Let me introduce myself – I’m a woman of wealth and taste. I feel wealthy in experience, in loving connections, in my talents, in such wisdom as I’ve managed to distil from life’s inevitable pains. My taste is to savour and treasure life’s small gifts: the first fresh buds of spring emerging after a wet harsh Scottish winter, my little nephew’s occasional impulsive loving hugs and kisses. My taste is also for taking time: to be quiet, be alone, to read, to walk in Nature, to reflect on what my life thus far has meant – and what may be to come.
You won’t find me in the gym, sweating it out with my peers whose main motivation is to keep age at bay. I’m not saving up for my first facelift. I don’t look enviously at fresh faces and taut bodies. Whilst celebrating their youth, I am quite content to be no longer young.
In ancient times, when a woman reached menopause and began to feel the pull of death and rebirth into a new life phase, her tribe let her go free of duties for a year or so. She could wander, go deep into the forest, across the far hills, seeking solitude, time for reflection. She might gather roots and herbs only found in hidden places, to be used later. She had time to forge a deeper connection with Spirit than her busy life had previously allowed.
She would look at her lined face and grey hair in still river pools, sleep under the stars, slowly facing the fact that she was in the last phase of her life. By the time she returned she had deeply accepted the Great Round of birth, growth, maturation, decline, death and renewal. Having completed the mid life rite of passage, she was refreshed and ready to serve her tribe again. Her experience, knowledge and wisdom was valued and recognised: healer, midwife, mentor to the young, spiritual counsellor, she had her place in her community till the day she died.
“But this is the twenty-first century!” I hear you say. “Things are very different now.”
I wonder. Are they? It is certainly true that humans have never lived such comfortable, materially sophisticated lives as they do now, if they live in the affluent societies of the West. Within this current cultural phase, there is a powerful preoccupation with one stage of life.Youth. It is possible because of huge advances in science, medicine and technology to delay the process of aging. Death has come to be seen as a defeat, rather than a normal part of the whole life cycle.
From gnats to galaxies, everything is woven into the Great Round. Why should humans think themselves exempt ?
Everything passes, and we pass with it. Denial of this robs us of the opportunity to face and accept the flow of life as it is. Acceptance, which takes experience, courage, reflection, and time, can lead to happiness and spiritual peace. Denial of any kind usually trails misery in its wake.The mid life rite of passage is presented to us all, the choice being denial or acceptance. The latter road is slower and harder, but infinitely more rewarding in the end.
Just in case you think this is empty theorising, let me share my experience. I was a work addict until the spring of 2001, menopausal, but coping. Then, that Easter, a severe and prolonged family crisis struck. At the end of 2001 I collapsed, suffering from burnout and a severe hormone imbalance brought on by stress. My slow recovery took a long time – seven years.
The mid life rite of passage was forced on me in such a harsh way that I could not deny it. However, harrowing though it was at times, it gave me everything that the ancient peoples of matriarchal times had the wisdom to offer their menopausal womenfolk. I feel deeply enriched by my period in enforced seclusion, which is provided time to attend to my body, mind and spirit, my marriage, family and friendships. Having emerged, I getting ready to offer my mature gifts in a new life phase – starting with returning to school to do a part-time Masters’ degree in Counselling Studies at a distinguished Scottish university in September 2011 .
I hope you will follow my progress…… when I begin charting the ups and downs of cudgelling a post-WW2 braincell into adapting to 21st century high-tech-expedited education!
Photo of Anne by Lynne Connor Photography.