Les femmes d’une certaine age – I think this sounds much better in French. It suggests a certain mystery, a wisdom that is not worn on the surface, a wicked sense of humour that can delight, prick or charm – depending on the situation. Recently I was asked to talk about the needs and issues of this demographic group of women over 50. so it got me thinking. Obviously what we consider to be middle-aged now is not what was considered to be middle-aged several hundred years ago when our lifespan was much shorter. So this is not about a chronological number, but rather a mind set and an attitude towards life.
For many women, middle age forces us to confront loss – the loss of youth, of beauty, the tone and agility of our bodies, sexuality (both as perceived by others, and an inner sense) health and loved ones. We are also often confronted with the loss of relationships and partners as our children grow up or we, or our partners, move into different career paths. All of this can get very depressing if you can’t maintain perspective and a sense of humour. However, in order to find humour in any situation we have to be able to hold the tension of the opposites – to see both sides.
Middle-age is the fulcrum between youth and old age, and as such we are poised for great creative potential. You now have the potential leverage to make some big changes in your life. This holds true for both men and women. The terrifying but ultimately great thing about middle age (and remember to hold that tension of the opposites!) is that one day, in the middle of your life, you wake up to yourself and are forced to take stock. This is when you sit down and have a real, honest to goodness talk with yourself; after you have gotten over the shock of looking at yourself in the mirror, metaphorically speaking!
That galvanizing moment always come with some sort of a realization that your days are numbered. You have to face the fact that you only have so much time left on the planet. Some of us who are dealing with life-threatening diseases are more acutely aware of this than the rest of us in terms of what that time might look like, but the wake-up call always forces us to confront the limitations of time that are facing us. There is nothing like a deadline to clear the mind and get us focused on the task at hand.
And that task at hand boils down to this question. What do you want the rest of your life to look like? What are the gifts that you have not yet brought into the world? What is your unique contribution, which if you do not make it; will forever be lost to this world? What are you so busy making for? Christopher Fry asks us this question in a Sleep of Prisoners. Its takes so many thousand years to wake (he tells us) so will you wake for pity’s sake? See blog: Believe in Love Over Goodness
There are a number of common responses to the terrifying vista of looming old age, for both men and women. One of the most dominant ones in this culture is manufactured busyness. Keep yourself so busy that you don’t have to reflect on what is really going on. How many people do you know who don’t have time to make real contact – even with their so-called loved ones? They actually can’t make real contact with their loved ones, because they don’t know what it is to make contact with themselves. The busyness is what we call a defense mechanism in psychological terms. It defends them from facing what they are terrified to face. And that is the face of death – our own mortality.
Another very common response is depression. This is often accompanied by a deep sense of grief and loss. It may get kicked off by the death or loss of a loved one, a relationship, or the loss of a job, but then it just seems to go on and on. It feels like there is a big inner hole that nothing will fill. Life is passing you by, and the sadness and negative self-talk becomes a way of life. This is at the opposite end of the spectrum from compulsively busy superwoman, or superman – and in many ways is harder to deal with. At least superwoman or superman seems to be getting stroked and praised for all of his/her wonderful busyness, but the depressed person is disappearing into a black hole. They think unconsciously that it is about getting fed in some way and may fall into addictive behaviours (shopping, eating, sex, drugs or alcohol) but nothing fills the void. And nothing fills the void because that is not the way out. The energy has to be reversed, and it can only be reversed by the painful movement into consciousness.
I am reminded of Patanjali’s yoga sutras in which he talks about the three basic energies in life – Rajasic, Tamasic, and Sattvic. Patanjali was a father of yogic philosophy. The Rajasic energy is fiery and dynamic. This shows up in the compulsive doers in our life who are so busy they very rarely have time to connect with loved ones in any real way. The Tamasic energy is heavy, lethargic and dull. It is very hard for this type to get galvanized by anything. The Sattvic energy is the middle road – the road of balance between the other two, the enlightened perspective…finding the peace and creative potential between the two extremes, staying at the center point on the fulcrum.
So when we are next looking in the mirror, it might be a good idea to reflect on the energy which is manifesting in our lives. Do we need to slow down and reflect on how we are doing our lives? Where is the meaning or lack of meaning showing up? Or are we sliding into a black hole, hoping something will fill us, fill our time or give us purpose? Whether
we need to galvanize our deep purpose or slow down enough to even ask ourselves the question, the ultimate question is how can we best bring our creativity and gifts into life? How can we fine-tune the rest of our time that is allotted to us and bring our lives into fruition?
The great gift of middle age is this. We can now see that it doesn’t matter what other people think of us, or what society at large holds dear. You only have this life right now and you have to fulfill your deep soul purpose; nothing else matters. If you don’t yet know what that is, then no other journey is worth taking.
Look at what grandmothers in the third world are accomplishing!