Waking up at midlife

It used to be called the ‘midlife crisis’; sometime later, it became known as the ‘midlife transition’. Whatever you want to call it, it happens to us all, somewhere in the middle stages of our lives: usually in the years between forty and fifty, but sometimes a few years later. The change in terminology is helpful, though: often it isn’t a crisis, because that word suggests an acute, one-off event. The midlife transition isn’t an event, it’s a process. It can go on and on. Just when we think we’ve worked our way through it and we’re out of the dark woods, bam! – here it comes again, to make us face up to all that we had imagined we understood, but really hadn’t quite grasped at all. The midlife transition takes you by the scruff of the neck, shakes you until you rattle, until don’t know which way is up any more, and keeps on shaking you till you’ve learned what you need to learn. If you don’t fully engage with the process the first time, it’ll be coming round again. You can count on that.

The midlife transition is about waking up. About ripping away the veils, facing the darkness and the Shadow, as well as the light. Both can be equally scary. The midlife transition isn’t easy, but then it isn’t supposed to be easy. The greatest growth comes from the greatest pain, and at midlife, for better or for worse, you get to really grow. It’s not an optional add-on; it’s a developmental necessity. For women, if nothing else has pushed you into it, dealing with menopause surely will. And the only way through it is through it. There are no shortcuts. It’s the ultimate Call. No, not a Call to Adventure – this stage of our lives is all about letting go of the requirement for that kind of thing, for activity, for doing, for plot; it’s time to let go of the active, linear, all-conquering Hero’s Journey terminology. Rather, it’s a Call to something approximating pilgrimage. It is a journeying, but it isn’t about doing. It isn’t even about being – it’s about learning to become. It’s about learning to become what we can uniquely become. It’s about finally getting our act together, in the final stages of our lives. It’s about figuring out what we bring to the world, and getting on with bringing it. It’s about showing up.

All too often, people try to avoid the midlife transition. Why not? – it’s scary, and there are no guarantees. If you follow the Call, all bets are off. And so sometimes we try to resist it. Don’t bother: it’ll get you one way or another. If you don’t heed it the first time, that bell will keep on tolling till you do. But even if we hear the midlife wake-up Call, and even if we follow it, leap off the edge, embark on the Journey, it certainly isn’t plain sailing. Growing can hurt, and if we do it properly, many things must be left behind which once we thought we treasured. The gifts are concomitantly great, but sometimes it’s hard to see that for the darkness of the woods. Midlife is about letting go. About necessary lettings-go. Letting go of illusions, letting go of Shadows. Sometimes, letting go of people and places. Some people blunt the pain of new growth with alcohol or other addictions. We blunt the fear, not just because we are afraid of the dark, but because we are afraid of the light. Because we are fearful of coming into our power, especially when for so many of us – particularly if we are women – our lives have been about keeping it carefully under control. You can’t get away with that at midlife. It’s a time for shaking loose.

Over the next few months, I’ll be exploring midlife transitions on this blog. There are ways to help the process, to work with the learnings. I’ll share them here, and hope they will both resonate with and help many of you, as you grapple with your own midlife awakenings.

 

35 thoughts on “Waking up at midlife

  1. Lovely post, Sharon. My friends and I are in our sixties, become or becoming crones, so another wonderful stage in life. Psychologically, an experience of freedom, lightness and celebration of all the things of being human, both the darkness and the light.

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  2. Wow that was a wonderful read. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been struggling to find a narrative of the way I’ve been looking at my reality for a while now. At the age of 56 I’m feeling that I’m starting to ‘sum my life up’. To gather all my experiences up and weigh them up as a whole and at last learn from them. I shall be following and sharing. Thank you.

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  3. I remember reaching a haven of calm after a journey that almost broke me, I remembered how to breathe, to sleep…to not fear the flood of emotions that rose with each wave of unsummoned heat and sweat….and then realised this was the eye of the storm and I was sheltering in the centre …. But because I had survived the first part of my journey, I took a deep breath and stepped into the whirlwind of change. I’m not saying it was easier but I knew in my bones I would survive….those winds of change stripped me bare, some of my most treasured possessions, friendships and family members, were torn away from me. But we endure, we can get our heads down and move through the fiercest of onslaughts, raise our faces to the breath-stealing wind and shout our defiance. There were loving arms to welcome me on the other side….women, often strangers , that saw my pilgrim shell sewn to my breast . I sat at their hearths, leaning my grateful body against their knee , learning the ways of an a Elder . Several years later I too now stand with blanket and arms ready to welcome for a windswept traveller . There is always a place at my Hearth for a soul to rest and gather strength.
    Beautiful and brutally honest words Sharon, as ever
    Love from Crow Valley x

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  4. Sharon, so glad I found you and found this blog. Beautifully put and beautifully felt. I am going through this work right now–journey, crisis, adventure, whatever you want (or don’t want) to call it–and you truly honor the path in these words. Thank you. I would keep saying more, but it feels all babbly at the moment. I understand the menopausal fog to be on one level, when another level may be calling us with utter clarity. So I’ll let go of more language at the moment and just enjoy this connection! Feel free to check out my blog, too! I hope to keep writing there from a spirit place that calls me, calls me, like the sonorous sound of wild geese …–Suzanne Bell, Brevard, N.C.

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  5. Beautifully said, Sharon. I am in my 60s and am just opening myself up to my authentic self. Consequently, I am loving life and embarking on a new career. Who knew it was possible to reinvent yourself with this much energy after retirement. I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts.

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  6. Such a wonderful post, Sharon, on what truly is a pilgrimage and journey at this phase of life, and one not without rocky bits and courageous leaps along the way.

    Your words describe so well and beautifully what I’ve been experiencing, as I cycle into what’s next in my life.

    It is a time to shake loose, be open to possibility, bring the best of the past forward, while shedding what no longer is important, as well as embracing fully showing up and being present in the world.

    And it takes courage, too, to keep moving through the dark woods, too, as you’ve written; those tangled thickets and sticky mud come unexpectedly, even when they’re followed by magical and uplifting times. I’m totally in that phase now as I consolidate and downsize, leave a beloved house and garden, and move forward towards to what I hope will be a vibrant future, leaving behind many things that hold memories, too, the good of which I carry forward. But I’m mindful, too, of the sadness around letting go of what’s past, as tears come unexpectedly, sorting through the accumulation of work, home, and family.

    That’s all part of the journey. Thanks for your lovely post.

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  7. Thank you for this post, it really spoke to me. Hitting 50 this year,I feel that this moment needs to be marked somehow. It was while giving this some thought I was hit by a real need to have less, want less, require less so that I can become me. This is my journey to me. I am not a good writer, but an excellent day dreamer and with some inspiration from your blog I am putting pen to paper(real pen, real paper) to log this transition. This week I felt a bit lost in the sea of minimalist related writing and I hit the”give up” stage. Your post has put my perspective back on track. I am looking forward to more. Again thank you.

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    1. Sometimes writing isn’t the way through it. Sometimes other creative options work better. We’ll likely be getting to those as I go on … Interestingly, as a writer, I almost never found that words helped me. Words in fact failed me, and I wanted to be done with them. Stories and images from stories were everything. (I know you’ll say stories are words, but to me they’re as much visual s verbal, and not necessarily written.) If words don’t work for you, explore what else might. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Thank you Sharon for finding words that reach into the heart of what midlife transition is all about for we women. For myself at 47, arriving in a sudden burst of spring clarity and looking back over the last few years spent flailing mostly in darkness, with only a scattering of magic threads to keep me weaving on, this post is exactly the mirror I needed: that this is the pilgrimage of learning to become.

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    1. Ah yes, the magic threads. They know the pattern; the trick is to believe in them 🙂 That’s why here are so many weaving stories, for women. We make the world, but first we have to make ourselves. A task that, happily, is never finished. Trickster Crow sees to that 🙂 I look forward to hearing about your clarities sometime. x

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  9. Beautiful Sharon, for me your words ring true. Sometimes hearing something wise from another is so damn validating and empowering. This post was so for me today. Many thanks and looking forward to further dialoging on this. Appreciating you!

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  10. Reading your post and these responses and feeling the utter relief of recognition and an overwhelming need to join my small cracked to your strong and powerful voice … I have recently stepped off the edge, impelled at long last by forces I do not yet understood – and there is no ground. There is nothing but loss. Words fail me, houses, hills and forests resist me, meaning ebbs and flows hourly. I have no outer skin to hide behind. I feel better when outside and when on the move – when the journeying is real and tangible – but I know sooner or later I must find and stay with stillness in the midst of this deep pain and great fear in order for this second birthing to happen. This time a birth without the promise of joy as an exchange for pain.

    Thank you for showing me that I am not alone – far from it – and the possibilities of finding courage and strength in confronting the processes of becoming. Thank you.

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    1. Sarah, all the ‘voice’ in the world didn’t help when this happened to me beginning around 2 years ago. You can know what is happening with one part of you (and yes, OK, then I guess that knowing IS a help or at least a comfort) but it doesn’t make the ride any easier or the lessons that you have to learn any more obvious. Your words echo my experience but now, two years later, for all that has learned, I am so grateful I could set the world on fire with my gratitude 🙂 And so full of joy. I think, actually, the joy came amidst the pain – once the sharpest edge had been rubbed off. There is ALWAYS joy, if you have the heart to seek it. Always, always. I wish for you to find it. It will be found in its own good time, but it is always there to be found.

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    2. Sharon – if your words fail you, they do no such thing to others. You write with a power that leaves me breathless … your voice is amazing 😉

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  11. Hi Sharon- I’m so looking forward to this series and your wisdom. I’m not quite at midlife yet, but I have been through a prolonged and extreme dark night of the soul in my early 20s, and this sounds so very much like what I experienced. I hope that what I went through might help me in my midlife transition, whenever it may arrive.

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    1. It’s always hard to time these things. I had a major crisis when I was 30. But it was a different thing, whilst serving some of the same functions. I do think that we have some very specific things to learn at around 50 or so. But the ways to navigate through such transitional times might be similar … And yes, as I lurched from transition to transition during two turbulent decades, every learning helped me navigate a little bit better. I hope it is so for you!

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      1. As you know, Sharon, some of these crises can be timed astrologically. The mid-life crisis/transition has a generic astrological signature, as does the one that most people experience around the age of 30 – although of course, it is not by any means the same for everyone. And then there are cycles that are individually timed and intimately personal to each individual. The important thing, as you say, is to face them bravely and with awareness, self-love, and humble willingness to learn whatever lessons are there. It can help to have a language for these things – which astrology does provide – but if you pay open-minded and open-hearted attention, the perfect words, images, symbols and metaphors will appear when you need them most. This is – as I know you know and practice every day – where personal growth and art interface. Or, in a broader sense, where life invites us all to be creative – as though our life itself were a work of it – which it is.

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  12. Thank you, Sharon, for that beautiful piece of writing. My midlife crisis has come and gone and I am continuing on my journey. I don’t yet know where I am going–yet, I am exploring truth through my art.

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