Donate to AfricAid
In DRAWDOWN, The most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to
Reverse Global Warming, by Paul Hawken, helping Women and Girls is
right up there with Energy, Food, Land Use, Buildings & Cities,
Transport, Materials and Coming Attractions. I was a climate activist and
I was doing everything I could to educate and share how I was learning to
help us turn the corner and fight this major challenge of our generation.
Written in 2017, I was inspired by this book because I was already helping
women and I wanted to see how I could help girls.
In 2016 I went to Tanzania with AfricAid, a non-profit started by a young
American woman who saw how she could help young African women get
educated and move their lives forward. She showed that with support, aid
and leadership skills these “top in their class” young African women were
able to choose to complete their secondary education and go to college.
They were able to become doctors and engineers, teachers and
scientists. They were mentored by others who had completed the
program and it was just this amazing process of women empowering
My trip was to climb Mt. Killimanjaro, but it was also to fund getting five
African women who were AfricAid mentors who had completed the Kisa
Program, the afterschool leadership program that inspired and
empowered these young women, up that mountain with us. And we did!!
So today, you too, can offer aid to help women and girls in Africa move
their lives forward. AfricAid is a great way to start helping…..This video
shows more about our trip and about this amazing non-profit. I hope you
can contribute to help these African women and join women empowering
As I descended slowly down Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, on day seven of our climb, I chose to make it a solitary journey and let my summit expedition group go ahead to the bottom. I wanted to savor my last day like it was my personal pilgrimage. I had worked hard for the past week on the mountain, and I wanted to relax.
As I journeyed down, I met many of the climbers who, just like me, had made the six-day climb and had completed the 19,456 foot summit in the wee hours of dawn the previous day. My eight-mile downward trudge was a victory walk for me. The previous day had been grueling, especially when we summitted, and I was taking my time to take in the interesting personalities of my fellow climbers. I was engulfed by the sweet smell of blooming azaleas coming from the edge of the trail, so familiar to me from growing up in Florida, and it settled me into my body and heart. Gratitude swelled up inside me. I glanced over at the purplish-pink blossoms with the sun splashing on their glorious color. Every day, that magical mountain brought some new and uniquely different natural delight to explore.
In that moment, I heard feet pounding down the trail toward me. A man who appeared to be running alone ahead of his porter passed me. “How can you run down this mountain?” I called out. “My hips are killing me!”
He looked back at me and stopped in his tracks. Then he walked back up the trail to where I was standing and looked at me in a way I couldn’t turn away from with a pair of very deep-set, penetrating dark eyes that pulled me right into his intensity. Those very eyes had caught my attention on day two of the climb when we were all coming out of our rain gear after being stuck in pouring rain for three hours. He and his Turkish friends had been singing under the huge waterfalls that poured down the rock outcroppings, and he looked up at me as our group passed by. They were getting a wonderful, refreshing shower. My body longed to be under that waterfall, but maybe not with those men.
Our eyes met one other time as we were all struggling to get a hold on the precariously crowded Barranco Wall on day three. I didn’t think much about it then because I was focused on getting to the top of the 19,456 foot mountain, but I did notice him.
Now he came even closer, looked at me more intensely, and asked me my name. “Donna, your hips are holding the pain of so many—those you have listened to and given your support. You are giving out so much love. I can feel it in you now.”
I wondered how he knew I was a therapist even on Kilimanjaro—my give-back trip to Africa. How did this part of me show? I asked his name.
“Halmouth,” he said. It was a Turkish name. “I work with the healing love of Mary, Mother of Jesus. Did you know that you also exude that essence? Do you know of Mary’s love?”
I felt a powerful spirit of love coming from him, as if he were a true embodiment of Jesus himself. It felt like everything I had read and learned about Jesus’ love growing up in a Presbyterian church. He talked of Mary, Mother of Jesus, and how he carried her love and the love of great healers. He spoke of knowing the path of healers and the intensity of their love and compassion. He spoke of his work as an osteopath and a healer, but I honestly couldn’t follow all of what he was saying because his essence was so mysterious and so much love poured out of him. I just felt a warm, comforting love coming toward me, encircling me, and it was more powerful than the words he was saying. My heart opened more deeply to take it in.
He continued talking about Mary, Mother of Jesus, and her love as a way to bring things back to the compassionate healer archetype that he was seeing in me. It was a way of seeing me I had never before experienced. He saw my heart open for so many, and he saw my woundedness, my struggle to love myself fully, and the suffering it had caused me. I had never been seen and validated so totally. I noticed another feeling—a surge of self-appreciation coming forward that felt almost like self-trust.
He clearly had something to say to me, and it felt like he had been working up to one particular thing he wanted to say. “Donna, love yourself first, and great love will follow!” Then he flashed his intense eyes at me with deep sincerity, and he was gone. His long legs moved quickly down the trail, and all I could see was Halmouth’s loaded-down porter following him quietly and reverently.
I slowly continued down the steep trail, as if in a trance, feeling that Halmouth’s unique message was somehow my call to learn to love myself as fully as I could and that it would guide me to what was coming next. I had been in a major transition since my divorce two years earlier. But how could I learn to love myself more? And what could it guide me toward?
Even after he was gone, I felt his self-love surrounding me and infiltrating my soul. A warm compassion and caring for himself and others permeated my being. It was powerful.
Then I got it. Halmouth was role modeling for me how to work with compassion within myself and with others in a more balanced way and how to give love to myself as much as I gave it out to others. He was also helping me learn how to trust and love who I was right in that moment, messy but alive and present as I struggled with it all. He was showing me how to wrap a blanket of compassion around myself and hold myself with love, just as he did.
As I reflected on his messages upon my return from that trip, I kept being curious about what was keeping me from loving myself just as I was. I was still suffering from choosing to leave a marriage and feeling like a failure. How could I accept my woundedness in a way that allowed me to be more fully who I was in the moment? Wasn’t the trip and the climb all about focusing on my strengths? Somehow I was not letting myself feel my goodness and strengths because the pain was so strong. I had consciously pushed myself physically to have adventure because that was where I knew I could expand and grow myself more. I was good at pushing myself physically. It was one of my gifts. But I didn’t know how to put myself back together with all the pain and fear inside me. Was I loving all of me, even my grieving parts? Why did I need Halmouth’s message to wake me up?
I began to dig deeper into myself. How did I get to the place of facing my fears of a lifetime to be able to climb Kilimanjaro? Something had been shifting big time over the past three years and I was going to learn more about what it was. At sixty-four, I had consciously created a ripe and terrifying moment for myself without consciously knowing why. I began to break free from all the restraints of being a woman that I had probably both bought into and challenged my whole life. Because of my pain and fear, I was cracking open inside and feeling the path of a deeper self-awakening that was already happening. Some spirit within was guiding me from the inside out, and Halmouth had been that spirit embodied. I could feel the tingling warmth of Halmouth’s self-love and compassion growing inside of me. The seed had been planted.
From that moment on, I have been manifesting the path of self-love and self-compassion that Halmouth laid out for me.
Midlife, the ages of thirty-nine to sixty-five, has been for me an adventure in finding authenticity, healing, and the integration of the many parts or aspects of me that make up my wholeness. But mostly, it’s been about finding a way to trust myself and be who I truly am, to live my truth. As you read my story, specifically the major transitions I experienced between thirty-nine and sixty-five, I hope you see yourself in your own challenges and see a path of resilience and hope for yourself similar to what I have found. I have chosen to write about these events because they have been instrumental in teaching me so much about myself, have grown me into the transformed woman I am today, and have healed me into a sense of wholeness from my brokenness.
I had to drop into my old pattern of letting others tell me who I was and what I wanted many times before I could pull myself out of it. Growing up a girl in the 1960s in Florida, I was fed fear and sexism, though I was very privileged. I became a tomboy and an intellectual rather than a southern belle. I chose to develop my masculine traits first. It was all about playing a part to show the world something rather than learning how to be me inside. I was a chameleon.
I had to leave the Floridian world and move to Colorado when I was twenty-four to discover who I really was. And then it took depression, death, and divorce to jump-start my growth process. That was the silver lining: From learning to embrace my brokenness, my fears, my struggles, and my losses and going down into the pain, I stumbled on a gentler and very loving me deep inside. I knew she was there, but she was very sad and lost for a long time, trying to make life work.
This story is also about relationships: my relationship with my mother, my relationship with my son, my relationships with my two husbands, and most importantly, the relationship I learned to develop with myself. How do relationships help us find ourselves, our wholeness? When do we need to move out into ourselves to find our truth? When do we need to move into a relationship with others to get mirrored and loved? How does that help us find our truth too? These are questions I have pondered my whole life because of the struggle I had as a baby trying to get the connection and attunement I needed and wanted in my attachment with my mother. I had to find healthy connections, and I had to learn to start with my connection with myself.
We women are taught to be attuned to others. Learning to attune to ourselves is the key to moving down the midlife path to transformation or rebirth.
This story is about some of those important connections I had and still have in my life—those relationships where the dance of attunement and mirroring is powerful—and how we can learn from the reflections of our friends, sisters, partners, and other women on the path. How do we help each other differentiate and grow in relationships? How do we hold each other back from our own awakening?
I’ve learned about healthy attunement, which involves attunement to self at the same time you are attuning to another. It’s a spiraling flow back and forth with each other that takes some practice. It can be difficult in intimate relationships if each partner is not conscious and aware of themselves in the process. And it can be hard to master when we parent challenging children. As women, sometimes our relationships—including relationships with our families—can hold us back from finding our personal awakening. How do we take responsibility for and chart our own paths as women? How do we let go and finally find our authentic path?
This is a story about how I got there on Kilimanjaro, a mountain in Tanzania, where I was helping five young African women get to the top of a mysterious mountain they were told they couldn’t climb. I now support women and girls all over the world in learning and growing who they are because it takes all of us to help us to find our voices and our true openheartedness.
It wasn’t until I lost my favorite sister in a car accident when I was thirty-two that I learned to start paying attention to what was happening inside me and began exploring the feelings within me that had both scared and delighted me. I had to miss my sister’s adoration to realize I had to replace it with learning to care for myself better and appreciate my energy and gifts, which had been disregarded, judged, or poorly mirrored by my parents so early. I had adored my baby sister Marjorie as much as she had adored me, and her death was the beginning of my first major midlife transition.
This is also a story about the underside of grief, of what happens after you go deeply into your feelings of grief and loss. After resisting grief in many ways, I learned to slow down and begin to feel the sadness and all the other feelings I’d been suppressing. And just when I thought I had it all figured out, the complexity of more grief hit me. The mystery of the underside of that grief was that once I allowed myself to go into it, I found it to be a huge blessing: a rebirthing of love and life’s creativity and a reclaiming of parts of myself I didn’t know where there. That happened more than once after a difficult disconnection and/or death in some form: after my first divorce, as I was settling into my second marriage; as my mother was lingering in her wheelchair; after my mother died; and again, later. There I found the unmet longing that knows what you desire deeply inside, mixed with all the sadness.
Through many transitions, I found that if I followed that longing over the bridge into the unknown, I found a deeper me, a connection to myself I was longing for and couldn’t find until then. That rebirthing came with deep diving into myself, and the transformed me is my Wisewoman. I love her so much now, and I’m letting her out because she has so much to share with you.
This story is coming to you directly from my Wisewoman, and it is about my voyage, but even though the details of the voyage are my own, I believe many women go through their own midlife voyage with transformation as its destination. This voyage is about learning to ride the larger waves of midlife that come bigger and faster as we age instead of being knocked down by them, and it has five stages: Lost at Sea; Finding a Mooring; Deep Diving; Rebirthing; and the New You.
I gained the tools and experience to be more resilient and alive, and you can too. Those tools have taught me to live in the present more and drop deeper into my softer Divine Feminine knowing—the heart space—and hang out there. It is a soft, self-compassionate place, sweet and kind, and it is filled with self-trust, longing, love, truth, self-forgiveness, and deep connection. I hope this story of my healing midlife voyage can help you find your own midlife transformation and set sail to this softer, gentler New You.
From that place, that deep heart connection with ourselves and others, I believe we can lead others on the path to what’s next for us and all living creatures on this planet. I believe that when we heal ourselves deeply and release our inner trauma and pain through deep grieving, we are ready and open to step forward into our new role of healing the world and our species. I hope you find your path of inner healing through deep waters so you can come forth as the mermaid, transformed and ready, as I am.
Let’s join hands and heal ourselves now.