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The Metamorphsis of Middle Age

When I entered middle age, I experienced some significant losses. Within a span of 5 years my father died, my son went off to university, my husband’s father died, my mom had a stroke and went blind in one eye, someone we loved dearly tragically took his own life, my grandmother died, and our beloved Golden Retriever of 13 years died. Adrift in a sea of grief with no anchor marked the beginning of metamorphosis for me. Sink or swim as they say.


While this was a deeply unsettling time, learning to navigate and traverse the landscape of grief and readjust from these losses changed my life in ways that I could never have imagined. Jungian psychoanalyst Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés refers to this time as learning to see in the dark. A developmental rite of passage of sorts, when we are called to descend into the unconscious to connect with our instinctive, intuitive nature. This darkness is generative in nature, akin to the deep rooting into the earth a tree must do so that it can grow up into the light.



For me this descent was about letting go of holding everything and everyone together, letting go of the defences my ego developed to protect me, and letting go of people I loved. Learning to see in the dark required me to trust the language of my body, and the symbols my psyche used to guide me through the life/death/life cycle. Luckily, I found a highly skilled and compassionate psychotherapist who helped me make sense of these inner landscapes.


During this time there was a phrase that kept coming to mind, something I had read in a book a long time ago. It went something like “Life and death are messy and we should never be afraid to get our hands dirty.” This phrase remained in my unconscious for years and surfaced when I needed it the most. Strangely it brought me solace and strength. To look directly into the void and accept the finality of death. To honour my grief and let my body sob. To accept that I am ageing and changing, and to embrace new parts of self.


These are examples of some of the developmental tasks required in middle age. Instead of struggling against them, we can find deeper meaning and purpose through them. For me, middle age was an awakening and a call to self. A time to celebrate the richest and most profound time in my life. An opportunity to integrate all that I had learned so far, and transform an old version of self into a new embodied version of self.


Having travelled down this road, I have developed a more intentional and purposeful approach that may help you transition through middle age.



SELF REFLECTION & INTEGRATION

Spend some time exploring who you are now in this stage of your life, and reflect on what you have learned throughout your life. These questions will help you with this mindful practice.

  • What are the biggest lessons you have learned so far in life?

  • What accomplishments are you most proud about?

  • What are the roads not travelled that you wonder about?

  • What unfinished business do you have?

  • What has surprised you the most about your life?

  • What values are most important to you?

  • Who is "the you" you want to most fully be now?

  • What are your deepest longings?

  • If you could plan three more lives what would they look like? Who would you be?

  • What areas in your life are working well now, and what personal strengths do you draw upon to keep them working well?

  • What areas in your life are not working so well, and what stressors or feelings are creating a sense of struggle?

  • Identify what makes your heart sing, what energizes you, and what type of accomplishments are important to you now?



TINY ACTIONS ALL ADD UP

Develop goals around how you answered some of the questions above, like "the you" you most want to be, or the accomplishments that are important to you now, or the three lives you wish you could plan. Your answers are all clues to helping you find more meaning and purpose in the second half of life. Then work on developing an action plan with all of the tiny actions needed to move you closer to the life you envision.

  • What new thinking will you engage in to achieve these goals?

  • What adjustments do you need to make in your life to align with these goals?

  • What does your body need to have vitality, resilience, strength and ease?

  • What kinds of structural and systems supports are needed for you to thrive?

  • What daily practices will you integrate to ensure you are tracking towards your goals?



LIVE A NEW STORY

Commit to conducting small, low risk lifestyle experiments to see what feels right, observe with curiosity and gather information, evaluate and build on what is working and tweak what isn't working.


Make life a learning lab:

  • Follow the pull of your unconscious and see where it takes you, look for images and symbols in your dreams, move towards things that calling out to you, say yes to joy.

  • Connect to the natural world - the mountains, forests, oceans, animals, plants and stars - and the wild parts inside of you. Nature is a powerful antidote for personal healing, and for combatting all of the stress and trauma in the world.

  • Learn something totally new, take a class, volunteer, stretch your comfort zone.

  • Start a different career path or land a new role.

  • Be brave and form new friendships or work on finding love again.

  • Travel to new places.

  • Practice letting go and learning to see in the dark.


 


Rachel Schmidt specializes in a depth psychology coaching approach called Psychosynthesis. This mind, body, spirit approach can help individuals connect to self in meaningful ways, and access inner resources so life transitions can be moved through with intention and ease. Rachel's background includes training and certification in Psychosynthesis from the Synthesis Institute in San Francisco, a Bachelor of Social Work Degree from the University of Victoria, 20 years of counselling experience, and expertise in meditation and nature-based mindfulness. Outside of her work, she is a mother, activist, artist, and sweet soul.


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