Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gather the Women: Menopause and Mothering

SoulCollage(R) Card Multi-tasking Mom Raises a Hand for Help

If it takes a Village to raise a child, then it’s time to Gather the Women.

Yesterday in my Creative Circle class, six women, all mothers, were discussing how hard it is to make time for what you love to do, because it feels self-indulgent and selfish. That led to talking about how overwhelmed we feel with our own emotions at mid-life, our hormonal peaks and valleys, feeling stretched and distracted and having not enough uninterrupted ‘me’ time to journal, write, draw, collage, or just putter around in.

And that led to a story of a woman doctor with three kids who just up and left one day, and didn’t come home for six months. Now there’s a scary thought! It's perhaps the secret fear of every mother,  that we will fail at being a mom. I think the fact that women are putting off having children until our thirties, brings us closer to the perilous period of peri-menopause in our forties. Meanwhile, our children are still at home and needing us to chauffeur, cook, clean and supervise homework for them, which leads to moms feeling ‘on duty’ 24-7 with no breaks, and subsequent feelings of overwhelm. The ideal, multi-tasking ‘supermom’ hits a brick wall at peri-menopause (which begins in your mid-forties), and begins to crumble and crack at the edges.

At menopause, says Dr Christiane Northrup, the reigning expert on the subject, one of the most common needs women express is the need to get away, alone. I’d say the second greatest need is the help and support of other women.

Talking with other women about what really matters is very good for the soul, and very healing. I’ve been part of a woman’s circle for seven or eight years now.  We used to meet twice a month, and lately we’ve moved to once a month, two hours on a Thursday afternoon. We take turns hosting and providing tea, while we have a Circle Chat. It started when our kids were in high school, and we had less opportunity to meet other women while volunteering at school. 

How it works, is that each woman gets to talk about whatever is on her mind, whatever bubbles up from within her soul, for five-ten minutes; we use a crystal rock as a talking stick, so that the whole circle listens deeply,  holding space for her to speak.
This circle of women helped me keep sane and made me a happier mom. I don’t know how I would have gotten through menopause without having these women to talk to about what really matters.

I realized this morning that the discussion in my Creative Circle class yesterday about taking time for ourselves to do what we love, and what pushes a woman to the edge of leaving her kids and family in menopause, are two very related and very important topics.  It’s because we think self-care is selfish that we don’t give ourselves enough down time. Or we think it’s ‘frivolous’ to do something like writing in our journal or making a collage, or something that speaks to who we are, that feeds our creative woman’s soul. 

Some women hesitate to even mention it to their husbands for fear of appearing self-indulgent and less hard-working. Especially if you are a mom who works at home, and already feel guilty that you have time during the day while the kids are at school, so you fill it up to the max with volunteering and other ‘worthwhile’ activities, forgetting to leave yourself any time to do the things that fill the well, make you happy, revitalize and energize you.

Lately I am finding more and more articles and quotes that offer proof that it’s actually better for the people we love for us to take care of our own needs too, and put ourselves on the list. If you have a creative streak, that crankiness and irritability you feel may actually be coming from the need to get back into Flow, to express your creativity. Whatever the needs you have, don’t bury them in busy-ness.

When we truly care for ourselves, it becomes possible to care far more profoundly about other people. The more alert and sensitive we are to our own needs, the more loving and generous we can be towards others. — Eda LeShan

So back to Gathering the Women – when I meet with other women, when I share my feelings about what really matters to me, or just spill the beans about the crazy-making days when I don’t have a minute to breathe, or pee, or eat lunch….when I get a chance to feel heard and seen, and can take off the pretend mask of Perfectionism or Super-mom who has it all together, it saves my life. It probably saves the lives of my kids too, because my mood is brighter, I feel less cranky and irritable. I can give from the well, because my well is feeling rather full. I don't feel like throwing in the towel and taking a year's sabbitical from motherhood.

Can you recognize the symptoms of overwhelm before they explode on you? Can you lean on friends, hire a house-cleaner, leave the house for tea with a friend, make time to write in your journal or start a women’s circle? How can you give yourself a break, cut yourself some slack, ease up on the list of things to do and create some Creative Space for yourself? Begin by gathering other women and having the conversation about this hairy mid-life transition and the strain it puts on our mothering.

As a bonus to anyone who leaves a comment here, I will put your names in a draw for the book An Anthology of Babes, 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, edited by Suzi Banks Baum. In this book you'll find 36 women writers and artists, sharing their stories, writing from their souls. You will find a circle of voices here.

Namaste, Musemother

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Gifts of Taking Time For Yourself

Having a snow day here in Montreal, yeah! good for those moms who can't go anywhere and good for those kids who wanna stay home and play games or build snow forts, but boo hoo, my Creative Circle class was cancelled! We still had yoga this morning at my house, which felt like being wrapped in a white cocoon, the window and the lake outside are all white! The Green Spring we felt yesterday has been covered up.

So afterwards, over lunch, I picked up a book from my pile of books to read, since the driveway hasn't been ploughed yet: Finding the Deep River Within, and re-read it, looking for an exercise we are going to use in class next week on Doing what you love. And lo and behold, the same message I just blogged about yesterday, came shouting back at me: "In order to take time-in, we need to choose it." Alone time without distraction is what author Abby Seixas calls 'time-in'.  Slowing down, watering the root of your soul with some down time, is so nourishing, but you have to make time for it.

Her point in the first few chapters is well taken - that until we recognize how pressured we are by the culture, how aligned and in synch we are with technological speed and multi-tasking (a computer term by the way), it's hard to disengage and slow down without feeling we're going against the grain. Usually it takes an illness or a deep sense of fragmentation or falling apart before we even consider slowing the pace (without feeling guilty). Unless you are a gardener, or a person who loves to cook from scratch...then you know what I'm talking about.

As far back as the sixth century BC, Lao Tzu was dealing with this 'running around', so it may not be something 'new' per se, the need to get back to a rich inner life:

There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window. Rather abide
at the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart and see
If he is wise who takes each turn:
The way to do is to be.

Not surprisingly, one of the six tools for getting back in touch with that inner river within is Journaling. I know, I know, the excuses we all come up with...the feeling of never having enough time, or not being 'good' at it.  But just sitting down to untangle my thoughts, and hear myself muse out loud or on paper about what's going on underneath the ruckus on the surface is really healing.  It helps me sort through my feelings, and even begin to acknowledge some of those feelings. It doesn't take an hour, even ten minutes feels good.

Of course, the best way to make time for either journaling or time alone uninterrupted is to write it in your agenda. I just made a hair appointment for Thursday at 1 pm. Why can't I also write in 'meditation, 7:30 am, followed by Journal writing 8:30 for 10 minutes'. There, done. Morning is not always the best time for people (especially busy moms) to take time alone in. You can do it over tea at lunchtime, you can take a walk alone during a break. Or you can write in your journal before bedtime.

Get creative about feeding this deep need of your soul to have a long conversation with you!  You will actually find yourself being more productive, you'll have clearer vision, and feel less bone-tired, once you get in touch with that soul energy slumbering underneath your busy schedule....try it.

Take small steps and make it doable, so you have a better chance at success!

take care

Monday, March 18, 2013

Women: What I learned from being sick

Having a cold or flu in winter is almost a ritual that gets repeated at least once every year, inspite of my best precautions.

I have all kinds of herbal remedies, and usually I don't stay sick for long, but this year I was travelling when the sore throat hit, and far from my tried and true flu busters.

No one likes to be stuck in bed, head throbbing, nose leaking, fever and chills running through their body. So I can't claim to have enjoyed that time in bed, although I did get a novel read in record time...but  I did get in touch with a valuable lesson.

With my head feeling like it's wrapped in cotton batten, ears plugged and chest phlegmy, it's hard to be grateful for being alive, but being forced to slow down did turn out to be a gift.

I got in touch with a deep undercurrent of tiredness, and was unable to get up and run around as quickly as I usually do. My brain still hasn't returned to 'busy mode', at least not with the same rapid response time I like to pride myself on.  I haven't been glued to my computer as much. The gift that was waiting for me was pretty low-key, and under the radar.  It was the gift of my own slowed-down speed, the going slowly itself became the gift.

Going slowly is not comfortable necessarily, when you're used to multi-tasking as I am.  But reducing my normal input level to one thing at a time is a blessing. I can begin to operate on a hum instead of a shriek. I can't jump ahead and plan three trips at once, or envision having the energy to go anywhere except be where I am right now.  Looking straight in front of me, I begin to allow myself time to breathe, time to enjoy a cup of tea, time to feel the hot water in the sink warming my hands, time to feel the softness folding the bamboo sheets, time to notice the bare grass at the side of the road walking the dog (yeah! mud and spring!). I just took a 40 minute nap, and slowly unplugged myself from the 'what if's' and questions about new classes, and creative ideas I should be developing....and just slept, curled up with my little shit-zu in my arms, belly to her back.

The gift of the present sometimes has to be forced on us, through illness, through breaking a leg, or just being extremely fatigued. We stop whirling, twirling and expecting miracles of our superwoman/man selves. It is possible, and even desirable, to do one thing at a time.

I invite you to try it sometime, even without the flu!


Friday, March 08, 2013

When Women Were Birds Book Review for Women's Day

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice
by Terry Tempest Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am loving this book. It's a bit of an autobiography, poetically written. The author begins by telling us her mother left her journals for her daughter to read, but asks that she wait until after she's gone. When Terry opens the journals, they are all blank. Every one on three shelves. The author's mother is a Mormon, from Utah, and apparently every good Mormon wife has two duties: to bear children and keep a journal. So this book seeks to uncover the motives behind her keeping them blank, and is also a poetic meditation (in parts) on what her mother's silence meant, and on the meaning of voice.

The author is also a bird watcher, and her grandmother initiated her into the love of birds. She met her husband through this as well. Lots of bird imagery. There's also a chapter about the secret writing of women, a coded calligraphy that only women used in China, to communicate with their life-long friends, which reminded me of the book The Secret Fan.

Some of the book is a bit political: the author is an activist involved in saving the wildlands and red rock area in Utah, and one of her efforts to help out was a putting together a small book of testimonial essays about the land from well-known authors, that helped sway the Congress to reconsider the rewriting of the Utah Public Lands Management act. A whole chapter is devoted to this, which although interesting and part of the author's life, did not add to the poetic text about her search for meaning in her mother's journals, except, I suppose to illustrate her need to find her own voice.

"Mother gave me my voice by withholding hers, both in life and in death."

"My mother's journals are bleached...
My Mother's Journals are clean sheets.
My Mother's Journals are white flags of surrender."

The author explores in layers the meaning of the blank sheets, and tells us in the meantime her own story, her own love affair with birds and words. In the end, she decides, "there is comfort in keeping what is sacred inside us not as a secret, but as a prayer." And seems to make peace with the white pages.

It may be an attempt to solve a mystery, but in the writing, we learn lessons about the power of a woman's voice, about mothers and daughters and granddaughters, and about the power of song, and flight.

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