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What is Midlife?

Author: Carol Teitelbaum/Tuesday, June 1, 2010/Categories: Health & Wellbeing

Perhaps you are starting to notice changes in your body. When you look in the mirror, you see one of your parents staring back at you. Noticing small lines around your eyes and lips, seeing your body thickening around the waist, you ask yourself, “When did this happen?”

In our culture, this is the time of life where so many women start to panic…and lately, so are men. “I am getting old”, I hear in my therapy room. “I am fat, my body is sagging and I need plastic surgery.”

Perhaps you have been getting a vague sense of something missing in your life, or maybe you feel as though you have something yet to offer the world, but you are not sure what it is, and you feel that time is getting short.

Maybe your life feels a bit shallow and you long for more depth.

Welcome to midlife. All these feelings are common at this stage of life, and the way to address them is through spiritual growth. This is a time for much soul searching and finding our life’s mission.

This is a time in life for women where a new psychic energy takes over and you just cannot do things in the same old way. Your psyche won’t let you. This is a time when women go back to school, begin a new job, take on a new project or turn to a creative outlet. This is a time of life where we can have a spiritual awakening.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” - Joseph Campbell

The first half of our adult life is all about establishing ourselves in a career, getting married, having children and, in general, doing the things the world asks of us.

The midlife time, often called the Second Adulthood, is where we do our work — the inner work that our soul asks of us. Our souls do not grow in smooth waters; they grow when they encounter rough seas, and we often seek out difficult situations to learn our life’s lessons. Midlife is a time for us to offer up our individual gifts to the world, making a deeper, more meaningful contribution.

As Joseph Campbell said, “Midlife crisis is getting to the top of the ladder, only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall.”

This is a time when we feel more vulnerable, but this vulnerability is not to be turned away from, but embraced as we gain a new perception of life. As the poet David Whyte teaches us, “It is time to come into a new conversation with the world, discovering how to apprentice yourself to beauty and find a place of belonging where you can hold loss and grief, the challenges of change and the wonder of new discovery and adventure.”

Midlife transition is a spiritual event, and if you are not pondering the big questions of life, your soul might provide you with an awakening that would not be of your choosing. I tell clients that women at midlife have three choices: Do their inner work and find the greater meaning of their life, get sick or turn bitter. Too often, the awakening comes after a great loss or illness.

We can change this perception by supporting each other to find the joys of midlife, to accept the wisdom that comes with age, to allow our faces to age naturally and see the beauty in each other.

“Midlife is a time to listen deeply to your heart. Whether we plan for this or not, midlife can be a period of transition and reappraisal. More inner questioning can occur.” – Carl Jung

Little girls are comfortable with themselves; they don’t even pay attention to what others think. Then adolescence hits and girls care about what everyone thinks and usually become self-conscious. This lasts until we accept the Wise Woman stage of life, where we no longer care what others think and become comfortable with ourselves again.

The Opening of Eyes

by David Whyte

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
The passing light over the water.
And I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before.
Life is no passing memory of what has been
Nor the remaining pages in a great book
Waiting to be read.
It is the opening of eyes long closed. It is the vision of far-off things seen for the silence
they hold. It is the heart, after years of secret conversing, speaking out loud in the clear
It is Moses in the desert fallen to his knees before the lit bush. It is the man throwing
away his shoes as if to enter heaven and finding himself astonished, opened at last fallen
in love with solid ground.

Being on solid ground is the knowing of who you are and saying yes to what life has to offer you. So join your sisters, encourage them and celebrate them.

Rituals are very important in women’s lives. Women have been participating in rituals since the beginning of time. On my 50th birthday, my friends did a Wise Woman celebration for me, and it is something I will never forget. I was led to my friend’s garden, only to find a path of rose petals laid out for me leading to her pool. On the way to the pool each friend offering another gift met me. They sang to me; read me stories they had written about me. I never felt so special. As I think about turning 50, I think of that experience and I am filled with gratitude.

For each friend’s special birthday, we get together and do a ritual for them. This year, one friend turns 60, one 70 and one 80. These rituals are so beautiful that I have been asked to do them by other women for their special days.

Finding the joy of midlife is a collective journey.

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