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The Onset of Summer

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?

The Drama of 2:00 a.m.

One of the most common threads that I have noticed weaving through conversations with women in midlife is experiencing the “Drama of 2:00 a.m.” Eyes popping open after several hours of sleep and giving everything they’ve got to staying popped open, well before the birds start their morning songs and before any reasonable person could say, “I feel rested.”

When I began having my obligatory 2:00 a.m. dramas a year or so ago, I consulted one group of my friends who are all about 10 years older than me (and that much ahead on figuring out strategies to manage midlife. ) “Take Melatonin,” they said. “This will help your sleep issues a lot, and in a natural way.” I followed their advice and the Melatonin has helped—many nights I sleep uninterrupted as if I were a young, sprightly 30-year-old!

But then I recently came upon another type of 2:00 am restlessness, caused less by midlife hormone changes than the state of being overly wound up in my day-time life. My husband and I were facing deadlines for travel decisions and feeling pressure to decide from the travel agent; trying to pick a new health insurance plan, which also involved deadlines and risks associated with waiting longer; involved in a sports tournament with our son that involved a lot of driving and being away from home; and enduring an unpleasant occurrence of little critters coming in our home from outside – and doing all the work of getting them to go away!

Thankfully, during one of my 2:00 am moments, I remembered some helpful words from one of my spiritual teachers, Michael Schiesser, spoken a few years ago. Michael spoke of sleeplessness in terms of “the yin and yang,” saying that the yang or the “get things done” energy can get super-charged and overpower the yin or “allow things to unfold” energy. He added that there is a natural and daily ebb and flow between the yin and yang energies, unless we allow one to overtake the other and create an imbalance. And, our American culture heavily emphasizes the “yang,” and even advocates over-engaging it.

I realized that in the midst of my over-activity, I had inadvertently let go of many of my normal routines that help me keep my yin and yang in balance: having a morning quiet time, walking by creek several times a week, stopping after working hours to put my feet up and read for half an hour, and getting some reasonable down time on the weekends. In the name of what I gave up these important routines, I am not sure. Perhaps in the name of getting it all done, or meeting others’ expectations, or wanting the satisfaction of feeling “on top of things.” But certainly not in service of honoring myself and my inherent need to live in balance.

And so it is with a pledge of honor to myself and with gratitude to Michael that I take time to write and have quiet time this morning and make a plan to end my work this afternoon in time to put my feet up for a few minutes. Both gestures I do as invitations to my hijacked yin to return to my energy field to complement and balance my overcharged yang, and help me feel steady again.

Cheers to Friendship!

I just returned from a visit with my best friends from college.  We get together every year or two, and get caught up over slow, lingering meals (you must visit Hugos in Houston to try the Classic Mojito); indulge in hot stone pedicures and manicures (my fingernails, with their bright pink polish, now look more like my grandmother’s than my own); and hold late night talk sessions that truly are reminiscent of the strange sleeping hours of our college days gone by.  And as much as we enjoy being together, making it happen takes planning and money and saying “no” to many other things that could demand our time and attention during the appointed weekend.   We are all mothers—need I say more?

But we keep up the ritual of getting together and I’m betting that its solidity gets stronger as the years pass.   I can’t speak for the other three of the foursome, but for me, the more I come to realize how shifting and impermanent the “forms” of life are—the jobs that will change, the crises that will resolve, the houses that will decline, and (most certainly) the bodies that will age—the more I value some of life’s less concrete but more lasting forms, like friendship.

And since Midlife has a reputation for being rough—what with all its tendencies toward self-doubt and life reevaluation, and how suddenly and potently the related feelings sometimes storm in and take over—having strong friendships during Midlife is essential in my book.  Friendships that help see us through the rough spots, and more importantly, to see the Midlife Shine just beneath (and sometimes as a result of) the rough.

So with this post, I cheer again our foursome (albeit without the fondly remembered Mojito in hand) and our vulnerable but open Midlife hearts.

The Sacred Otherness of Life

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.

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.

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