HALFWAY TO DEAD

“Most peoveilple die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”  -Benjamin Franklin

It was the damndest thing.  I was at the mall, eeling my way through a school of teenagers when I heard a snatch of conversation between two boys that stopped me dead in the water:

“Dude, she’s like 40 years old!  That’s like halfway to dead!”

Mind you, they were talking about a pop singer, but for some reason his words resonated in my brain like John Donne’s proverbial bell.

To be perfectly honest, at first I couldn’t believe what I’d heard and my initial reaction was simply to brush aside the comment.  After all, what did it matter that a fifteen year old punk thought that a singer over forty wasn’t worth listening to because she was “halfway to dead?”

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that this one random piece of overheard conservation is indicative of everything that is wrong with our culture; of the prevailing attitude regarding anyone or anything that doesn’t provide instant satisfaction and gratification; of the tendency to view anyone over the age of forty (or anything that hasn’t been written, produced, published, aired, designed or conceptualized in the last 24 months) to be irrelevant; of the “me first!” mentality that has turned our society into a self-centered, ego-centric parody of itself.

We live in a take-out world of fast food, quick fixes, one minute makeovers; a world where if you either learn to adapt to the rapidly changing social structure or you get left in the dust; a world where old age is seen as a curse, education is seen as a joke and the answer to all of life’s problems lies in drinking from the fountain of youth and being able to fit into our skinny jeans even after we’ve had two children. And it is this youth-obsessed, egocentric culture that has generated the idea of the mid-life crises as joke; as a desperate bid by those past their prime to hold on to the glory of youth and try one last time to make their mark on the world.

Everyone has seen the characterization of the aging middle-aged man combing his hair over his bald spot, buying a sports car, and trading in his wife for a younger, perkier model.  For women this same time frame is portrayed as the 40-something year old woman or “cougar” getting plastic surgery and headed out on the prowl for a younger, virile man, because don’t you know, it’s all about the sex and, in a youth-obsessed culture – it is understandable (if laughable) that older men and women would be so scared of getting old that they would do whatever it takes to make themselves desirable once again.

The Mid-Life Re-Evaluation

You see, what it really comes down to is the mis-use of the term “crisis” for what happens to so many people at the mid-point of their lives is not so much about fearing death – about trying to regain their youth or proving their virility by taking on younger lovers as it is about the realization that they are at the half-point of their lives and have not yet begun to live.

Most people in western society settle down in their mid-twenties.  They acquire a full-time job, a spouse, and, over the years, children, a mortgage, credit card bills, social standing in the community and even positions of responsibility and respect in their churches.  But while for all intents and purposes they appear to have a “good life” too many are just going through the motions.  Far too many people are dying inside.

For their whole lives they have been living for the weekends, for vacations, intent on getting the next promotion, the bigger house, getting the kids out of school and into the right colleges, for retirement, convinced that eventually they will reach a plateau of happiness where they can finally draw a deep breath and where their lives will finally have meaning, where they can finally relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The only problem is, it never arrives.  There is always another bill, another event, another concern, another upcoming event; a web of responsibilities and obligations that keep them tethered to the soul-less job and the loveless marriage.  And so, many people “break out” of the mold in an act of almost teenage rebellion.  Having been immersed in a consumer society where the acquisition of things is equated with elevated happiness, most of those who hit this crises point do something stereotypical, like quitting their job, taking a younger lover, buying a flashy car thinking that these things will somehow give their lives meaning.

energy2And then there are those who instinctively understand that there is more going on than meets the eye; that this isn’t about things.  This isn’t even about reclaiming their youth.  This is about stripping away all of the layers of veneer and varnish that society insists that they wear in order to be considered acceptable.  This is learning how to reconnect with the authentic self.  This is about moving past what religions and governments and even friends or family expect from them.  This is about remembering who and what they really are while there is still enough time to experience life; while there is still enough time to appreciate the wonder and mystery that surround them.  This is nature’s wake up call.  This isn’t about being “halfway to dead.”  This is a clarion call to those who hear it and who have the wisdom to understand that it is time to stop going through the motions and truly start to live.

All Beginnings Are Hard

butterfly“All Beginnings are hard. . . . Especially a beginning that you make for yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.” ~Chiam Potok

 

It is not unusual at this time of the year to see dozens of posts touting an individual’s New Year’s Resolutions; posts about losing weight, finding love, getting their dream job.  The list is endless. And while I know plenty of people who scoff at the idea; people who say that making New Year’s Resolutions is pointless and meaningless, the concept behind it is really quite lovely; you are promising yourself a new beginning; choosing the turning of the New Year as a convenient marking point for tracking their progress.

The sad part of course is that most people renege on their promise to themselves fairly quickly.  In fact, the same people who will move heaven and earth to keep a promise to a spouse or a child; a parent, an employer or a friend will dismiss their promise to themselves with no more than a shrug and an amused chuckle.

Do we really have so little respect for ourselves that we can shrug away our chance to finally create the life we have always imagined?  Because when we fail to keep our promises to ourselves that is exactly what we are doing.  We are trading in those things we desire most in the whole world in exchange for convenience, or security or acceptance by those who don’t understand what achieving our goals would mean for our authentic selves.

I have no room to judge the person who gives in to those around them; who gives in to the demands of convention or of society and gives up their dream, for I am guilty of the same thing.  In fact, I am more guilty than most.  I gave up my dream.  I gave up my dreams willingly in the hopes that by doing so I could forget who I was; that I could bury my true self in normality and create a life for myself where I would not only not be hurt any more, but one where I would no longer hurt anyone else.

For a few precious years it seemed to work.  I was happy, or at the very least I was content.  But it didn’t last.

It was inevitable that one day I would wake up to the fact that burying my authentic self was the biggest mistake that I ever made.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the life I lived; it gave me two beautiful daughters and hundreds of lovely memories that I will cherish forever.  What I do regret is that I gave up my true self for the illusion of security and belonging.

It has taken me a quarter of a century to come around to acknowledging my mistake and in taking steps to rectify it; to unearth the true me that has been buried for so very long.  Unfortunately she has been kept under wraps for so long that no one recognizes her.  Well, no one except those who knew me before I buried her alive.  Her resurrection has resulted in any number of problems as I try to explain to those around me that this is who I am.  That the person they thought I was all this time was nothing more than a façade; a mask worn to prevent those around me from see who and what I truly am; a choice I made because I was afraid of hurting or being hurt ever again.

Some have supported me in this excavation.  Others have fought it at every turn, trying their hardest to convince me that going back to the self they always knew is in everyone’s best interest; especially their own since that person was the one they were comfortable with.  But going back to the person I was pretending to be is something I will not do.  And if becoming myself means turning their world upside down, well then, so be it.  I have kept myself buried for far too long.  It is time.

And so it is that I make my own New Year’s Resolution.  This year I make a new beginning for myself – for my true self.  I will take the steps necessary to free myself from those people and situations that would keep me from being who and what I truly am.

Of course this means that there will be some tough decisions to be made over the next 12 months; some very difficult choices and overall upheaval for myself and those closest to me.  But like childbirth, once the process has begun, there really is no turning back.  I have made myself the promise of a new beginning, and it is a promise that I intend to keep.

Chutes And Ladders

“It doesn’t matter how bad things get.  It doesn’t matter how dark the clouds are.  You have to believe, deep in your heart, that the sun is still shining, even if, right now, you can’t feel anything except the continual downpour.” ~ SSHenry

There are times in each of our lives; moments, days, months even; when we feel like giving up; when we feel that going through the motions of daily life are just too difficult and it would be easier to curl ourselves into a small ball and just wait for it all to end.

I’ve had one of those years.

The details don’t matter.  Suffice it to say that a year ago something happened to me that turned my world upside down.  It began with a single event and cascaded (as single events tend to do) into a thundering waterfall of circumstances that swept away nearly every aspect of who and what I was.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look at the dates on my writing here on the website.  You’ll notice that since a year ago the entries became fewer and farther between.  There would be months between entries.  That is because I was spending every last ounce of energy keeping my head above water; trying desperately not to drown in my own tears.

I was left clinging tenaciously to one thing and, oddly enough, it wasn’t someone or something outside of myself that I found myself clinging to.  It was an inner knowing; an understanding that even though it felt as if all of my insides had been torn out through my chest and kicked about by people in very dirty and heavy work boots before being randomly stuffed back in, it was going to be ok.

Somewhere deep inside I knew that even though it felt as if things would never get better, that this was just one of life’s weird twists.  It wasn’t the end.  It was more like the square on the Shute’s and Ladders board where you plummet back to nearly the beginning before picking yourself up and beginning the climb all over again.

Mind you, that didn’t make it any easier to handle.  That didn’t make the days any easier to face.  What it did was enable me to use my meditation and mindfulness skills to focus on the right here and now, as painful as it was; on getting through today.  Not looking towards tomorrow.  Not planning for the future;  just on getting through the day; through the morning; through the next hour.  I survived moment by moment until the hole in my heart scabbed over and reduced itself to an aching throb.

And after nearly a year’s worth of mornings where the alarm would go off and I would groan in disappointment at finding myself still alive and at the prospect of having to deal with yet another pointless and meaningless day; after nearly a year’s worth of days finding myself bursting into tears for no particular reason; one morning I surprised myself by waking up with a smile in my heart.  I could feel the sun again, and see colors.

Sure enough, when I checked the scab that had covered the hole where my insides were torn out had finally fallen off, leaving new pink skin underneath.  Mind you, it’s still very, very tender, and painful when exposed to the air or vigorous rubbing.  But it’s whole.  And I can feel my insides carefully rearranging themselves.  I think there may be a few pieces missing, for there certainly seems to be an emptiness inside that wasn’t there before.

Or maybe there is nothing missing.  Maybe during this last year, while I was focusing on getting through the day; maybe I grew.  Maybe it is not that there is something missing.  Maybe instead it is that there is now room inside of me; room for more; more of everything.

Excuse Me, My Life is Waiting

walk“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

 

Does purposefully surrounding yourself with people who will lift you higher; people who encourage you and strengthen you sound like a selfish thing to do?  Can you imagine the alternative?

No, most of us don’t have to imagine the alternative, because most of us live it.  I know I do.  Or, rather, up until now, I have.

When I was little it was family members who would discourage me from my dreams, telling me that I really didn’t have the talent or skill for this or that endeavor, or that what I was attempting was not something that a “good Christian girl” would do.  If I pursued my activities I would then have to put up with the disappointment of those same family members and see the hurt and pain in their eyes that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  And so I would sigh and tuck away my dreams.

When I was older it was my teachers, friends or boyfriends that would discourage me from attempting what they saw as ill-conceived or inadvisable options.  And what did I do?  I would go ahead with them anyway, until of course someone looked at me again with that pain in their eyes, and then I would crumble. OK, ok.  I’ll fold.  Just stop looking at me like that.  I want you to LIKE me, to LOVE me, not to be disappointed by me. And then I got married and the whole process started over again. 

So why am I speaking in the past tense?  Because I have decided that I am finished with the negativity.  I have to be.

You see, the negativity of those who discourage, demean or belittle me and my desire to become the truest version of myself are not serving me.  And there – right there – is where I usually get a twinge of guilt.  The very term “not serving me” just reeks of self-centeredness, doesn’t it?

But there comes a point in your life where you realize that as much as you care about the people in your life; and as much as you want them to be happy, there is something that is more important, and that is that you be true to your real self no matter how others feel about it.

This isn’t selfishness; at least it isn’t selfishness in the traditional definition of the word.  No, this is taking care of what you need in order to learn and grow and become, and let’s face it, without growth things tend to stagnate and grow stale. That includes everything from your personal life to your relationships with others, so no matter what, there really is no point in spending your energy trying to maintain the status quo.

Of course those negative individuals in your life who encourage you NOT to change would be glad of change IF (and only if) you were to change in the direction that they wish to see you go.  What scares them is that you are changing in ways that make them uncomfortable, which is why they fight against it so hard. But a moment of reflection should show you that change to make someone else happy is actually counterproductive.  Yes, the other person may rest easier knowing that you will not break out in ways that they cannot or will not allow themselves to understand.  But you will be just as unhappy having changed into something that you are NOT as you were unhappy to remain in a stagnant or stale situation.

Actually, you will be unhappier having changed in a direction that is at odds with your soul purpose; even unhappier than you would be simply staying put and resisting the urge to become who and what you really are.

No.  The truth of the matter is that you HAVE to follow your instincts and intuition if you are going to truly live your life and not simply treat it as some sort of spectator sport.

At the risk of sounding cliché, you have to follow your heart.  If it leads you in a direction that others find uncomfortable enough, they will move on or move out of your life to a place where they feel more comfortable and where the people and things live up to their expectations.

So when I talk about surrounding yourself with those who will lift you up (and not pull you down) I’m not talking about walking away from people or situations that do not serve you.  Instead, what I am saying is that you need to stop giving those people and situations that you find energy draining or negative to the point of depression, your attention.

Just stop.  They are not worth the effort of either fighting their negativity or the effort of changing yourself in order to please them.  They do not serve you.

So focus on what does serve you; on those things that bring you joy and that fill your life with the wonder and mystery that feeds your soul.  Focus on those things that encourage you to grow and become who and what you truly are, and watch your life as it changes for the better.

Joy to the World and Pass the Eggnog!

 

I don’t know about you, but this time of the year can be stressful for anyone who celebrates the season.  In fact, there are days when I feel that Ebenezer Scrooge had it right before the spirits ever got a hold of him, particularly the part where he tells the gentlemen collecting for the poor that “I wish to be left alone!”

Just think of all of the things that you are ‘expected’ to do.  There is the holiday decorating and the baking, the gift buying and wrapping and party planning.  Then there are the concerts and end of school performances and recitals and drama productions and work parties and neighborhood celebrations, church celebrations and the addressing of about a million greeting cards and all of this in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With so much to do and so little time to do it in (not to mention even less time to actually kick back and relax) is it any wonder why so many people get so stressed out?

Here is a question for you.  With all the expectations attached to the holiday season, is it possible to live authentically; to be exactly whom and what you are in spite of everything that you are expected to do?

The answer, of course, is yes.

No, this doesn’t mean that you have to become a Scrooge and lock yourself away behind walls of cynicism for the duration of the holiday season. What it does mean is that you take a good hard look at those responsibilities and activities that you have agreed to take part in and ask yourself whether or not they bring you joy.

If they DO bring you joy, then by all means keep them!  Yes, I know that baking four dozen cupcakes for your child’s end of school winter holiday party may not be a joyful experience in and of itself, but the look on their face when you walk into their classroom with the cupcakes may be worth every moment you spent in the kitchen.

On the other hand, if you find yourself dreading the very thought of attending one more Messiah sing along, then don’t go!  There is nothing that says that you have to say yes to every invitation issued during this time of the year.  There is nothing that says that you have to bake all of your sugar cookies from scratch.  There is nothing that says that you have to reciprocate every gift you receive with another of equal or greater value.

What it takes is weighing each agreement that you make; every invitation that you accept against how much joy it will bring into your life.

Does that sound selfish? Perhaps in a way it is.  After all, at this time of the year especially we are encouraged to think of others first; to put our own wants and needs aside in order to provide for the needs and wants of others.  But what never fails to astonish me is how anyone can expect that a person can keep giving and giving without every running out of energy.  It can’t be done.

In order to care for others we must first take care of ourselves, and one of the most effective ways to do this is to pay attention to our joy.  If everything that we do comes from our heart and brings us joy and happiness then each thing that we do for others – which we WANT to do for others – each thing we do for someone else that brings us joy will be magnified tenfold.

It won’t be how much we do, but the quiet intent; the joy inherent that will fill up our lives, and our hearts this holiday season and every day of the year to come.

 

 

The End and the Beginning

Don’t you just love Halloween?  This whole time of the year – what with its Harvest Festivals and its Renaissance Festivals; the decorations and costumes and make believe; honestly, I find it refreshing, especially Halloween since in spite of the commercialization, it is still instantly recognizable as the pagan holiday that was celebrated by many of our ancestors for centuries before Christianity was ever introduced.

I find it interesting that in spite of the best attempts of the early Christian Church, the festival of Halloween (or Samhain) was one that has resisted all attempts at Christianization.  They may have replaced Yule with Christmas; they may have reduced the celebration of Imbolc to that of a groundhog predicting the length of winter; they may have been able to replace the Spring Equinox (an important fertility right) with the birth of Christ.  But in spite of everything, Samhain remains easily identifiable as a pagan holiday.  But what is the history of Halloween? Better yet, why is it so important to so many people?  What made it so important that it was able to stand up to everything that was thrown at it?

There really is no point in going into great detail regarding the history of Halloween.  You can find the accounts in hundreds of books and thousands of websites; all variations on a theme.  You’ll read in some places about how originally it was a pagan celebration of the end of the harvest; a celebration of the death of the Horned God (the consort of the Great Goddess) who had to die in order to ensure that the sun would be reborn and would guarantee a new cycle of fertility.  Others will emphasize the fact that it is a day when the veil between the worlds was so thin that spirits and dark creatures were free to mix and mingle with humans. You’ll hear people telling you that it is nothing more than a harvest festival and others who claim that it is a holiday dedicated to the devil himself.

All of these claims have the ring of truth; and equal tones of myth and legend, but what is it really?  Better yet; what does the celebration of Halloween – or Samhain mean for us, today?

One of the reasons that Samhain is still such a touchpoint in our culture is due to the fact that it touches a very deep and primitive nerve.  In ancient times Samhain was a time to celebrate endings.  It marked the end of the Celtic yearly cycle and the beginning of their New Year. Here in the northern hemisphere it marks the end of our growing season which is marked by the bringing in of the harvest and is punctuated by the falling of the leaves; a sure sign of the approach of winter.

But it wasn’t just the ending of the growing season or the ending of the cycle of the leaves, it also came to be associated with the cycle of life and the celebration of how, even though death and loss is part of the cycle of life, so too death and endings mark the begining of a new season; a new cycle; and the promise of new life with special attention beging given to those loved ones who had passed on and the inevitability of the death of all physical things.  But so too was it kept in mind that just as all things end and it may appear that the fields are fallow, the promise of spring and of a whole new season of life lies just under the surface waiting for the warmth of the sun.

Indeed, just as this season once it marked the time to stock up for the winter; to bring in firewood and fill the pantry with supplies for the cold months, even today you see homeowners buttoning up their property; covering rose bushes and making sure their oil tanks are filled.   Today you see many home owners using this time of the year to clear their yards of debris in preparation for winter storms and in making sure that their rain gutters are cleared out and their roof is free of leaks.  You’ll also find that many people use this time of the year to clear out their closets and cupboards of those things that they don’t need in order to make room for those things that they might need for the cold months.

So too this can be a time to prepare for what is yet to come.  And what better way to do that than to rid yourself of all of those things that might be weighing you down and detracting from your peace of mind?

Even if you don’t celebrate the season, there is nothing wrong with using it as a touch point for getting your own house and mind and life both literally and figuratively ready for winter.  Divest yourself of everything that makes you unhappy; let go of those things that weigh down your energy and make you depressed.  No need to head into the long dark months of winter weighed down by baggage that will just make it worse.

Instead, why not clear out all of those spaces?  Clean them out, but resist the urge to fill them up with something; leave them empty; an invitation to the universe that you are ready for something new and exciting to enter your life.  It is an ending, yes, but also a beginning.

Like a fallow field; one that has been divested of its harvest and left empty and bare; you’ll be ready when it is time to plant the seeds of a new crop; one that will make your life richer with more purpose and meaning.