When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.– Helen Keller
Reading this quote led me to think of how, in midlife, we begin to feel the unease of change and the belief that too many doors are closing. Each time I read it, I get an immediate visual of someone looking longingly at a closed door, looking backwards at what’s done and gone. It may be that she’s not ready or willing to face what’s ahead. Or perhaps she’s not even aware that there is another door beckoning.
That makes me sad.
When life hits us with challenges and changes it certainly feels like doors have closed and options are evaporating. And sometimes we’re too tired to go searching for the newly opened doors. I get that. And, while it may not always feel believable, what I do know is that we always do have choices, also known as doors.
Ignore the open door. Or continue to believe that there are no open doors for us. Feel sadness and despair.
See the door but feel fear about walking through it. Do nothing. More sadness.
See the door. Or doors. (There may be several.) Pause and step through with understanding.
That pause in the last option is a rich one.
A Potent Pause
A pause can be minutes, days or longer and here is what I have found to be true about it:
A pause is a rich time when we listen to our thoughts, observe and feel our way to choices. Because there are always choices. We can make them actively or passively, but they are always there.
It’s a period to process and integrate what has passed. When we do so, we can regroup, refresh and reorient ourselves to what lies ahead.
For me, pausing enables me to set aside my impatience and be objective and observant. I have aha moments and my body cues me as to the best direction.
What I’ve learned
As we listen deeply during a pause, we begin to understand that the first attempt might not be the final and that’s okay. At the same time, we know that inaction is rarely good. I’ve learned that life is full of trial and error and that we always have a second chance (or a third or fourth!) until our time on earth is over.
Life has taught me this many times. It’s why I pause. It’s how I remember what I know. When I believe there are open doors, they appear. When I trust my inner voice, I make wiser decisions. Those decisions are always the best for me at the moment. It may not always be what I expected. I leave myself open to wonder and surprise and I know there will be more doors.
Are you working through changes and looking for open doors? I can help you with that. Contact me and together we will shine the light on the door that has opened just for you.
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
– Carl Sagan
If you live in New Jersey, road work is a fact of life. The sun rises, Taylor pork roll is fried and the road crews set up for the day. Something is always being taken apart and put back together; milled and paved; big projects (think new bridges), small projects (paving your street…in fact, they just set up camp at the end of your driveway.) Detour signs take us on new roads, concrete partitions (ironically called Jersey barriers) shunt us from lane to lane, sometimes leaving our desired point of exit in the rear-view mirror. We’re used to it. We don’t particularly care for it, but we’re used to it.
I have found that the path through life can present similar obstacles. Yes, I know that the idea of life as a highway isn’t new. The journey, the road, the way. But it’s still a good analogy.
And the idea of waking up to the best on-ramp to your next stage of your life? A good parallel and oh, so necessary. (I prefer the idea of an on-ramp. It feels like movement to something new rather than an off-ramp which feels like the journey is over.)
What I have learned is that if you don’t look ahead and form even the slightest idea of your desired destination, you’ll end up on an eternal round-about. Have you ever gotten stuck on one of those? So frustrating.
For me, the goal is and continues to be to building and maintaining an on-ramp to each next stage of my life. It started as an unconscious yearning close to twenty years ago. Since then, I’ve had to make several U-turns. I got proficient at driving in reverse. I learned to pay better attention to where I was and where I was going. (Believe it or not, I have missed work exits, not once but several times. Being attentive really helps!)
You plan ahead for a road trip, right? Why not do a little for your one, precious life? Seriously, where is the benefit in the struggle?
If we stay with the analogy of the road and visualize the crisscrossing winding arrays of possible directions, here are a few things to consider:
The speed at which you’re traveling.
Like the White Rabbit who’s always in a hurry, are you always in motion? No time, no time… What might you be missing as you rush through life? Possibilities can be hidden in plain sight as you speed by.
Take the time to pause and listen to the quiet voice inside that is nudging you in your best direction. Be curious about where you’re going and understand that it is an unfolding process.
What you bring along.
What are you toting around in your bag, backpack, trunk of your car, the untended places of your heart? The old messages about what you can and can’t do; should and shouldn’t do. The ballast that weighs you down. The rules of the road that don’t work anymore.
What is one small thing you can offload now?
The clarity of the view
Sometimes we drive along squinting through our windshield, when all we need is a little Windex.
What are the things you say to yourself that get in the way of what’s in front of you? What old beliefs are coloring your current experiences? Are they true? Maybe they were then, but are they still?
What might clear that view, even if just for a mile at a time?
A vision of where you’re going
Even if your vision of the journey is not fully formed, there is usually an overarching element in your yearning that is non-negotiable. Freedom, beauty, creative expression, relationships, family, out-reach, advocacy.
When you know what is essential, you will tune in to the possibilities that will provide those elements.
The goal in all this is to home in to your personal journey so you are able to recognize your on-ramp to what is next for you. Pausing and considering your direction will set you up for a rich and meaningful next part of the road, your second half of life, retirement or whatever is next for you.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be overwhelming. It should always be a work in progress.
What part of the incredible you is waiting to be known? Contact me to find out how I can help.
Midlife. It brings the inevitability of change as well as the quest for wholeness. When you enter wholeheartedly into both you will slip into the current and flow like a mighty wind.
Change is a fact of life, regardless of age. We have no control over it. But the quest for wholeness is something I have found to be more pressing as I move into midlife and beyond. If I resist the former and ignore the latter, life becomes a struggle. It can actually be physically painful as I tense my muscles, eat poorly, bind myself to my work and ignore the multidimensional life that is calling me.
The quest for wholeness
Reaching for wholeness is a normal part of this time of life. It’s gathering together all of the disparate pieces that have been strewn across the first half. It is combining your creativity and dreams with the resources and skills you’ve acquired over the years to shape something greater and truer.
It’s also an exercise in pulling ourselves out of the eddies of the opinions and expectations of the world at large and checking in with the inner world of your essence. Who am I at my most basic self? What do I know now? What’s important to me now? What delights me? What do I do well? How can I transform this knowledge into a current and flow like the mighty wind?
The inevitability of change
As much as we think things stay the same, change is constant. Minute by minute, often invisible, right in front of our eyes.
Here’s another quote. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)
Clearly, the great mystery of life is that it is lived in an always flowing stream of change. We are one person with one set of ideas at one age, and then, when we look back years later, discover that we became another person at another age. The only certainty about it is the fact that we ourselves decide both what we are now and what we intend to become. And we make that decision one choice at a time.
~ Joan Chittister
What I know to be true for me is that when I cling to what has been, I miss out on the possibilities of what could be and I struggle. If I don’t consciously decide both who I am now and who I intend to become, I struggle. But when I allow myself to flow with change – and I don’t mean the leaf in a babbling brook – with my hand on the rudder, making choices rather than having choices foisted on me, ah, then the struggle drops and I revel in the wind at my back.
These active choices and decisions are unique for each of us and when we flow with it, we are better situated to find that wholeness we seek.
There are ways to step into the slipstream. Here are a few of my best practices:
Ask a Small Question
The work of reconciling to change and returning to your true self can be daunting. A small question can make it so much more manageable.
However, there is an art to it. You want to elicit curiosity and surprise. One element to consider is the scope. What is one thing I know now that I didn’t know before? Limiting the request to just one thing takes away the overwhelm of life’s great questions.
Another element is letting go of the need for an immediate answer. If you ask the question, the brain will begin to work on it. Straining for an answer will often produce an edited version of the truth or an old story. Allow yourself to be curious about what comes up and tune in to what feels right.
And, finally, consider formulating your question as a how or what instead of a why. Why often produces reasons why you can’t; asking how and what will offer ways that you can.
Once the question is asked, open up to possible answers.
One of my favorite things to do with a small question is to take it out for a walk, preferably a solitary walk. (In bad weather I take it for a spin on the treadmill. Not as refreshing but it still works!) You’ve probably had the experience of an aha moment as you walk, drive, do the dishes or take a shower (Consider investing in tub crayons for those moments of brilliance.) You know it works. So put that experiential knowledge to work. Ask the question as you set out and then enjoy the scenery or the bubbles. At the same time, ratchet up your awareness and don’t discount any ideas or thoughts or objects that come into your line of sight. Say hmm… instead of nah.
Capture the Responses
Asking the questions and listening (whether while walking or driving or waking) is part of this adventure. You then need a way to capture what emerges. Doing that lets you go deeper and integrates your findings into your inner conversation. The answers that arise can also lead to more questions and your journey will become clearer.
One of the ways I do this is to use the voice recorder on my phone as I walk or drive (hands-free, of course). I also journal, make notes on a pad or post-it or use the notes app on my phone. I do this so I will remember.
Use whatever action that will help you remember, take you further along in the conversation and give you access to that current and your essential self as you navigate the journey into midlife and beyond.
The more I work with these tools, the more responsive they become. For instance, when preparing for a presentation I ask a small question (What is one thing that will be impactful? What is one way to make it fun?) I go about my day. I listen. The script is then downloaded, quite effortlessly!
It’s almost magic!
As always, if you need a guide or a nudge contact me to find out how I might you help navigate this rich time of life.
I’m not happy, I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them. ~ Beverly Sills
One morning I woke up thinking “be a sunflower”. I have no idea where it came from. I can’t remember any context, just the statement “be a sunflower”. Sound a little goofy? Maybe. But, for me, that’s an opportunity to follow a thread of thought and see where it goes. It piques my curiosity.
I love sunflowers. I love the way they grow and bloom and how their faces follow the arc of the sun in the sky. They signify happiness, warmth, abundance and loyalty. They feel so positive.
Why would we not want to imitate the sunflower!
I started writing this post several weeks ago. And each time I came back to it, I disagreed with myself. I began to browse books on my shelf; I searched for articles on positivity, positive psychology and Pollyanna. I looked for ideas that substantiated what I thought I’d set out to say: That we should only be looking for the positive in life.
But that wasn’t quite right. It brought to mind the quote by Beverly Sills. Where was the thread? I kept thinking and asking myself questions to help give shape to this amorphous thought that was trying to emerge.
The Shadow Knows
At the same time, I was reading Awakening at Midlife by Kathleen Brehony. I came to a section called “The Shadow Knows.” “At midlife unconscious, shadow material erupts into our life.” She goes on to say how the emergence of the shadow is an attempt to bring balance to our personality, accepting ourselves as we are, “… coming to love those neglected parts of ourselves as elements of our own authenticity and humanity.”
Okay, now we’re getting closer.
Looking for Balance
I had always strived to be a happy person. If something knocked me down, I would put on my big flouncy Scarlett O’Hara hat, say fiddle dee-dee and leave it for another day. I’d put it in the “long bag we drag behind us”, so aptly described by poet Robert Bly.
Boy, was I out of balance! And, at some point it got to be a lot of work. More than it was worth.
I could see where being a sunflower and only following the light no longer served me. As I followed this train of thought I also realized that I had already done a lot of the work. Coaches, reading and a little bit of therapy had helped. I gave myself a little pat on the back.
Brehony suggests that this distortion is quite normal in our second half of life, when we begin “perhaps for the first time to see the “other”, the parts of ourselves that have long been ignored in favor of who we always thought we were”.
How gratifying to know that it was normal to throw off these old stories at midlife and open up to the parts I’d kept hidden; to attain better balance.
A Need for a Pause
However, that balance is not attained by quick fixes, but rather a Pause where we can explore and experiment with those other parts of ourselves that have been neglected.
That pause is a juicy place that includes light and dark, sun and shadow, clement and inclement weather. It comes bearing gifts for midlife. It is the first step into a mindful second half of life.
I love sunflowers. But don’t be one. Our journey is rich and complex and the good news is that we do not have to travel alone! Contact meto find out how I might help you pause as you honor all your beautiful parts and create a path back to a whole you.
Please note that this is not intended to replace professional psychological help where needed. If life is okay but you feel there’s more I can help. If you are feeling despair, please seek a skilled therapist.
“Happiness is like a cat. If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you… But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing up against your legs and jumping into your lap.”
~ Dr. William J. Bennett, American author and educator
This post isn’t specifically about happiness or cats. However, if you can imagine being in a situation where a contented cat (literally or figuratively) is purring on your lap… was that a smile?
The real reason for this blog is to pose a question and invite you into a conversation.
The question: Are you at a point in life where you’re not sure what’s next? Not in the sense of “should I do the dishes or watch the news”. But rather, a wondering about what is next for you in the bigger scope of life, pondering who you were meant to be, wondering how your next chapter will read. You’re not miserable, but just not particularly a contented cat.
According to Carl Jung this, along with some other deep questions, is our job in the second half of life.
Perhaps you’ve been in a certain career, on a particular path, or in a role for a while now. It no longer lights you up. Something is off but you can’t quite put your finger on it. You could stay the course, coast along, but that doesn’t feel good.
Is there another “gig” in my future, you ponder? If so, what is it? Or, you might wonder, Is it too late for something new? Can there be a “what’s next” for me? What could it be?
What if I told you that it’s really none of your business?
You’d probably sputter, roll your eyes, snicker.
I’ll say it again. What’s next for you in this beautiful journey of life is none of your business.
(Let’s qualify this with the assumption that your basic needs – physiological and safety – are being met. If so, we can continue this conversation.)
Paying attention is your business.
Awareness is always a good place to start.
Years ago, I worked with a great lady who used to start her daily huddles with the reminder “Radar on, Antenna Up!” I quote her frequently. This is such a great call to attention and a way to monitor and refocus that attention.
Because, when we sit and stew about what’s next, we create walls of worry.
But, when we ratchet up our awareness and curiosity, we create paths.
When we fixate on only one possible solution, we miss out on possibilities we may never have considered.
When we don’t believe there are possibilities, we shut them out. When we believe they’re there, we let them in.
When we look ahead with anticipation and trust toward what seems to be a hazy destination, the journey is a joyful one.
This is not hocus-pocus or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz clicking her heels and chanting “I do believe.” This is about implementing awareness and curiosity and paying attention to what shows up.
Let go of the struggle
Does this sound anti-goal or plan? Its not. I love purpose and aspiration. It’s just that I have come to see the value in letting go of the struggle. That is what impedes the creative process. And, make no mistake, it is your creative process that leads to the next best stage.
So, this is our business: Awareness, curiosity, anticipation and trust. Living in an open-ended question that guides us in the direction of our highest good. Taking the small steps, listening with our ears and body, adjusting our course and taking more steps. Knowing instinctively when you’ve arrived at the next place.
And then it’s about the happy cat leaping onto your lap.
I’d love to hear how this lands for you. Please leave a comment below.
“What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
– Johann von Goethe
Welcome to a beginning.
While some may want to craft elaborate resolutions, I prefer a different approach to this fresh new year. I would like to begin by recommitting to my journey of becoming, a journey of awareness and constant beginnings as I move through midlife and beyond toward my truest self.
So, while a new year or a new week – hey, there’s nothing like Monday morning to get us motivated whether it’s with a carrot or a stick! – feels like a great place to begin, I would suggest that any time is a perfect time to do that. Any time can be the time to restart the journey.
After all, we are always somewhere on the journey even if we’ve paused or gone into the ditch.
Therefore, any time is a good time to get quiet and listen to the inner navigator who will show us where to resume the voyage/passage; to point us in the right direction to begin again.
Any time is a good time to pause and dream and wonder about the possibilities in a new beginning.
And beginning again – and, again – is essential to a meaningful rich life.
What I believe
Every dream deserves to be unpacked and explored. As I do, I will remember to bring along my compassion and curiosity and ditch the judging critic.
Every moment – not day or month or year – is an opportunity to begin again. It’s a chance to course-correct and feel into a better direction.
I don’t need to know the entire itinerary. The best trip is that which unfolds with imagination and inspiration and trust.
When it feels hard to continue with only the immediate path visible, I can choose to continue “just for today.” My commitment can be in very small steps.
The journey is the goal
So, as I move through life, I will begin and begin again.
“Time slows down. Self vanishes.
Action and Awareness merge. Welcome to flow.”
Can there ever be too much summer? Even though the calendar says we have until later in the month, the start of September always feels like the end. We’d like a little more, but seasonal cycles prevail and the world returns to its regularly scheduled program.
Sometimes, though, it can be tough. There is such a looseness to summer. Lengthy days, languid weather, a longer tether to normal routines.
Maybe there can be too much summer. We say we need to get “back in the swing” or “refocused”. We have to “regroup”. September feels like the right time to do so, but we feel scattered and untethered. Now, where was I???
Does this resonate with you? If so, perhaps summer has pulled you out of flow.
Flow, that hum deep in our bodies when we are in connected to what makes us come alive. Just like the stream that moves unimpeded, steadily, from its source. It is a meeting of your life forces that can propel you toward the manifestation of what is most important to you.
This manifestation doesn’t need to be world altering, but it does need to have meaning for you. When you step into this flow, you allow your own life to be altered.
What is most important to you as you move forward into this new season?
It’s not just summer that pulls us out of flow. Life offers many distractions and externally imposed changes. When you feel detached to the important and are just running in circles with the urgent, your initial response may be to just stop everything. However, when you recognize that feeling, it might not be the best time to do nothing.
What generates flow and that lovely hum? How do you get reconnected to your purpose?
Here are five suggestions to help you ease into flow:
heck in with yourself and the activity or focus to which you want to reconnect. Make sure that it’s connected to meaning. We’re not talking about the car pool or leaf raking, but rather that something that makes your heart sing. That something that is on purpose and deserves your flow. Meditation, journaling and or small questions can help you with that deep knowing.
Physical movement- Get out of your head (and your chair) and into your body. Autumn (or spring in the southern hemisphere) weather is much friendlier for walking and gardening. Or, it could be cleaning out a closet or taking a shower. While you are in your body, the bits and pieces of fractured thought begin to coalesce. Ideas form, aha moments arise. The bigger picture may begin to emerge and show you to your next small step. And your next small step is all you really need to know to move you into momentum and flow.
Intentional exploration – Rather than go down the rabbit hole of the next great idea (and the next and the next), consider taking one idea through to an action step. Continue with it even though you’re not sure how it will pan out. Let each step determine the next. Be okay with what might feel like failure. Failure is necessary for all creative acts. In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Fail, fail again, fail better.” Stay with an idea until you’ve exhausted it, beyond the point where it is hard or something else catches your eye. It may have so much more to tell you. The act of continuing can produce a flow.
Mindful pauses – Instead of stopping because you’ve hit the proverbial wall, make an active decision to pause. During that pause let your ideas and thoughts go off on their own. Choose other activities that stimulate you. Come back to your idea refreshed.
Seek like-minded people – So much creative work – business, writing, art… all the work that connects to your essential self and provides a beautiful flow – is done alone. When you connect to others who are also called to express their passions, you will find a new energy. They will feed your idea, keep you accountable, be a sounding board and a witness to your work. They will accompany you out of your head and into action.
“Stop a minute, right where you are. Relax your shoulders, shake your head and spine like a dog shaking off cold water. Tell that imperious voice in your head to be still.”
~ Barbara Kingsolver
Oh, boy. That’s a hard one for me. How about you?
When I was first confronted with the challenge of “just being” I was very apprehensive. I was going off on a weekend retreat at the beach with two writing buddies. We were going to write and be quiet and “just be.”
“I don’t know if I can do that”, I told my friends. “It feels really hard to not be doing.” A weekend that should have been the ultimate in relaxation was becoming fraught with anxiety.
Being, Beaning, Beaners
They indulged me. You see, they were a lot further along in their being-ness. An ad for a local coffee shop lightened things up by inspiring the alternative of just “beaning”. That, in turn, christened us “Beaners.” Ahh, okay, much easier. I could work with that.
Years later we continue to riff on that moniker and have fun with it. I, in turn, am much more in tune with the need to “just be”. I’m not great at it, but my anxiety has almost disappeared.
The Myth of Productivity
My discomfort stemmed from a belief that I needed to be productive. Constantly. I know how unrealistic this is. At least my head does. However, somewhere in my vast unconscious, this idea has taken up residence and thrived.
I have also come to understand that my idea of productivity might be a little skewed. Multitasking and buzzing around is not always the best use of my time. Ping-ponging between different to-dos in different categories leaves me exhausted and feeling that I’ve haven’t gotten enough done. I have given this mistaken belief of how to be productive its eviction notice.
That space is now occupied by the gentle understanding that being on a walk or being with a thought or being fully with my husband or family gifts me with spaciousness. Ideas arrive, as if on wings. Thoughts are completed. The creative process flows with ease. That is a style of productivity that, while initially counter-intuitive to me, is much more desirable.
I love this quote by Kafka:
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” – Franz Kafka
What would you have “rolling in ecstasy at your feet?”
“Do not even listen”, he advises. He, too, is saying ignore the imperious voice. When we do that we move out of our head and into our bodies.
How can I do this, you ask, in this fast-paced crazy world we live in? I don’t have time to just sit and wait.
I hear ya!
Here is what I have discovered:
Just being aware of the fact that it was difficult to sit quietly and be still created a shift for me. I was no longer on auto-pilot. I realized that there could be a different way of being.
Daydreaming is productive. Who knew! What I like to call wool-gathering was actually a moment of quiet discovery. I began to notice where I was going. The next time you find yourself staring into that mid-distance, allow it. At the same time, be curious about what’s going through your mind. Listen. (Apologies to Kafka)
Just 3 minutes of meditation is super beneficial. Just one example of the benefits: I had never quite grasped just how impatient I was. Meditation showed me. It also lowered it. When I return to meditation after a lapse, I see it again. I know now that it will dissipate. And, yes, 3 minutes is a reasonable way to start. How long does it take a kettle to boil or a pot of coffee to brew? There you go!
Practicing quiet opens up a portal from which my inner wisdom flows. Now, if you’re anything like me, your head is a veritable circus. Sometimes, it’s a great place to be with thoughts and ideas careening about. But, that’s not where our true wisdom resides. It lives in the space between the thoughts. For that we need quiet.
Finally, I have found that curiosity is an important quality. While that might put us back into our heads, it carries no judgement. It provides an opening to what your true self needs at that moment.
And, here’s the challenge:
Where can you claim small moments of just being?
Can you tell that imperious voice in your head to be quiet? Over and over again?
How would it feel to accept without judgement the offerings of world? Be curious about what shows up? Watch them “roll in ecstasy at your feet”?
All of this has a story to tell you. Is it the one you want to carry forward??
Get your free copy of The Potent Pause: a Mindful First Step into Midlife and Beyond
and sign up to receive my monthly email.