I have problems with anxiety, have had them for most of my life. It means I have a lot of trouble sleeping more than five hours a night and never more than 3 at a time. Waking up at 3Am, with a brain on fire with worry is something that used to happen to me all the time. I needed a way to get back to sleep, fast, and without using the crutch of cold medicines with knockout powers. I did that for a while and I woke up too late in the morning and felt groggy till lunch. It wasn't good. So I created The Barn out of dire need to trick my brain into resting for a while.
I'll write it like a narrative, but know this is just something I play in my head. I don't write it out or say it aloud like a prayer. This all happens quietly. It's a movie I see in my mind as I curl up with Gibson under the wool and fleeces.I will tell it to you the way I tell it to myself. I use this when I need to fall asleep and forget the worries I can't do anything about until morning. Feel free to go to this place as well when you need to. Maybe this will help someone else? Or maybe it'll inspire you to create your own bedtime meditation?
A Nighttime Meditation
I am walking on a narrow dirt road in the rain. I am leading a black pony and at our flanks trots a black sheepdog. It's a moonless night and the forest I am traveling through is thick on all sides. It is hard to see the clouds above my head because of the thickness of red and orange canopy above my party of three. It's October, the wind is harsh, rain pelts my face and before me on the muddy road swirling brown leaves pelt us fast and hard as wet scraps of leather. I am in a long wool cloak, a linen shirt, leather riding breeches, and a thick brown belt. If it all sounds somewhat medieval, you're close. The time and place is something like lowland Scotland in the late 1600's. But I am heading north, to the Highlands, to safety.
I have been traveling all day. I had to get away from the dangers of the place I was before. The morning started misty and damp thirty miles south of here, but as the day went on the rain grew harder and the road grew wearier. I stopped riding ten miles ago and instead let the horse walk without my weight. Even the sheepdog seemed tired, which was saying something for the young border collie. We had no midday meal, just a few bites of venison jerky I split with the dog and river water to wash it down. Only the pony's stomach seemed quiet since he had been picking leaves and grass to eat while we made our way north. Us carnivores envied him.
I had not walked this far after riding that long since....well, not in a long time. My legs ached and my face stun. Being cold, wet, and tired is a trifecta of awful and all I could think about was the tavern up ahead, just a mile to go. As I crested a small round knoll I could see the fireplaces in houses light up distant windows. The pony's ears perked at this and the dog let out a sigh. We had finally reached our destination.
When I finally made my way to the Tavern,— friendly place with a cheery fiddler and bodhran player on a small stage, good lighting, and blissfully dry and warm—I made my way to the Innkeeper and asked about livery and board. The black dog was with me, and walked right into the place like he always did. The black dog is always by my side. Always. And no one made a complaint because you could barely smell him through the scent of wet lanolin on my back. Wet dog has nothing on wet sheep.
I ask the friendly, bearded, red-headed Innkeeper if I can have a room and a meal, and a place to stable and grain the horse? He explains that he has plenty of food but this wedding party has filled up every room and if I want a place to stay the only dry place left is the old barn which serves as the finest livery stable for miles around. He explains that for a little silver I can take a tankard of ale and a bowl of their savory stew, and for a little more silver he'll let me sleep in the loft above the stables. Usually farm boys and stock drivers use that loft to sleep in the summer when they are moving animals to the village for auction and market, but it's all mine tonight if I will have it. I am given instructions on where to put up my horse and I thank him. I tell him when the pony is settled in the dog and I will return for that stew. He eyes the dog for the first time. He tells me if he bites anyone the rates double.
From outside in the rain the barn looks like any other barn. It's old wooden sides have turned gray from the years of sun and wind. But even with that weathering it seems sturdy and the soft light coming from inside it is so welcoming. I the notice something odd, a small chimney of stone coming right out of the center of the roof? Hmm.
When I walk inside I am shocked at how clean and well the animals look. The warm light comes from a few lanterns hanging along the stalls and I notice that all four walls have been used for livery. The center has a large pile of good hay and some barrels of feed. Whoever designed this place planned to get chores done fast, by feeding every animal with only needing to take a few steps around the center of the room. Genius! Above this first floor is a loft, which also surrounds the barn, build right over the stables. It has a railing and I can see the loose hay and extra grain bins stored. At the edge of the loft above me I can see a small potbelly stove on a late piece of slate. It must be for the fine horses brought to rest while the party inside carried on. I guess this was the best livery for miles?!
The stalls have several horses from the wedding party, but there are a few empty ones as well. I take the pony into one of the stalls and take off his saddle, bridle, pad, and saddle bags. I pull out his currycomb and rub him down while he enjoys a bucket of oats and pail of clean water - compliments of the house. Once he is rubbed down and the tack is drying on the racks outside the stall I grab the oiled leather bags and throw them over my shoulder. Inside is my purse and some other essentials for the road. The dog and I head back inside the tavern.
Inside I sit down at the bar and order two bowls, one for me and one for the dog. We split a warm load of bread as well. After seconds, both our stomachs are tight as drums and we are both ready to sleep where we sit. Seeing my tiredness, the Innkeeper explains that for a little more copper I can have a few quilts out of the linens chest upstairs and take them with me? I smile wide at this, because my wet cloak would be warm, but miserable.
With a full stomach, a slight buzz, and an arm filled with two down-filled quilts I head back to the barn with my good dog. My pony nickers at me as I return, but only in hello. He seems so content in his stall, so grateful to be finally able to rest. I nod to him and take the stairs up to the loft.
Up in the loft there are areas of loose hay, as I described, but there are wooden barrels as well making small alcoves and areas of privacy. I find a nook surrounded by double-stacked barrels and some clean hay. After stomping around to make sure there were no mice, I grabbed a few burlap sacks hanging from a nail on the wall and made a simple mattress. I laid the burlap over the loose, gentle, hay and then placed a quilt on top of it. I layer the second quilt over that and started to get out of my wet clothes. I hang the cloak, breeches, shirt and belt from some cotton rope hanging across the stove. I assume, set up by past travelers needing a place to dry or air out their daily garb. I slip on a comfortable oversized chemise top and slide into baggy linen pants. They are amazingly dry, thanks to the oiled bag and only smell slightly of wet horse. I don't care. I am no longer walking. I am no longer hungry. I am in a safe place, far from my worries, and all I need to do for the rest of this night is sleep.
I walk down the stairs with one of the wall lanterns and blow out the other lights along the wall, as I was asked to do by the Innkeeper. I shut the door and lay the heavy wooden plank into the iron stirrups that create a lock nothing short of a battering ram could break down. This is the only entrance to the barn and I feel even safer knowing it is protected by an ash trunk. I
When I get back upstairs my once-wet dog is dry and curled up on the bed I made. I smile at him, feeling guilty about asking him to move over to let me curl up too. I throw a few pieces of wood into the stove and notice that my cloak is steaming a little, drying fast and for that I am grateful. I am so grateful for all of this that my core temperature ticks up a few degrees.
I take off the linen pants and chemise so there is just the heat of my skin to ignite those quilts and crawl inside them. I do not understand how people sleep with clothing on? Don't they feel bound? Don't they feel COLD? Nothing is as warm as body heat trapped under down. The dog knows the routine and comes under the covers at my invitation, quietly thrilled for the warm human beside him. He is asleep instantly and his slow breath is as much a rhythm as the bodhran was in the tavern. I can hear the music still, and can tell it is a slow waltz. I listen and close my eyes, so amazingly content and so ungodly tired from the long day.
I am safe. I am needed by this dog, and he ate another day because of me. My horse is fed and resting. My bed is so warm. So, so warm. My body hurts but it hurts in the best ways possible, the pain that comes from finally laying down after miles, hours, storms and angry roads. I can hear the rain on the slate roof, steady but not as threatening as before. I feel so rich, being so content with that storm so far away. The only light is the warm glow of the potbelly stove and the occasional flash of light from outside that streams through the cracks in the second-story's thick plank walls. There are two lanterns hanging from a large maple tree, swaying in the wind. As they move the beams of light dance across my Hay Queen's chamber. It is this dance of light, coming through the plank wall and the sound of rain that puts my tired body finally into her deep, deserved, sleep. I have made the hard journey and still have so far too go, but the animals and I will make it. And the saddle bags do not have to be packed until morning after a fine breakfast.
And tomorrow? Tomorrow there might even be sunlight.