The other night I dreamt I was walking along the shore of Lake Monona, a perfectly sunny, blue sky day with my dear friend Amelia. In the dream, the lake was much larger, more like one of the neighboring Great Lakes, and a sort of conveyor belt was easing a huge boat gently into the water, one part at a time, like train cars but on the water. It was oddly quiet.

Each car was so carefully released into the water I took notice of what a thoughtful process this was, how it seemed to not disturb the surface much at all and maybe not the fish below.

As the segments of the boat moved further from their launch site and stretched in great length across the lake, something changed. The last piece to be launched fell onto the lake with a reverberating thud. I had a very clear voice in my heart telling me we needed to get to higher ground.

Up we climbed, up up, but the water overtook us in a moment. I braced, but as the wave overcame us I had the very clear thought that it was okay. I was safe and fine because I was a mermaid and could breathe underwater. I found myself surrounded by water and smiling, swimming calmly beneath the roiling surface.

The dream went on as my mind explored a strange dark landscape – it was night now – littered with twinkling lights and encampments of people searching for loved ones. I was busy readying a vaulted barn, tending to the living quarters so that all would be well and inviting when Amelia came home, the encampments and the water just outside a large barn door. Images of light and dark, hope and fear scattered throughout.

Water continued to permeate the dream. As I continued to nurture the indoor space, I found myself trapped by scalding hot water overflowing through a slatted staircase. The only way to turn off the leak was to walk directly through it and up the stairs pooled with boiling water. I braced and moved through.

But the message that rang most clear was the shift in my perception as the wave hit. One moment that of fear and dread, disaster and ruin; the next of calm and clarity, a reminder that how we perceive the things that overtake us creates how they affect us.

I have not always been a master at this – of reframing pain into gifts and seeing possibility within hardship, at times allowing life to swallow me up and consume me from a very dark place. So to dream with such a lucid nature that the mere shifting of our perception can create a completely different experience feels like a delightful reminder. What realities are we overwhelmed by that we may be creating from the very way we perceive them?

I remember back when I lived in Chicago, a very challenging couple of years in my early thirties, one of the greatest gifts was spending amazing quality time with my nephew Teddy. He was two years old, maybe three, and he was in the sweetest, most curious stage. We would go on dates to Pat’s Pizza on Friday nights, just the two of us, and I looked forward to every play time we had together. At night my twin sister and I would have wine and cheese and put Teddy to bed with songs and stories.

I had bought him a book from Nova Scotia called Breathe by Scott Magoon. He loved this book, and of course, as a doting Auntie, I loved that he loved it. There was a page that always caught in my throat as I read it with him. It was of a couple of beluga whales looking for a place to come up for air, but the ice holes above them were surrounded by bears. The words on that page read, Find Another Way Up.

It may be hard to explain how intensely these words struck through me. My marriage was falling apart around me, and it had been for some time, the better part of a year. Each cell of my being was both desperate for change and also desperate to hold on to what was. So the words, Find Another Way Up, seemed to scream at me and beat against my tender heart. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to. I didn’t know if I had the strength for any of it.

I remember one day very clearly, very deeply knowing that the way things were going wasn’t okay, and I knew I had to leave him. Then some family emergencies came up, months went by, some re-triggered trauma (a story for another time), and an erosion of will and self-esteem found me still holding on months and months later. I knew I had to find a new path, another way through, but everything inside me also wanted to hold on for dear life, will things back to the way they had been. I was desperate for change and at the same time terrified and tired.

Find another way up. (This idea seemed so big.)

I did, though – sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes silently alone in stillness and fear.

It took a long time to find joy and peace and a life I truly love again. So to dream not only that a wave doesn’t have the power to undo me, to dream that the only way through something terrifying is to walk through it, feels like years of healing in the making.

It took a long time. It took finding a path where I could walk inside my fears and be so completely vulnerable and exposed.

It took one foot in front of the other. Very slowly.

It took a deep listening to what my heart and body needed more than anything – time, patience, slowness … quiet. All gifts I found out among the horses.

If you had told the me that read Breathe to my sweet nephew several years ago that I would be living a life of my deepest dreams today I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what that looked like, what that meant. I would have imagined that I had somehow crawled back in time and everything had returned to the golden years of my happy healthy relationship before it fell apart – the lake, the cocktails, the laughter, all that family time with my in-laws.

But if we can hang on for the ride, if we can find our truest guides and listen to those most important whispers, we just might find another way up, one that is more rich and rewarding than we could have imagined in our wildest dreams.

I am no longer haunted by waters.

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