The S L O W Creep of (Mid)life

THOUGHTS ON (MID) L I F E

Earlier this week I read Brene Brown’s recent post about midlife.  The post is on its tour around social media as a piece that resonates strongly with seemingly any breathing human being over the age of 25.  And rightly so!  If we are lucky enough we will all live many decades, some of which will be characterized as midlife.  Brown talks about midlife being a slow unraveling that doesn’t have a set beginning or end.  Some people begin to feel unsettled in their skin earlier than others, some later.  Regardless of when or how it begins, it can feel like an uprooting.  Things that felt solid and decided in your life crack and start to feel uncertain.  Things that felt important and you worked for no longer hold much meaning.  And dreams or flights of fancy that you ignored as whim or unnecessary start to demand to be placed center stage.  Some embrace the process and some fight like mad to hold onto their familiar place of perceived control and known identity.   As you move further into this nebulous time of midlife, your energy can be used to frantically hold all the old, familiar pieces of you together and act as if nothing has changed.  Or you can let go of the pieces and begin to plant and cultivate new roots to see what grows.

I turned 40 earlier this spring.  I don’t feel 40 (whatever that means).  Physically I can still do what I always have with only a few additional aches and pains upon getting out of bed.  I feel more wise after my four decades on earth.  After two kids I do feel a lot more mental fog (not sure if that is the children or getting older… I blame the children).   I have an increasing number of grey hairs but I secretly love them. I wear them as an outward symbol of my earned inner wisdom.  Regardless of embracing much of the change that accompanies aging, there are times of unease, unrest, and unraveling that I resist and attempt to find solid ground by clinging to the comfort of my known identity.  The identity I have created that feels safe but leaves little room for growth.

Until reading Brown’s post, I never thought of my unrest and uncertainty being related to midlife. I have always felt, however, a midlife crisis was just a tiny misstep away and definitely not out of the question.  Low level anxiety and a sense of searching have been my personal white noise for as long as I can remember.  Which I guess is the point.  I believe most of us have this searching whether solidly ensconced in midlife or being a young adult or living out our golden years.   It is when we decide to hold too firmly to a certain way of being, identity, or expectation of what our life is supposed to be that the searching becomes the suffering that can be associated with midlife.

I started to feel the slow and sometimes forceful unraveling of midlife in my late 20’s.  I was in grad school.  I kept trying different careers through collecting different educational degrees.  In my mind, my unease and uncertainty about my own identity could be settled with more education and more achievement.  The harder I worked to fit myself into certain boxes that were predetermined either through my own view of the world or larger societal norms, the less settled and content I felt.  There was no crisis or major breakdown but an unraveling was occurring and I could either fight to maintain my status quo or let go and see what happened.  Luckily, during this period of my life, I had the resources and opportunity to see a wonderful therapist who recommended yoga to help sort through my growing ‘dis-ease’.

Yoga has provided me a touchstone to find out who I am.  The following, from the Bhagavad Gita, is frequently quoted:

Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.  

I am not entirely sure if this is a direct quote from the ancient text but it certainly fits here.   Through my yoga practice I have been able to more clearly see and observe my created identity and see it as just that, created.   As I continue to teach and practice, I work to discover my true-self.  The self that is unmarred by external feedback and consequences.  The self that is content regardless of turmoil or tragedy.  The self that realizes no matter what I wear, what I accomplish, or who I please I will always feel uncertain and maybe even unworthy until I decide to feel both certain and worthy.

W I S E Words 

Brene Brown’s post struck a chord within me.  I am not alone.  I continue to see multitudes of shares and responses, to the point that my post seems redundant.  However, I want to offer 3 of my favorite books that have helped me see myself and my constant searching more clearly.   Most of the time the unraveling of midlife or life seems like a snail crawl of change from one day to the next.  Other times I am smacked with an overwhelming sense of unease and need to hold onto the edge of my mat to steady myself.  Regardless of speed or intensity of transformation, these books have offered support when I begin to feel the effects of the unraveling.  Whatever stage of life you are in, these books are worth checking out!

 

When Things Fall Apart – Pema Chodron

This book may have been written as a field guide to navigating the challenges of midlife.  When our lives don’t look as we expected, tragedy occurs, or a crisis of being tears you down to your most bare, Chodren’s words are there as a comfort and a guiding light.

“Life is a good teacher and a good friend.  Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it.  Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about.  The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit.”

 

The Untethered Soul – Michael Singer 

I finally read this book after several recommendations from good friends.  I found myself frustrated and confused while reading parts of it.  The ideas that Singer expresses seem simple upon reading but are frustratingly difficult to apply in day to day interactions.  The book is almost like one giant koan. The more you read and think about the concepts the deeper and more entangled you become.  But to persevere to the end of this book is to feel an enormous exhale and a new love of whatever life contains.

“What an amazing process life is, this flow of atoms through time and space.  It’s just an eternal sequence of events that take form and then instantly dissolve into the next moment.  If you resist this amazing force of life, tension builds within you and gets into your body, mind and spiritual heart.”

 

Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be – Lama Surya Das

Much like When Things Fall Apart, Lama Surya Das uses his own challenges and Buddhist teachings to frame our trials in life as opportunities for growth and transformation.  Being able to let go of who you were or who you thought you should be and acknowledging the struggle with changing identity makes the midlife period, however long, a little more manageable. Lama Surya Das’ writing is clear and easily digestible.  Additionally the book is a good resource for learning more about Tibetan Buddhist concepts.

“Inside an oyster, it takes and irritant – like a grain of sand or a bit of shell – to stimulate the oyster to produce the mucous juices that engulf and surround the irritant, eventually hardening into a precious pearl.  It is the same for us, regardless of how much we wish it to be otherwise.”

Thank you for reading this post.  I would love to hear your experience with midlife or changing identity in midlife or at any point in life.  Also, if you have resources that have helped you, please share as well!  I believe we all have words of wisdom to share based on the direct experience of living.  The more we share, the greater our connection to each other.  The greater our connection, the stronger and more resilient our community becomes and the better we are able to face life’s challenges regardless of age or stage!

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