Long ago, when I was 30 years old, I ended a relationship with a man I thought I would spend my life with. And so for the first time in a long time, I found myself living alone – in a high rise apartment building on the edge of a park in Calgary.
This time in my life was emotionally hard and sometimes dark.
I was, quite simply, brokenhearted.
For months I found it difficult to sleep at night – partly because I was feeling so fragile and sad, but mostly because I was afraid. Not necessarily afraid of being lonely or afraid for my future (although there must have been moments) – no this fear was based on a belief that I was not safe by myself.
I believed that in the dark of night someone would break into my apartment while I was sleeping alone and rob me or assault me. I was convinced that I was vulnerable, in this apartment on the seventeenth floor, by myself. I think that this kind of fear is very familiar to women everywhere when they are alone, to some extent, and I could probably write pages about that topic.
But this story is not only about being fearful and alone, it’s about how I found my way through that time, and how what I learned then has served me ever since.
When I look back on that period in my life, I can almost laugh (with some compassion) and see that much of my fear was unfounded. I was not actually ever in any real danger – just the danger posed by my own wild imagination, and the power of fear itself.
To be clear, I lived in a relatively safe neighborhood, there was a large and alert security guard posted at the front entrance of my apartment building 24/7, my sturdy apartment door had a deadbolt, and a chain. Despite this I was so scared that someone was going to try to break in that around 9PM each night I regularly wedged a chair under the door handle, and pushed an ottoman and a trunk full of books in front of the door…just to be safe.
Perhaps you’re not surprised to hear that it was during this time that I took up meditation in earnest, teaching myself different techniques and using books such as Stephan Bodian’s Meditation for Dummies and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are (both of which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in making meditation and mindfulness part of your daily life.)
Over several weeks of meditation, I started to get a recurring vision of myself resting on the earth between two large pine trees, looking up at the night sky.
I would see stars, and hear the wind in the pines. Sometimes animals would join me in this setting – a bear, a large hare, an owl. It was a beautiful place to be, full of peace and safety.
One night I was particularly fearful, I paced around unable to settle, unable to relax and afraid to go to bed and fall asleep, the trusty trinity of chair, ottoman and trunk pushed into place.
I literally wept with frustration at my fear while all the while still feeling afraid.
This nightly ritual and the sleepless hours that followed had been going on for months.
I was so exhausted, and it felt like this fear was literally taking over my life.
That night I was somehow able to meditate in this fear storm, and again found myself between the pines, looking up at the night sky and feeling all the fear.
And during my meditation I begged the Universe to simply help me, help me, help me (this is not actually a part of the meditation practices outlined in any of the books I was reading but it was certainly part of my own personal practice that year. And sometimes still is.)
And almost immediately after I asked for help, to my left appeared a giant silver-grey wolf. And in my ear I heard, as though he was standing right beside me, these words in a warm, deep voice: “you are safe.” These words were so clear. They resonated, they FELT true. And so when I heard those words I knew it in my bones: I AM safe.
For a few moments I let the beautiful truth of it sink in. I felt it, I felt safe. I was grounded and sure. There was no need to argue with this wolf. I knew he was right.
And then I quickly got up and removed the chair and the ottoman and the trunk from the front door and with a sigh of relief I went to bed. I had a good, deep night’s sleep, my best in many months. And from that moment on, I never felt afraid in that apartment again.
If that’s not medicine, I don’t know what is.
And so I would say to you now, especially now in these strange, turbulent, fear-filled times we are living in, that if you are feeling afraid (and how could you not be?) then meditation and mindfulness have something real to offer: calmness, clarity, love and compassion for yourself, even a voice in the darkness that promises peace.
These are the things that make me return to my imperfect practice again and again – the unfolding of love in my heart, and the feeling of light in my body.
You may or may not be visited by a wolf during meditation, and I would suggest that it doesn’t really matter. Spirit or your “higher self” is always seeking to connect with you – it only matters that you make space for it, that you are listening, even when and probably especially when you are afraid.
Since that time in Calgary, wolf comes to me only occasionally, usually when I am afraid, specifically when I am needlessly afraid.
His appearance is a signal to me that I am conjuring fear in my head, that my dragons are made of paper. That I AM safe.
May you find your way to safety in these hard times. May you actually be safe, and know that you are. Whether you see him or not, may the wolf walk with you and whisper in your ear the words you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear them.
May you know in your very bones that you are safe and loved.