Tag: change at midlife

The Greatest Gift You Can Give … or Receive

The Greatest Gift You Can Give … or Receive

The greatest gift you can give another, is to be fully present with them and to give them your undivided attention. The greatest gift you can give yourself, is exactly the same.

I came flying in for a crash landing at mid-life, after several decades of living hell-bent on creating a life I loved to live.  I’d the greatest giftmanaged to run fast and long and hard into a giant brick wall. In fact, I even managed to get up, brush myself off, get back on the track just long enough to smash into another one. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much effort, work, thought and determination I put into achieving my goals, they didn’t happen. I did not, in any way, shape or form, have a life I loved to live. Quite the opposite.

Part of the problem, was that I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t fully present in my life. I was looking out beyond the stars, and missing the journey completely. Instead of giving myself the greatest gift, I was working overtime trying to give it to others. I didn’t think I was, but in retrospect I see now that I was so ensconced beneath the masks I wore that I had no idea who I really was or what I really wanted.

At an early age, I learned not to listen to myself or pay attention to my own needs and wants.  The last in a long line of children, little attention was paid to me.  I more or less raised myself, with a little help from my very bossy older sister. As time went on, I came not to expect attention or approval, and interestingly enough, I developed a deep commitment to paying attention to others. (It’s a question of balance.)

I developed powerful radar for those in need. I would give them what I knew somewhere deep inside was the greatest gift we can give another human being. I was able to intuit what they were feeling and thinking, often before they knew themselves, and, as a result, I was able to provide for them what they needed in any given moment. I was not listening to myself so I had lots of available antennae to pick up their signals.  My loss was their gain. Or was it?

[tweetthis]”Be present where you are otherwise you will miss your life.” Buddha[/tweetthis]

I learned a great deal from that part of my life. It has given me skills I might not have otherwise had. I learned that giving another person our undivided attention, being fully present to them and for them in any given moment, is valuable, and it requires setting aside all of our agendas. It means putting aside not only our cell phones, our to-do list, but also our expectations, and to some extent our own needs. Being fully present to another is a gift. It must be freely given. And, it is priceless.

However, as I have said many times, it is essential to give from our abundance. We must give, not to fill our own needs or to balance some imaginary scale of giving, but from the very core and essence of our heart and soul. This is a tall order, and one that is always a work in progress. However, there are two steps that we can take every day toward this end.

  • Be fully present to yourself. Being present to yourself means listening to your own needs and tending to them. Do not put off caring for yourself for some other imagined priority. Love and care for yourself first, as you would a child until you feel anchored and present from deep within. Then the next step is easier.
  • Be fully present to others when it is asked for or needed. This does not mean solving their problems. It does not mean indulging their every whim. It means listening. Hearing. Looking into their eyes and seeing them. It means turning off judgement, turning down the volume on your own agenda, and tuning into their signals and energy. You are looking for a heart and soul connection, so that you might hear their heart. Interestingly enough, one can often hear the most in silence.

 

Defining Life Realistically As We Age

Defining Life Realistically As We Age

Duke Gardens
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Duke University
Durham, NC

“Defining Life Realistically” is Carl Jung’s third task of his Seven Tasks of Aging. Speaking of a reality check, I can’t imagine being brought more back to earth than I have been over the last decade. Yikes! I think I’m still trying to find my balance.

When we “cling to illusions that are contrary to reality, then problems will surely arise”, according to Jung. We come into the aging process attached to so many illusions. Most of us are in no way prepared for the first intrusion of reality, whether it be the sudden death of a loved one, a broken marriage, children run amok, a health crisis, a lost job or any number of other life challenges. 

These may very well strike long before midlife, but when they occur in our youth we still believe to some extent that our life will go on forever. At midlife we very much begin to see the end and a sense of urgency descends. I was 19 when my father very suddenly and unexpectedly lost his job. He was sixty. Too young for retirement, too old to be hired by someone else in his field. He sent out over 200 resumes and received nothing. (Fortunately this is less true now.) I watched him crumble, his lifelong pursuit of a good, secure and stable life fall by the wayside. My belief in corporate America was shattered. I was able never able to recover my confidence in it and have been self-employed ever since. 

I carried forth with the illusion for the next twenty something years that I could create my own independent, successful lifestyle. I did not have to be controlled and dependent upon something or someone outside of my control. My midlife awakening was that I was wrong about that as well. I had faced endless obstacles trying to create an independent, successful lifestyle. I had encountered circumstances and events beyond my control. I had not been able to accomplish what I set out and worked so hard to accomplish, and I was running out of time and energy to keep trying.

I had been living in a dream world. I had not faced reality, and because of that I was simultaneously driven and living in a self-destructive state of mind. I had to let it go. I had to let the illusion go. I had to face reality. 

There are so many things that wake us up as we age. Our bodies are another never ending source of reality checks. Weight loss becomes harder. Building strength and endurance becomes a slower process. The damage we’ve done through fad diets, too much stress, indifference to our needs is harder to repair. We are no longer on the same track of trying to look a certain way. The illusion that we will one day, if we work hard enough, become a perfect size 6, or 8, or 10, or 12, slips through our fingers as middle age sagging and bulging and softening begins. 

This is all as it should be. A problem arises only when we cling to our illusions, cling to the idea that we can at sixty obtain the body of a thirty year old woman, that we can or should achieve complete control over our careers, that we are, in fact, not subject to the laws of the universe. Beliefs such as “I deserve, or am owed a happy marriage”, or “I have to have youthful skin at sixty” leads us to resentment, despair, anger and frustration. 

Coming to terms with what is, in a culture that wants us to believe we can have and do whatever we desire, is a challenge. It is, however, our challenge to embrace as we age. It is our task to take on and, it is in our best interest to do so. When we ignore this task and cling to our illusions we remain stuck and unable to step into the awakening of our inner life. 

What have been your wake up calls as you age? How have you navigated them? Are you aware of other illusions still needing attention?

Task 1 Facing the Reality of Aging and Dying

Task 2 A Life Review

Adapting to Change as We Age

Adapting to Change as We Age

Change is difficult even under the best of circumstances. As we get older we often find ourselves resisting change and seeking security and consistency. As a young person I thrived on change. At any opportunity I was ready to try something new. Eager. Hopeful. Optimistic. The new “shiny thing” was both mesmerizing and enticing.

At almost sixty, I know about new shiny things and the grass is always greener. The years of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams has left me barren of hope for a new outcome from change. Particularly external change. Had life been different would I now be more optimistic? Less set in my ways? It’s hard to say.

I’ve become cynical even about internal change. If I haven’t fixed myself by now is it really possible to even be fixed? Does it matter? Yes, change is difficult and no less so with age. I still believe change and variety in life are important and help to keep us young and involved in life mentally if not physically.

We do have to choose what we change more carefully. When once a move across the country may have been the change we needed, now we may have just earned the right to seek more modest change to keep us humming along. A change of routine, a change of décor, a new dress may be all we need to stir things up and keep us engaged in life. Chances are an external change will be thrust into our lives in the not too distant future anyway.

The important thing about adapting to change is to be patient with ourselves and above all, kind. We need to remind ourselves that change is hard and requires a flexibility of spirit and attitude. Flexing those muscles now and again keeps us in shape for the unexpected, but it’s okay to be different at sixty than we were at twenty-six. Life holds a different sort of adventure for us now.

Midlife Transitions

Midlife Transitions

Transition by Henry Asencio

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes

it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  – Maya Angelou

No matter how old we are or what our life circumstances, life altering events happen, sometimes frequently. They are the situations, real or imagined, that drive us to our knees. They may be as clearly defined as the death of a spouse or a painful divorce or as subtle as restlessness in our chosen career.

A life crisis can be brought on by external or internal events, but either way, it gives us an opportunity to grow and to create lives that are far richer than they were before. Every time we face a crisis of any proportion, we have a choice. We can allow it to debilitate us or we can use it to foster and support change and personal growth.

Coming through a crisis requires navigating the treacherous waters of emotional, mental and physical upheaval. We must stare down our demons and step into the fire of change, allowing it to burn away the useless debris that may have put a stranglehold on our lives. When we do this, we come forth, in the end, with a reconstructed self that more perfectly matches the person we were meant to be. We are then able to see and use our trials and tribulations, not as a force of destruction but to forge new strength, develop more clarity, and to define our vision more precisely. We may then more easily resolve to live our dreams with greater intent and purpose. The process informs us. If we dare to listen, it teaches us things we need to know about ourselves. It opens doors to the very things we have yearned to discover to enable us to live more authentic lives.

Transition is a process that contains stages that are very similar to those outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her famous book “On Death and Dying”. Accepting transition as a process helps us understand that while life altering events are painful, they also contain the exact ingredients we need to garner a deeper understanding of ourselves and our lives. We do not need to live “lives of quiet desperation”. We can step into the fire of change and be made new.

Too often we look at our problems as forces beyond our control. We think that our only option is to try to absorb these events and survive, or to fight back with anger and rage. As a result we get stuck in the muck of emotional conflagration and end up going back and forth, back and forth, unable to come through to the other side. When we resist change, it slows the process and prevents our healing and growth.

It is human nature to avoid pain and to seek comfort. Erich Fromm wrote, “Every act of birth requires the courage to let go of something, to let go of the breast, to let go of the lap, to let go of the hand, to let go eventually of all certainties, and to rely only upon one thing: one’s own power to be aware and to respond; that is, one’s own creativity.” This is the essence of transition.

Caring for an aging parent is a life crisis that can stymie us and wear us down or it can lead us into a period of transition that will teach us about ourselves. Midlife frequently gives us more than one opportunity for growth and is very fertile grounds for resolving past issues so that we can step into the future stronger and more grounded than ever before.

The reflections in my book, Caring for Mom, were written during just such a time in my life. While it was a very painful and stressful process, it led me to take steps I would not otherwise have taken. I have learned the value of walking through the fire, allowing it to burn away a lifetime of debris and step out into the light just a little bit smarter and a little bit lighter.

My hope is that as you read these reflections, you will feel less alone when facing your own trials and catch a glimpse of the value inherent in the pain and difficulty of all midlife transitions.