“Ten times a day something happens to me like this — some strengthening throb of amazement — some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”― Mary Oliver
I was talking to a woman on a call a few days ago. I will call her Paula; that is not her real name.
She is a dancer and psychotherapist. She identified herself as a caring and generous person and with the archetype of the wounded healer.
She wanted to have a conversation with me because she had been for a long time in a transitional period that she described as a fascinating process of self-exploration, shedding and rebirth.
Although Paula did not know me, I was moved by her openness, trust, and vulnerability.
She shared that she tends to hold on to hurt, pain, shame, fear and trauma, and obligation. As a result, she is drained, exhausted and resentful at times. Moreover, she is aware that she needs deeper self-care and has reached the point of being radically honest with herself and letting go of several things that are no longer serving her. As she enters midlife, Paula feels that this process is opening up space for something genuinely beautiful and in line with her true calling (healing) to grow. In her words, this journey is terrifying but also liberating.
I have been talking to many women in the last few months. There is a story that I repeatedly hear: their biggest challenge is getting out of their way and not being held back by other peoples’ stories about them/expectations of them. They are tired of shoulds lists, being nice, criticising themselves and putting others’ needs first. These patterns take a lot of energy and prevent women from following their most authentic heart’s desires.
What struck me about Paula, despite being highly self-aware, educated and taking care of so many other people, was her struggle to take time for herself and make space to rest, receive and slow down. In our industrialised culture, we praise being busy and feel guilty when making space to ‘be’. We measure success with action and with the size of our bank account or possessions.
When I asked Paula what was at stake and what could happen if she didn’t stop overextending herself, she replied that this was a matter of life and death. Her life is a stake.
She is also aware that an old chronic illness could flair up again.
I had goosebumps when Paula told me that she needed to reclaim lost parts of her soul.
There is so much uncertainty in midlife, and every process is unique. But this is what I know.
Sometimes, when all seems to be lost, all we can do is slow down.
Listen to the birds and the wisdom that wants to arise within you.
Allow the Earth to hold your body and cradle you.
During this time, much-undigested material and trauma (including patterns that we inherit from our culture, institutions, nations and families) may resurface so that we can reclaim those lost pieces of our soul.
Our soul demands our attention.
It is a matter of life and death.
It is essential for the soul to have spaciousness and for our psyche to have time to integrate new learnings.
To avoid midlife for what it is, a sacred time, an initiation, a poetic journey, a galactic song, a whisper of the Earth, a call of the waves, a renaissance, a roar of the lions, it is deadly to the soul.
Here is a little invitation for you. You can play with these words below and see where they lead you and which images and sensations they evoke. Perhaps you can put some music on, move your body gently and journal.
How would today unfold if you would open up to receive from life? Pay attention to what recharges you and nourishes you.
Where does your imagination want to lead you? Perhaps you can sit under a tree and feel the support behind your back. Or you could lay down, relax, release some tension and allow your weight to sink into the ground.
You could visualise roots growing out of your back or your tummy, depending on your position, travelling down into the darkness of the soil, communicating with forests across the oceans, drinking in nourishment and light.
If you have a garden, you may want to listen to the song of the birds and the whispers of the wind. You can open up your senses and absorb the colours of the flowers and the smells. I also invite you to notice where you feel alive in your body and tap or rub that part to bring more circulation to your tissue and attentiveness to your whole experience.
As we are often bombarded by information and overstimulated in our culture, many people tend to check out and disconnect from their bodily sensations.
There is a precious gift in paying attention: your soul may want to whisper something to you.