February 24, 2015

Remembering what our Pain is Good For.


My Facebook post began this way:

My forties are clunky. All odd angles, knocking my head on shit, and failure. It is so the middle of my life. (Hopefully.) All the conviction, optimism and sexiness of my youth is past. And the grace and wisdom of age teases me from someplace I have no right to claim yet. I think I’m finally learning how to finally be a person. I kinda’ hate it, but, as my mother often says, it’s better than the alternative.

It was one of those posts that tugs at your sleeve for a while before you share it, that eventually has you pull over to the side of the road so you can speak it into your phone and press post because you need to say it, now!

It came with the relief inherent in saying an uncomfortable truth into an empty car with “friends” on the other side. I. Feel. Awkward. In between places. Unsure of my use or my value. What, oh what, is this feeling, this time, this experience for?

I had figured I would skip my midlife crisis. (How cute.) I had it covered. I did everything fun, everything adventurous I could think of. I followed every star. I slept with everyone I wanted, and a few I didn’t. I spent time journaling, dancing, singing, playing, hiking, meditating, exploring every nook and cranny of what life presented to me. I had so many disparate career paths that my family lost track. They say, so, how’s the…massage, er, yoga, er, cake business, er, coaching? Now I just take pity on them and say: good!

So, of course, as my joints make their crankiness known to me more assiduously now, and no Universal Utopian Old Age Plan is on the horizon, and I haven’t made the community I had hoped for, nor the family I imagined, nor the magnum opus I hear I am capable of, I look around at those stars I chased and folks I embraced and they seem honky-tonk, cheap, shady.

All around me is half-wreckage, still emanating that last dim glimmer of possibility.

My Facebook friends responded to this one in droves. All kinds of ways. From “We love you in your clunkitude!!” to “You’re still sexy! Get it while ya got it!” to “Yeah no shit, getting older ain’t for sissies!” to one response from my guardian angel that just plain made me cry, the essence of which was:

You have the right to claim what you’ve lived, learned and loved up until now. Your heart is bigger than all of this discomfort, and holds it all too.

That little love bomb from my friend, 10 years older than I am, allowed a crack to open in my “woe is me” story. Into that crack some insight poured:

(Note: the quiet, true voice inside me is still trying to get the disconsolate toddler inside me to listen to this insight, occasionally plying her with cookies.)

Be willing to begin again, though that’s the last thing that your stories about yourself care to entertain. (“By this age, you should… be further along, know what love is and how to do it, be at peace, blah, blah, blah…”) Say: Hush. I’m still alive. I am beginning, this time with my disappointments also, holding my hand.

Be willing to embrace failure as a trusted familiar. Create a little funeral for each of your failures. Wear a big hat with a black rose on it or play the most lachrymose music you can find. Ham it up.

Be willing to feel your feelings, all of them, and acknowledge your impulses (to kick and scream, to run away, to push back or pull toward). They are there to guide you into more truth. Don’t treat them like enemies. That will just make you (life, scope, resiliency) more limited, tense and rigid.

Resist your mind’s impulse to make a big story about your worth or value from any of your experiences. (“I call these the “I Don’t Matters.”) Use that frustrated energy to forge your way toward the you-sized throne in the center of your experience, and know that you are the authority on being you, failures at your left hand, joys at your right.

Be willing to notice others, especially older and younger others, in their struggles. Allow that spark of recognition or curiosity without making assumptions. Offer them your love and appreciation and keep your advice to yourself. Also let yourself be curious about what they have to teach you, from where they sit.

Open up your apertures, wide, to receiving. Learn to receive support, appreciation, reflection, love. Start small, easy or anonymous if you have to: in the grocery store, on Facebook, with a child still young enough to believe the sun rises and sets on you. You need this. It is food.

Be willing to be among others. Isolation is toxic (though solitude, except for for the most extroverted among us, is crucial). Risk stepping out of isolation into needed contact. Risk stepping out of contact into needed solitude. Toggle back and forth as needed.

At this time of life it becomes most apparent, if we can let ourselves see, that we are the sum of all our choices. We can see our choices in our faces, feel them in our bodies, experience them in our relationships and work lives—it is this recognition that makes it all so uncomfortable. In youth you have more leverage, you’re still becoming; in older age, I hear, you cease to care. But now is the moment to transform that care and discomfort into Practice.

Practice is what you make your bad habits into. Practice is how you give your good habits staying power. Make a list of your bad habits (you know what they are! It’s ok! Just make the list! Mine is super long!). Make a list of your good habits (don’t be afraid! We all have good habits, I promise! Even serial killers floss or write their moms!) And over time, (give it a minute, willya? How long did it take to make those habits your inner perfectionist wants to banish overnight?) you can notice the impact that your bad habits have: on your body, your relationships, your self-worth, and just decide, slowly, to replace them with good ones.

From this willingness, your life becomes an offering, and your pain remembers what it’s good for.

Write me; let me know how it turns out. I’m over here doing it too.



Author: Shelly Smith

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Jes/flickr

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