My mission in taking the epic 3 week journey to the southwest with my son Jess was to support him in his vision quest http://liciaberry.com/2013/08/03/it-begins/ , but I notice how much I am being guided to the deep river inside of me through our adventures. I notice how the big sky and the sweet desert are acting as a mirror and leading me inward to my own process. And what I am noticing in this chosen interruption of regular reality is an acute awareness of the limited number of days that are left in my life, and a preoccupation with death, the hallmarks of “midlife crisis”. I have feelings like I will die as well as a fascination with death and the supernatural beyond my usual interest…yet I feel a seed inside, waiting to germinate. Perhaps this year, the fire of transformation in my life has been hot enough to release the seed from its casing, new life emerging from the ashes.
As Jess and I wandered the Sangre de Christos north of Santa Fe, we came upon a rocky dirt road into the high mountains lined with a cold stream and apsen trees. The leaves of the aspen, still green in summer, waved in the high desert breeze. The mountain seemed to welcome us. Feeling very connected as we walked on the road, I almost tripped over a horned lizard that had apparently decided to cross the road from left to right exactly under my feet. Looking up lizard medicine, I found messages about looking for a new dream. The question, “What do YOU want, Licia?” has been asked of me many times by my inner guidance, my connection to the larger intelligence through my right brain and subconscious, but this seemed a pertinent and pointed moment.
Isn’t this what we wonder as we arrive at midlife? What do I want? And if I actually know what I want, why am I waiting to do it? Watching Jess be so clear about what he wants to do during Vision Quest is a reminder that this is possible for me. I wonder as a woman and mother, is this line of questioning more complex? My life of service to others, whether through profession, as a person who cares about the world, and as mama changes orientation with this question. Is it still being of service to shift into the service of being a happy, self actualized person on the planet?
I did some research on midlife rebirth, and found a lot about midlife “crisis”. Questions came up in my Google query like “how long does midlife crisis last”, “is there is a cure for midlife crisis”, “how do I survive midlife crisis”. First, I get the meaning of the word crisis, and it definitely feels that way sometimes…but I choose to see it over the life of the developmental phase of midlife as a TRANSITION, or rebirth.
What I found is that there is a relationship between how resistant I am to allowing my mature seed to emerge and how long the “crisis” lasts. How long I cling to outdated parts of self, how long I try to stay in the box of my old thinking (that has gotten me here so far, but may not serve me anymore), how long it takes me to accept that I am a midlife person….these are the markers of how long the midlife rebirth takes; in other words, it lasts until the the transition is completed. Are we there yet? Sorry, but it’s done when it’s done.
Psychologist Robyn Vickers-Willis says it’s very common for women aged between 35 and their late 40s to feel unmoored by feelings of depression, emptiness, bewilderment and a sudden desire for change, with no idea where any of it is coming from. During “midlife transition”, our psyche, she says, “encourages us to move from having a sense of identity based on how we’re conditioned to see ourselves” – that is, based on how others expect us to be – “and more to how we truly are, and then to create a life based on that…Values are sorted and realigned, a gradual, but fluctuating, coming-down from anxiety occurs. There is a return, surprisingly, to life structures quite similar to the previous ones, only now more refined, focused, and effective.”
A portal into a woman in her 40’s…Unmoored, yes. I felt the door open to my midlife experience on my 42nd birthday during my Uranus opposition. This coincided with the 3rd year of our big trip, our family Vision Quest that started in 2003. That journey was so much about Peter’s midlife transition and the necessary maturing that comes from separating from family of origin to define himself. However, my midlife transition began hot on the heels of his in 2007, and I’ve been alternately in the wild rapids and the infinitely deep peace of the river of life as I have begun to define myself as ME. But that wasn’t enough….to bring my midlife transition to a raucous completion, Jess’ TBI this year ripped any innocence remaining away, accelerating my release of anything and anyone not in integrity in my life, thus embracing where the love and truth and light really ARE. The violence and grief of this event created a shocking displacement of anything immature, fantasy-based (like that my parents will ever step into their adult roles), unhealthy, and reorganization of what’s left into the woman I am becoming.
Vickers-Willis, author of the book Navigating Midlife: Women Becoming Themselves, says “there have long been societal pressures that discourage women from tossing off others’ expectations of who they should be and embracing who they are at their core – and how they truly want to live their lives. This growth can threaten the still-traditional “status quo” of wife as nurturer and husband as provider.” A long-term study of the evolving physical and mental health of 40,000 Australian women backs this up. The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, which released its most recent results last September, revealed that many middle-aged women found themselves too busy taking care of other people to explore their own needs and desires. And the majority of the 50 women Shellenbarger interviewed for her book used their midlife crises as a jumping-off point for rewarding creative and constructive pursuits, like launching new businesses or becoming artists. “We gain a new understanding of our limits,” Shellenbarger says of women who come out the other side after a midlife crisis. “And we develop a new sense of meaning and direction to guide us through the rest of our lives.”
I am coming through the other side. I sense that the immediate intensity of the “crisis” is over (after almost 7 years of it I am very pleased to say that), and I have a sense of being reborn, with a new lease on life, a new sense of adventure of a different kind. Something utterly unexpected and extraordinary occurred while I was on the vision quest with Jess that has changed my life at a cellular level (I’ll be writing about that very soon…it is a happy, happy story.) It is perhaps the single most important shift that has occurred in my life, at every level of my being. Like the near-completion of my midlife transition, it ushers in new opportunities and positive growth, and a molecular shift towards my new dream.
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