“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung
The biggest challenge that we face as women in this culture at this time is finding our wholeness and healing so that we can unleash our powerful creative wisdom that is coming forward so much for us at midlife. Our Earth and our spirits need this healing of the “sacred feminine” spoken about through the study of ancient goddess practices (Sally Kempton in Awakening Shakti) and other quests for women’s mysterious Grail (Jean Shinoda Bolen in Crossing to Avalon) as our “sacred feminine” or “divine feminine”. These myths and stories all involve suffering and moving through pain to transformation- the heroine’s journey. As we move into our 60’s and beyond we feel our own heroine journey in our hearts as a longing to awaken. How do we find a path that allows us to nourish our Wise Woman rising inside of us and not shut her down with our pain or our fear?
THE SIXTIES TRANSITION IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO AWAKEN TO YOUR WHOLENESS
I feel awakened by these readings and my life these days and I’ve discovered that my life’s deepest passion and calling is about helping other women find their wholeness again. As a woman and therapist, I’ve experienced the depths of our woundedness as women through many hours sitting with women. And, I’ve had my own journey through grief and loss many times. Our stories are similar in one key way — We struggle with our own vulnerability. We think we are supposed to be “strong” and that means being there for others so we don’t take the time to see that our strength is actually in our ability to be with our own feelings and struggles. How do we learn to be there for ourselves? How do we learn to face our vulnerability and find our creative Wise Woman? I hope that you will open to some tools that might help you see your own strengths in your womanness, in your heart that is full of compassion. This compassion is the Goddess’ gift to you and to the world but we have to awaken to her.
Meet Kathy. She is 64 and continues to remain in a care taking role in life even though her kids have left years ago and her parents have finally passed on after she cared for them in her home over the past 10 years. As a nurse, she has the skills to manage so many things, and finally gave up her night shift in the Recovery room to be home full time to care for her husband who has slipped into Alzheimer’s at 69. Kathy had a long and rewarding career as a nurse and educator at the local hospital all the years her kids were in school. She was rewarded for her service to the community and to her patients and felt very fulfilled, but her personal life was just her work and her family. She had to drop out of church activities and had a difficult job keeping up with exercise and self-care. Now she sought out support through coaching & psychotherapy because she cannot contain her anger and sadness about her husband’s condition. As her best friend, she has lost a connection with him and to the meaning in her life that is all about her life and her family. Her children are unable to be there for her due to some of the challenges and unresolved issues in their parenting years.
FACING OUR LIFELONG FEARS AS WOMEN OF THE 60’S
Kathy is having a existential crisis and feels overwhelmed with emotions she isn’t familiar with: Fear, anger and deep sadness. How would you unravel this for Kathy? When we have been in the role of “fixing it” for others for so long, how do we allow ourselves to feel our own feelings and the complexity of our own suffering? It’s really scary to feel our feelings, to feel our anger and the deep roots of it in our lives as women. Our fear of our lives losing meaning, changes we don’t know how to manage, hopes and dreams no longer recognized, facing the fear of our own vulnerabilities and ultimately death — these are big fears that come up in the 60’s Transition and even before.
Learning to slow down and face these fears is the biggest task of this transition. This is exactly what Kathy and I did. We worked together to name her fears, to ease the impact of the fear in her body by moving and breathing in sessions to explore how she can notice and talk to the fearful feelings rising up in her. I also teach this way of working with fear in my “Retreats in Nature” where we learn to empower ourselves by experiencing our fear doing something challenging and physical. Of course there’s more for Kathy to move into, but learning some tools for facing her fears allowed her to begin to accept and face some of the other feelings she was having and begin to come to the present moment of her suffering. That’s when she began to turn her life around.
BRINGING COMPASSION TO OUR WOUNDEDNESS
Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun writes in her book The Places That Scare You:
When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience our fear.
Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves
to move gently towards what scares us. In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience–our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. ….
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a
relationship between equals. Only when we know our darkness, can we be present
with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared
Compassion is about bringing love and kindness to our own suffering. It’s not just empathy, but bringing that warm concern to our deepest wounds. Only by allowing ourselves to feel our pain in a container that we have created that allows us to bring compassion to ourselves, can we truly heal into our wholeness again.
LEARNING A SPIRITUAL OR COMPASSION PRACTICE TO CULTIVATE YOUR WHOLENESS
You can practice compassion informally and formally. Informally, it’s about noticing how you feel when you give compassion to others—how does it come up in your heart as a sensation? More formal practices are now available to help you cultivate compassion more through your own touch to yourself and how you talk to yourself. I’ve explored “Compassion Practices” for the last decade both as a Mindfulness-Based Coach and Psychotherapist and as a woman in transition. I’ve used many forms of prayer, mindfulness, buddhist metta practices that bring in Loving Kindness and Compassion. I now teach Mindful Self-Compassion as a course taken from the work of Kristin Neff, Ph.D and Chris Germer, Ph.D and the Center for Mindfulness in San Diego. Through this work, I’ve had to learn to cultivate a deeper sense of my own compassion and slowly learn to turn it towards myself.
You can learn this too! Maybe just beginning to use what you already do as a spiritual practice in a more informed way will help you develop a deeper sense of your “spiritual container” and from here you’ll be able to add compassion practices for yourself. People often ask me “What is a Spiritual Practice and why is it important?” What is it like to bring a spiritual awareness to your life? Bob Atchley,author of Spirituality & Aging, describes spirituality as an experiential process. He says it involves three steps: 1) Awareness to the present moment, 2) Development of an Internal Witness, 3) Openness to the Sacredness in everything.
The Spiritual is wherever you experience awe, wonder or compassion. The spiritual dimension is always there but you have to make an intention to slow down and allow the experience to happen for you. You have to be willing to watch and listen for how The Spirit shows up in your life.
FINDING SELF-CARE AS AN EXPRESSION OF SELF-LOVE
Self-care is about how we treat ourselves minute-by-minute and day-by-day. How do you give yourself the message that you are lovable and beautiful? Are you kind and loving to yourself or critical and mean? We have many voices inside ourselves and sometimes it’s easiest to listen to the voice that is giving us marching orders rather than a voice offering a moment to reflect on our goodness. In truth, we have to teach ourselves how to listen to the nurturing voice and we often need to develop a nurturing voice to begin with. This self-compassionate voice is there in all of us but we just need to learn how to befriend it and bring it forward. This is the process of learning self-compassion and the self-compassionate behavior that we can offer to ourselves is called self-care.
To actually accept and love ourselves just as we are…right now!! To celebrate our wounds, our vulnerabilities and our gifts all at the same time as who we have become! This is how we actually find our true “wholeness” and experience ourselves more completely and authentically as we are.
I am large….I contain multitudes. (Walt Whitman)