I recently turned 55—my favorite birthday ever. I remember years ago, juggling the day to day activities of child raising, being envious of women this age.
How I longed for what seemed like a sage-like quality coming from them. I so wanted to put down my yoke of responsibility and join them on long, reflective walks along the sea.
And here I am now, enjoying my regular five-mile hikes in the forest, with time for myself.
As I transition into this “empty nest” stage, I’m loving this time in my life. I’m acknowledging that my children have their own lives, and that I really like my husband.
I’m not saying that I’m not busy juggling work, family and social engagements. It is just that I’m noticing that my normal, active lifestyle is no longer fitting who I am now. Apparently, wisdom comes by noticing this composting of life that allows fresh soil to nourish new growth.
Perhaps, it is time for me to honor these emerging preferences with the loving attention of a young mother.
Here are four points that just might be worth heeding:
1. Feel free to say no.
I seem to be flailing around, careening faster and faster into social endeavors, while longing for down-time. It’s subtle and surprising to find that things that used to be so important—once life-giving activities—now grate like fingernails on a chalk board.
It is not simply that I’m unable to say “no” to people inviting me out—I am actively scheduling myself for one thing or another. It feels like there is a fight going on inside of me for the driver’s seat. I watch helplessly as I set myself up for one more event, or worse, watch as I embarrass myself by ducking out of commitments at the last minute. Last week, I agreed to meet someone after a long day of business meetings, only to find myself literally running for the elevator when his attention was diverted. It was almost shocking to believe that I’d behave in such a childlike manner over such a simple request.
I wonder when I’ll naturally stop scheduling myself into “just one more thing” and finally be able to graciously decline the next social invitation. Saying “no” to others may actually become saying “yes” to myself.
2. Show up more authentically in the world.
At our 4th of July barbecue and fireworks display, I found that I literally was shrinking into myself—gritting my teeth and yearning for it to be over. Here I was, surrounded by close friends and family, seemingly enjoying myself. Yet, on a much deeper level, I felt like I was in a war zone.
I’m sure the constant booming of the mortars contributed to my unsettling experience, but it wasn’t just the fireworks that bothered me. I could hardly stand the small talk that this type of event promotes. Though I know these people well, it was not the time or place to talk about deep experiences.
Normal social engagements like these now feel claustrophobic to me, as new preferences for quiet emerge, catching me by surprise. Though I’m a competent businesswoman, in this domain I feel like a toddler just learning to stand. I’m simply trying to keep my legs under me, and they are not cooperating. The only “mother” I have to encourage and reward my efforts are other parts of myself—parts that can see something important is happening. But, frankly, I feel disoriented, uncertain and confused. Something shifted in me when I stopped doing so much. I used to seek out activity and fun—I was a classic extrovert. Now I relish my quiet, unscheduled time.
I’m not sure when it will feel normal to me to face an empty calendar. I imagine that as I become more comfortable with actually spending time alone, I may find a different way to engage in groups. Perhaps I’m not really learning to be a hermit, but rather I’m finding opportunities to engage with people on a more personal level.
3. Pay attention to what you notice.
Last week—for the first time in many years—I held a friend’s three month old baby. Even in her relaxed comfortable state, I watched as her eyes quickly darted from the light shining through the window, to the face in front of her, then back to an unfocused gaze. Her arms moved asymmetrically as her legs randomly kicked the air. As I stroked her foot, she instantly became aware that she had one. Her eyes focused there, and her foot became animated. And then, that movement disappeared, and she was on to the next subtlety of life. Her emotions flitted from consternation to cooing, followed by a wind-up to an upset that either passed or built.
Lately, I’m noticing new, young parts of myself showing up. My attention keeps moving between parts of me—some invisible—that actually like being alone. I remember that just like a baby, I am engaged in a natural process of learning. That process will unfold as it does. At times, I may discover that I have a foot. I’m okay just as I am—there is no where to go and nothing to fix. It’s enough to just notice.
4. Be gentle with yourself.
This morning I woke up feeling soft and comfortable in myself. I sensed an openness to my small, tender parts—a willingness to actually be here in this body. It felt like I’m becoming friends with the unseen aspects of myself.
Maybe this is what it is like to be in the process of integration. There is so much to feel and experience, that it may not really matter where this is leading. It is enough to just be here, actually witnessing the unfolding.
I feel as though I’m beginning to finally discover the seeds of those sage-like qualities I so admired previously. I see now, that growing up is a lifelong process.
Author: Peggy Kessinger
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina