I think I’m having a midlife crisis.
I know. How cliché.
It sickens me to think I am going to be just another statistic, as predictable and ordinary as others who also walk this path. Will I really want to buy a red convertible something and start looking at younger men? I don’t want to be as foolish as others who painfully and obtrusively maneuver through this awkward developmental stage in their lives. I think I am smarter somehow and will therefore be able to avoid this. I think, perhaps naively, I have already done most of this work. You know, the painful, soul-searching work we can’t escape, try though we may. In fact, I have spent the majority of my life exploring my inner self and being self aware. And I am tired of it. I am ready to move on to another stage in my life. But that isn’t what is happening. Instead, I feel an increasing desire to go even deeper within.
And, underneath all this knowing, there is so much unknowing. Farther below there is an intuitive awareness that something far more important is surfacing. And I pick up the book When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. I weep as I read the words of my soul. I have the same thoughts, the same feelings, the same fears. I feel the clock ticking and that something is amiss within. I had hoped this time in my life would be more of a wintering of the self, where everything I had germinated would seek the refuge of dormancy. But no one really ever gets to escape the markers of age, although we may desperately try. No one can escape being human and all the sameness of behavior we face. Just as our skin thins, creases, and wrinkles in sync with time, our actions do as well. We are more the same than we are different.
Kidd writes, “I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak to all the unlived parts of me. . . . They were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.”
I feel this. I haven’t named my voices and I haven’t thought of them as orphaned, or even as voices. I only know that I feel lost to a life I have spent building, creating, and firming up. I also know that this life once felt comfortable and good, solid and secure. I am for the most part at peace with myself and my life. I have worked hard for this life. And yet, seemingly out of nowhere, I begin to experience a stirring of lost hopes and dreams. And all of a sudden these dreams become central to my happiness. I try to push them down, explain them away, cut them off. I try to be more spiritual, hoping I only need to learn more patience and gratitude. Surely, that’s the problem. I’m just not trying hard enough. They keep coming though. Haunting me. Teasing me. Taunting me with what could be.
Like the author, I find myself standing on shifting ground: the ground of midlife. I feel the clock of life who once whispered in my young ear, now shouting, “time’s almost up girl, whatcha got to show for it all?” Have I lived authentically?
After reading When the Heart Waits I make a choice. I choose to see this time of my life not as an existential crisis, a spiritual need, but as Sue Monk Kidd sees it, as a passage, a birth, a transformation of the soul. A time of growth and change of the self. “A pilgrimage,” she calls it. “That time in life when one is summoned to an inner transformation, to a crossing over from one identity to another. . . . [A time] of confronting the lost and counterfeit places within us and releasing our deeper, innermost self—our true self” (emphasis hers). She calls it “restoring the divine image imprinted on our soul.”
The very idea that there could be a divine image imprinted on my soul speaks to me on the whole of my being. I know things cannot stay the same. I can’t pretend that I am the same after embarking on a journey like this. No, this will leave a visible emotional scar, shouting out to others just what I have been hiding. People will notice that I am suffocating.
Carl Jung says of the second half of life: “thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life. . . . We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” Unprepared, I know. I do not know, however, what the evening of my life has in store for me.
“It is what it is” just isn’t working out for me anymore. It is time to shed the self-imposed laziness of this expression. It is time I face the rejected, inferior parts of myself. If midlife is about looking authentically and wholly at myself, shadows and all, where do I find the audacity to look within and face the parts of me I must let go, let die, in order to make room for the new, the aliveness still within me?
I notice that I am spending more and more time away from myself, at work, in front of the TV, feeling increasingly anxious, and in my head. Now, I understand what I have been trying to do, which is avoid having to face what is really going on. I have work to do. Growing to accomplish. Things to face.
I start with going to bed without any stimulation and sit with myself: thoughts, anxieties, fears, and all. I decide not to self-medicate away my sleepless nights and instead dwell in the uncertainty that they bring.
Sue Monk Kidd says we avoid being ourselves because we fear facing the truth that something is amiss in us because such “pauses in life [bring us] close to the dark holes and empty pockets inside . . . to the rigidities and self-lies” and “to the scars and torn places we would like to be rid of.”
So as I collect the large boxes of tissues, bandages, and other first aid essentials necessary for my journey of growth, I realize that my skin, already bursting at the seams, will not easily be sewn together again. I can no longer limit the space I occupy and this may give way to a very clumsy and messy exploration, one in which I may no longer be recognizable, except to myself and to the divine. I am ready for my imprinted self to be born. Here is to my becoming lost on purpose, in hope of somewhere along the road finding my true self. And here’s hoping that I may be brave enough.
It hurts to grow.
Julie Williams is interested in deconstructing the rules and messages received from our culture in regards to women’s issues, spiritual concepts, and cultural ideals. Her hope is to assist others, as well as herself, in living a more authentic life. Julie believes that “we teach best what we most need to learn,” as quoted by Richard Bach. Julie aspires to teach, and learn, “best” through the way of Tonglen, along with other Buddhist and Taoist practices, including mindfulness, daily gratitude, and being present and still with the daily gifts and lessons life throws her way. Julie obtained a Master of Social Work and her professional specialty areas include: American Studies, Social Theory and Human Behavior. She is most interested in the history of beauty and how we internalize beauty standards and how this forms our body image; how society creates cultural norms for health, nutrition, and exercise; and quality of life and end of life issues.
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