With the onset of summer, I’m reminded that try as we might to have it otherwise, life really wants to have its way with us. I know this seemingly goes against all we’ve learned about setting goals, putting together an action plan, and building a resume of accomplishments—and I agree that these are important. But the muggy pull of life that shows up at the onset of summer always reminds me, in the midst of my various trajectories of plans, that it is good to build in some flexibility and responsiveness.
Take last week, for example. Both of my kids were home from school, ready to enjoy and shape their first week at home after a long school year. “I’m going to give the cats a bath today,” my son announced Monday morning. “I’ve been wanting to do this for years, and on my first free summer day, I’m going to do it!” And my daughter, who had been planning to redo her room, including painting the walls, selecting new or redoing old furniture, and doing a HUGE amount of cleanup added, “These next two weeks are the main times I have to get my room done, before camp and traveling to India. So, I need some help, Mom.”
And while my children are old enough to take the lead on many activities, I am old enough to know that them taking the lead means me keeping an alert sideline view that involves asking questions, suggesting planning steps, being interrupted with requests for a hand, and driving them around to their relevant destinations. To the pet store to get tearless cat shampoo, for example; to the paint store to select a red (!) paint for the bedroom walls; to IKEA to select a platform bed (even though I swore I would never buy another IKEA product after all the kitchen chairs we purchased there broke); and—you get the picture.
All these details to find an alive way to say that last week’s onset of summer brought its predictable change in routine and a reminder for me: When it is possible to flex and expand my sense of what I thought was going to happen (during a given moment, day, or week), then it is an opening for all involved. For me and my ability to let go and be in the process; for my children (or my staff or coworkers or friends) who are trying to forge a fresh way of working or relating; and for the universal life energy that needs to be allowed to unfold rather than forced into a preset container of expectations.
I’m not sure about doing this in midlife: Is it more difficult, more complex, or more natural? Perhaps if nothing else, it is more necessary given all the changes that midlife brings our way.
What do you think, fellow midlifers?
I have begun, in partnership with a dear friend and fellow “midlifer,” the practice of “Giving things over to God.” This is a bit radical for us—and I must say up front, so I don’t scare off any readers—“God” can refer to almost anything in the context of how we are using it. God could be the mountains and their aura, or Changing Woman, a Goddess from the Native American tradition, or one of the enlightened teachers such as Jesus or Buddha, or the energy of life one sometimes experiences when walking near a creek.
As long as the connotation of “God” is to the “sacred otherness of life”—the way of putting it that I gratefully adopted from David Whyte, poet, author, and walking tour guide extraordinaire. http://www.davidwhyte.com/
It is a good thing that my friend and I are learning to surrender some of our illusions about how much control we actually have over things, and I don’t think we could have gotten here before midlife.
To get to this particular place of “letting go,” we had to have a certain amount and type of experience under our belts, including and in particular, I suspect, the experience of witnessing changes in our bodies that make us feel more physically vulnerable, and in a certain way, more limited. This mix of life experience and awareness of vulnerability seems to reach a threshold during midlife that allows and perhaps encourages more surrender and the active acceptance of what was previously a thought kept in the back of the mind: “I cannot make things happen and I can’t be the one who masters and moves all.”
And as is usually the case, life is presenting me many opportunities to practice our new philosophy. Spring, so ripe with all its possibility, is often a very busy time for me, what with new sports leagues starting up, local creek cleanups being held, school fund raisers and science fairs on the calendar, and spring break vacations to be planned and taken (on top of the regular professional and family work). I find spring up there with the winter holidays in terms of being stressful, and if I am not careful, spring takes on a feeling of “let’s get through this,” and more tension and less presence runs through my words and actions.
What better time then, than spring, to hand things over to the “sacred otherness of life?” To do what I can to get organized and make plans, and then allow things to unfold.
And by whatever name we call it, I know that the “sacred otherness” sprung yellow daffodils in my yard last week, and is budding pink apple and cherry blossoms all over town, things that neither my will nor my trying could ever have achieved.