finally been able to uncover this false belief. I was disturbed at first. But now I am just grateful. It was time to let go of that heavy load; to dissolve that old pathway. So, after a few mental forgiveness letters, journaling, and a lot of being more present to the present, I just (last night) woke up and heard this: “I am happy!” Yes, yes, I am.
And I feel free, a little like I’m flying above it all, at least for this moment until the next layer of the onion needs to be peeled away.
In this process, I remembered again the story of the butterfly. Did you know that when the caterpillar is safely snug inside the cocoon that it completely dissolves? Literally dissolves into a cocoon of slime? Then, the cells reform into a butterfly, and the caterpillar goes from crawling to flying.
I love this visual. My old, negative neuropathways are dissolving, and new, healthy pathways are taking their place. And that makes me even happier. (For more info on this, we recommend you read Mind Whispering by Tara Bennett Goleman.)
What are you “hearing” in the middle of the night? Might it be time to let it go?
To better understand you5 negative neuropathways, I recommend watching this Ted Talk: