Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Turning Fifty? So What's the Big Deal?

Now that I'm the wise old age of 57, sometimes I forget what it was like to approach fifty. My forties are a bit of a blur because I had my children late, and they hit puberty as I was hitting menopause. I do remember the arguments over plates on the counter, not in the dishwasher, and begging them to make their beds, until I gave up and just closed the door. But my personal life sonmetimes took a back seat to raising children and renovating our living space.

Even at fifty, my youngest was only the good times were still to come. There were lots of good times of course, family times, picnics, vacations, soccer games, ballet recitals, hip hop concerts, you name it.  But 'me time'? not so much.

So for me, turning fifty and above has been mostly about trying to carve out some time for me - time to find that well-adjusted psyche and sense of fulfillment people talk about in articles on mid-life. If you have your children in your late thirties, your mid-life may end up being in your late fifties. And you may still be adjusting to mid-life in your 60's.

Being fifty, (or 55, or 57) is about finally finding your self, your choices, your own tastes, your own heart's desire.  Mid-life has been like a second adolescence for me, partly because I stayed home with my kids and so the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up was still relevant. I had already gone back to school, gotten a master's degree, but what did I really want to do with it? Writing at home in my little room was no longer as fulfilling. I wanted to go out into the bigger world and play!

So my fifties has been about discovering this side of me: I've taken workshops, lead workshops, read books, written a few, and now I am leading retreats for women as well as creative journaling classes, which is so much where I want to be. Learning, exploring, following my passion, doing what I feel like - which involves more learning about what I love, what I feel, understanding my patterns and places I get stuck, finding out what really excites me.  And sharing those discoveries with other women.

It sounds like it's all about me - and it is.  I have found my vocation is largely talking about myself, something I've always loved anyway.  I use my own stories to illustrate the mid-life journey, as well as those of others I've encountered. There's a lot of uncertainty for women who have raised children, worked as caretakers and managers of households, once they begin to wonder what their skills are, and where their gifts and talents lie beyond bandaging scraped knees, driving kids to piano lessons and multi-tasking. Actually even the women who work full time as well as raising families sometimes question their roles at mid-life. Not a few women I know have created new careers, started businesses, or gone back to school in their forties and fifties.

Time is short, and at fifty, you face your own time limit. It's time to find out what really turns you on, what you really want to do with this wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver puts it. Maybe it scares you a little, but you find you have the courage, one baby step at a time, to explore new options, discover new territories, set out on adventures beyond your back yard.

And for some, the adventure is to come back to the roost and rest, to stop churning and turning in busy busy mode, and simplify. To learn to do one thing at a time. And that's an adventure too, because it is also unknown territory.

Whatever your adventure, getting to know your self along the way makes it more interesting.  I've only used about half the box of crayons, and there are so many colours to discover!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Journaling into my space

leap in mid-air

Six summers ago, I spent a week at the Writer's Spa in Taos with Jennifer Louden, an experience that changed my life (although it took me a while to realize this).

Jennifer had us do different things to get us into the right space to write in, since that's what we were there for. She asked us to do stuff we don't normally do - to get out of avoidance habits, and surprise ourself by showing up for writing whether we feel like it or not. Letting food prep, cleaning and random projects that need doing fall by the wayside to clear some space for the writing. It was a precious opportunity to focus on the writer self for one whole week, with a little yoga and spa time as well, and the incredible company of twenty five other women.

I came across my journal from that time today, and it's fascinating to find that the seeds for the project that is coming to fruition today at my book launch of The Tao of Turning Fifty were planted in the desert and mountainous region of Taos, New Mexico in 2006.

One of the things I tried that was 'different' was writing in a different physical environment. Usually I set up my laptop on my desk and start from there. Why not write downstairs in living room by the picture window? Or outside in the pergola? In Taos, I had a cozy room with a small door to a balcony, which was not really a balcony but a part of the adobe roof, where I could nestle into a corner underneath a large tree and watch the sacred mountain on the pueblo land just over the fence from the Mabel Dodge Luhan house (click here for a picture - it's a great retreat space). (Natalie Goldberg also holds writing workshops there). I wrote some great poems there, watching the clouds darken the mountain.

One afternoon I sat in the nude and wrote, feeling very naked and vulnerable even though I was alone in my room. It's interesting to see where the writing takes you when you come out of your comfort zone! My favourite spot to write (with clothes on) was on a bench in front of a pond surrounded by flowers and gardens - I saw an orange dragonfly which was very special and magical. I gave myself permission to leave the little room more often and explore the space around me.

Gradually, from the tight, fearful, small space I arrived at Taos in, unsure of myself as a writer, unsure of which project to work on, unsure of my gifts to the world, slowly slowly I began to crawl out of the hedge and look, come out from my cramped, hidden and safe invisibility to openness and blue sky where people could see me and hear me. I wrote: Need to Move out - Open to Sky - Space will hold me - Unwinding Spirit Flight up there in Sky There are no Limits. Crawling is for Worms!

It takes a certain amount of courage to find your own space - to crawl out of the small but comfortable zone and spread your wings into a larger project, whether that be to journal every day instead of once a month, or tackle a book project.  Give yourself permission to stretch your habits a little, to do something out of the ordinary habits that leave no room for growth.  Ask yourself, can I take up more space?  Can I be visible, and grounded, yet touch the sky?

The image I had was of a Jack in the Box, bulky and squished down into a tight space, cranky in my little box, finally being opened and springing out to find I am still rooted, yet much more open and joyful exploring this new Open space.

Try this: write about something you are most afraid of, stretch that box a little bigger. Climb out of the comfort zone into the Blue Sky zone. Can you believe that anything is possible?


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Soul Food (and Chocolate) for the Woman's Heart

Soul food for the hungry woman’s heart

It's Valentine's Day and High Time you reclaimed your spiritual Mojo ! Give yourself some long overdue self-love and attention by following these tips:

The biggest Mojo killer is Stress. So what can you do to de-stress? Dr Susan Mertz Anderson says stress is just a thought, it doesn't come from circumstances, which is an interesting way of looking at things. Stop taking those thoughts so seriously (it only leads to anxiety). Change your focus by learning how to breathe for calm, to center and ground yourself.

Three part breath: breathe in the for count of four or five, hold the breath for the same count, then exhale for four or five. Just a few moments of this calm breathing will remove 90% of your stress.

One of the reasons we get stressed is cause we say yes when we mean No. Learn how to stand your ground and not be such a push over.  Simplify your life – say no, more. Shake the 'should''s your shoulders that will feel lighter.

On top of this, it's stressful trying to please other people: we want to perform well for our bosses, or be perfect hostesses, perfect friends, perfectly dressed fashionistas; we each have our little areas of weakness where we compare ourselves to someone more 'perfect'. Stop making yourself miserable with comparisons.  Repeat after me: I am fabulous and flawed!

A great de-stresser: clear and declutter the mind – write in your journal - get it all out on paper. What's really driving me crazy is.....then let it rip.

Unplug and give yourself permission to turn off the blackberry, email, or cell phone during lunch or after you get home. Your brain will be less overwhelmed if you give yourself a breather at some point in the day. Take a walk at lunchtime, force yourself to leave the desk (home office too!).  Forget about work for a while, recharge and refresh your batteries with some oxygen.

Know your limits, you are not a machine; honour how you feel and practice self-compassion. Knowing how to avoid stress builds health.

Now for rebuilding that spiritual Mojo, grab a piece of some 80% dark chocolate and make yourself a list:

What is working for you? What feeds you? What drains you? Take stock of your life. Where is good energy coming in, and where is all your energy going out, with no return?

What did you used to love to do? When was the last time you did it? It's time you got out there to shake your booty again, whether by hiking, skiing, skating, dancing - bust out those Latin moves and salsa, zumba, cha cha cha. Even better, find a friend to join you.

If you have a creative streak that has been languishing on the back burner, it's time to mother the creative fire in you. You know that the eggs are growing in darkness where you planted them; but they might not end up seeing the light of day unless they feel the sun’s warmth. How can you nourish the invisible birthing being prepared? What keeps your creative fire humming? soft music, a wide blue sky, reading poetry? It's your turn to create now, the world is waiting for your unique voice or splash of colour, so bring forth your creation into the world - make the unknown known!

Here are some affirmations for nourishing your spirit:
Today I give myself permission to go at the pace of my breathing, and not push the river....
I am a co-creator with the creator.
I let go and trust the creative process. 
I love my life!

Now you can eat that chocolate :)

ps If you want to really get your chocoholic moving, try IKOVE acai and chocolate face cream, organic botanicals that smell like chocolate, great for your face, easy on your figure.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mid-life and Exhaustion

She pictured herself hanging on with all her fingers to a wooden dock, and then, after hours of cramping hand pain, finally just lifting off her fingers, letting go of the dock, letting the gentle water and waves pull her backwards, like a pair of huge motherly arms gently tugging on her from behind, guiding her down river. It would be so easy, to just fall back, stop striving, stop rushing, stop getting things done, move backwards instead of forwards. Why do we always have to run forward, move forward, progress? she thought. The sense of accomplishment was nothing to her now. It only burdened her, the constant list of things to do. She wanted to refuse to function with goals and lists, although all her life it had kept her organized, sane, functional.

Now she simply wanted, if she could admit to the truth without guilt, she very much wanted to let go, and stop. Everything. Deadlines. Doing. Shopping. Decorating. Renovating. Driving. Registering. Volunteering. Managing. Coping. At a very deep level, the fear of her inner blank slate was going away. She wanted that white room. Actually, the fear was rising to the surface and she was seeing it, instead of hiding behind the business. And now that she looked at the fierce holding on out of fear in the face, she no longer could do it. Something, some vision of a deeper life, some need for inner psychic peace and ease, called to her. How ignore it, when she was so exhausted anyway?

July 7, 2005

The above is a short entry from my journal, which I thought I might develop into a short story.  I post it hear to remind myself that I was NOT always feeling so great and energetic as I am now. In fact, 6 years ago, I was in the midst (nearly at the end) of a mid-life transition that included fatigue, overwhelm, anxiety, mild depression probably (from the sounds of it) - plus my father had recently passed away, and my kids were hitting puberty. It does get better, I promise, if you take good care of yourself.

My advice to myself, and to you, dear reader, is to REST. The only real medicine for exhaustion according to Susun Weed (and there's a chapter about this in The Tao of Turning Fifty) is to rest, do nothing, lower your expectations, reduce your responsibilities to the absolutely essential, before you end up breaking down and being out of commission anyway.

You can take all the herbal supplements, caffeine or stimulants in the world, but if at the base of it, you are really really tired, allow yourself more time for REST.

enjoy the mid-winter mildness,
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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Journaling and Self-Care

There are so many benefits of journaling, but one of the main things it gives me is a sounding board for how I feel. It's a place to check in and do a quick scan - mood, physical body, spirit health, sense of presence, absence.

Sometimes I write down my dreams first thing so I can remember them later and try and figure it out. Sometimes it's a huge Wah! to the universe - feeling stuck, confused, not sure how to get out of this one, no solutions in sight.

Mostly though, by the time I get to the bottom of the page, I've found something - a shift in mood, an answer to a question, a softening, a little more hope. Usually, I find it helps me take stock of where I am and what I need right now.

I also write affirmations - something I'm beginning to put more faith in. The more I read (all over the web, O Magazine, blogs) the more I hear about the neuroscience of positive thinking - using your words carefully to call to you more of what you love, what you want to receive. I am creative, I am loving, I am resourceful, I find answers to my challenges....

Someone on facebook recently admitted they had a swearing problem, and I know I do that usually in the car at other drivers, or when I stub my toe or bump a hip into the pointy part of the table (moving too fast around those corners). Then I read, that instead of cursing the other drivers, you should send them blessings, for the words you speak boomerang back to you. Since I need the patience and blessing of those around me, I think this is a good practice. Just another way to practice affirming my good...

I know how easy it is to let the inner critic take over, if you're not careful, and write yourself into a self-critical rut. Don't. Just back up, and start over. You can find something nice to say....and if you can't, if everything seems rotten and dumb and you've lost your mojo, reach out to your Inner coach, (imagine a best friend or make-one up) who would be totally non-judgmental and supportive, and let her respond to the critic - If you were your own best friend, what would you say? "I know you had one too many pieces of chocolate, Jennifer, and your scale is telling you that Super Bowl extravaganza of chili, chicken wings and Bavarian cream was too much of a good thing, but look - you got outside today and walked one extra kilometer in the sunshine!"

Make your journal a place to dialogue with that inner friend, or higher self, or Inner Wise Woman and fire the inner critic. Another way to do this, is to imagine you are eighty-five years old, looking back at the you of today - and write yourself a letter. You'll be surprised at how much wisdom you own already.

Take good care of your Self,

Monday, February 06, 2012

Letter to a Teenage daughter on Sexuality and Love

This is one of my most popular posts, -  I did write the letter after posting this a few years ago, and never included the full version - so ladies and mothers and girls, here it is. Feel free to use it as a model for your own letter. Musemother

Dear Daughter (insert name here)

Wow! You’re already fifteen.

And what I want to tell you is how important it is for you as a girl to know how to trust your body's instincts, and also protect that. I wish I could say that the world has changed since I was a teenager, but unfortunately, there are still double standards in our society that do not honour female sexuality. Advertising and fashion encourage young girls to be sexy and desirable, and yet societyalso  punishes them for acting on their desires. I know it was confusing for me. I lost my virginity at age 15, almost 16, under dubious circumstances not entirely of my own choosing. A lot of it was peer pressure, from friends thinking it was ‘time’ for me. I know these are not the same times, (the 70’s, sex drugs and rock’n roll) and you are not me. Most likely your experience will be very different, but there is still lots of pressure on girls to ‘give out’, to ‘give in’, or to go too fast.

I think the important thing is to cultivate respect for your body, to have good boundaries, to know your own limits and what you feel ready to experience. I guess go slow is the best way to put it. Don’t let anyone else be in the driver’s seat – that’s where you are.

You may not be thinking about this yet, but I'd like to tell you that being a virgin is a good thing, in spite of what other people may tell you. Having sex is about choice, your choice, your timing, not your friends' timing or a boy’s timing. 

You should know that oral sex is still sex, and girls often feel it’s degrading to provide this as some kind of service to boys who give little or nothing in return, not to mention the risk of disease, herpes, etc. I hope you also know that the cachet of being popular does not make it worth it. You already know about the dangers of drinking and drugs - how a girl must always keep her head together, because alcohol and pot lower her resistance, loosen her inhibitions and her common sense (which you have loads of, but everyone loses it sometimes, under social pressures). 

It seems unfair, but it’s still the girls who have to keep their heads on straight, even if their emotions and desire are pulling them to experiment sexually. There are lots of ways to get close and have an intimate connection with someone (or with yourself), that don’t involve penetration or getting pregnant.

Women/girls make love for different reasons than boys I think. Heaven knows there are lots of sensitive boys and men out there, but our needs are more emotional - we bond quickly, we fall in love easily, without necessarily being ready to give of ourselves fully in that way. Sometimes our generous natures can work against us and we give too much away. Making love forges emotional links, little threads of love and need get woven into our psyches from us to the other person. We can't break those bonds as easily as some guys can. We expect our love to be returned and it's not always forthcoming.

I know I can't protect you from heartbreak, but as your mom, I want you to honour your own knowing, your own limits, and feel your own self-worth. You are worthy of all the love, honour and respect a person can give you.

Remember that you are the guardian of your soul’s temple, this body you have been given, and always let your intuition and inner knowing guide you. I hope you will feel comfortable talking about this, when the day comes, if you need help.
Love, your Mom

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Where Did My Libido Go? Mid-life Women Wonder

extract from The Tao of Turning Fifty, What Every Woman in Her Forties Needs to Know, Little Red Bird Press 2012

Our sense of womanhood is inherently linked to our sexuality. Maybe that’s why some women mourn their youth at menopause. They think they will lose their attractiveness to the opposite sex and there goes their womanhood. However, according to Dr Christiane Northrup, there is evidence that some women experience a reawakening of their libido at mid-life. Scientists say a woman’s sexual peak is probably somewhere in her forties. Then again, some others experience a temporary deadened feeling: where oh where, did my libido go? 

I was one of the ones who momentarily (for a few years!) lost touch with my desire. This was when I still had fairly young children and not sleeping well, on top of being perimenopausal. I think it was largely a matter of fatigue and timing. It turns out I am more easily aroused in the morning than at midnight when I’m half asleep! Talking about things certainly helped, once I became brave enough. My marriage might not have survived if I had not decided to take matters into my own hands (very literally). Two books that helped me understand the difference between women’s and men’s sexuality are John Gray’s Venus and Mars in the Bedroom and Reclaiming Goddess Sexuality by Linda E. Savage, Ph. D.

Now I can give myself permission to enjoy gourmet sex when I need it (meaning a lot of time for foreplay), or allow my husband a quickie occasionally.  I feel more comfortable asking for what I need and less pressured to be available sexually when I don’t feel like it. Think of it this way: you might be letting your partner off the hook. He may also be experiencing a slowing of desire at his male andropause.

A lot has been written about the differences between male and female desire, and I’m not sure we can generalize, but certainly women’s arousal often starts in the head – with being courted, talked to and listened to, which creates a feeling of closeness or intimacy. Dr. Micheal Goodman considers himself an expert on this. He says, “Men’s sexuality is linear: desire leading to arousal leading to erection and sexual intimacy. Women are different; their sexuality is more circular and circuitous (“women need a reason for sex; men just need a place”), and starts with intimacy, not desire.”[1] This inherently makes sense to me.
If it’s painful sex that is slowing you down, don’t wait; get advice from your health care provider. Or try herbal teas or tinctures like oatstraw and nettle which help relubricate the vagina. Certain homeopathic remedies help too. I have found some natural lubricants (Sexy Ganga, made with hemp oil) are more compatible than the artificial ones made of petroleum products (if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, it doesn’t belong in your vagina). Susun Weed’s New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way is a very helpful book in this regard, with lots of herbal remedies for each malady.

Whatever happens, don’t give up on sex just because of a few hormonal changes. A saliva test can help you find out which hormones are lacking (progesterone, estrogen or testosterone). See Dr Christiane Northrup’s book, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause for a thorough discussion of all things sexual.

That being said, consider that a time of sexual abstinence may be called for to honour your own need for rest, and to give you a time to find your wholeness within. Sex is wonderful, when you feel like having sex. Not out of guilt or a habit of pleasing others. Can you stand your ground, be with your own desire or lack of desire? Be patient with yourself and know that your desire is not gone for good. 

[1] (author of Men-opause – a book about menopause for men)