"In the greatest confusion there is still an open channel to the soul. It may be difficult to find because by midlife it is overgrown ... But the channel is always there, and it is our business to keep it open, to have access to the deepest parts of ourselves."
~ Saul Bellow ~
We are all seeking our peace, in our own way, in our own time. Midlife seems to be the time we become most aware of this. We have spent our lives, up to this point, raising families, engaging in society, working, balancing our family of origin with the families that we have created, trying on many different hats, and seemingly, at times, feeling as though we are going through adolescence over and over again, feeling tender and young and lost, no matter what our age might be. We awake in midlife to find, often, that we have been following a path that has taken us into a jungle of confusion, and the only way out is to clear-cut a path into an open meadow, and take stock of all that has come before.
In sorting things out I am spending a lot of time reading, cleaning out my home, slowly, gradually, paring down, not just in the sense of material things, but weighing what really needs to be in my life, and what does not. Who needs to be in my life, and who not? Often we hold onto people, places, and things because they are familiar when they are no longer serving us, or we them. Those kind of ties must be cut gently, thoughtfully, kindly ... but firmly. I have had to do such a thing in the last year, and it hurt, and it hurt the other person, but in the end we both had an albatross lifted from around our necks and we are both all the better for it. It's okay to let go, in fact, it's essential to our well-being and the life ahead.
The quotes I am using in this piece I found in a book I am reading with great delight, am deeply moved by, and find great joy, peace, and a sense of surrender in. I am surrendering to my true life. That doesn't mean it will happen quickly. The road to freedom, within and without, is never easy, but essential. The book I am reading -- and it is so wonderful I barely have words for the sense of fulfillment, that sense of, "I found you (the book) at exactly the right time! -- is called A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life, by Nina Wise. I absolutely adore the subtitle -- "Self expression and spiritual practice for those who have time for neither." We all find so many excuses not to do the work we need to do to find our true path and follow it. And so I am picking up my machete and I am going to clear-cut a path to my own heart, I am going to look deep into my own soul. And yes, this has been yet another view into a journey I have now been on for 9 years, from 45 to 54. Interesting, that. Nine is a significant number in numerology, and it has not only been 9 years, but my ages at both ends equal 9. I don't pretend to fully understand the significance of that, but I have my suspicions.
In Wise's book, there is, in the very beginning, A Note from The Author. In it there is a paragraph that left me awestruck, and further defined, for me, my goal for the life I have ahead of me. My young life was filled with pain, tumult, and confusion. Much of that carried over through my thirty years of marriage and raising three children. It was only when I woke up at midlife that I could begin to see the tangled web that I had woven. One day I woke up and began to untangle the web. It would not be easy, but crucial. My "growing up," my finding my true self, my learning to live a life of compassion and loving-kindness (... even when that compassion is an act of telling a person "It is not healthy for us to be in one another's lives," and ride the waves of pain into shore, barely breathing, we must be strong enough, and brave enough to do so, because not taking the necessary steps to our own freedom and well-being is to not allow the other the same.) And so when I read the following passage I nearly cried with relief, with recognition, and it gave me a stronger spine to stand up straighter and walk through the days ahead. That she speaks, in this piece, of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, was not a surprise, but felt as though both she, and he, my great teacher, were both taking one of my hands and walking me down the first steps of the path, then waving at me as I must keeping walking onward myself. No matter how many people we live with or are surrounded by in our daily lives, truly, we are always walking our own path alone...
"To heal the world, Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, we must begin by healing ourselves. He tells the story about boat people fleeing Vietnam who fell prey to the wild seas and acts of dehumanizing violence by pirates. If only one person on the boat was able to remain calm and peaceful, the likelihood of survival for all of the passengers was greatly enhanced. We might think of the planet as one of those fragile boats, afloat in a sea that is now stricken with violence. If each of us develops the capacity for equanimity, kindness, and compassion, the likelihood that we will survive as a species and create the kind of world we wish to leave our children and for their children is exponentially increased."
The foundation and intent of my work and life has long been to live with as much compassion and loving-kindness as I possibly could, for myself, for the world around me, through my writing and work, but when I read the above quote I realized that the significance of this goal was far more important than I had realized. As a mother and grandmother, it is not just my goal, but my obligation to do what I can to leave a world for them that will allow them to grow, to live full lives, to find peace, purpose, and fulfillment, and yes, do their part to pay it forward for the generation to follow. When you are a mother, you think you understand this. When you have a grandchild you see the world unfolding before you, a world that you won't live to see, but you know that it is your obligation to do what you can to ensure their future well-being. When my precious 4 year old grandson, Lucas, has grandchildren of his own, I will most likely have left this planet for the next realm. But my work now is to leave a legacy of love and compassion, of simple human kindness, and that as each one reach one it will be a better world for all, just like the one man in the boat remaining calm, it is our duty, our obligation as citizens of the world, to try to be that man, to live with dignity and grace and a sense of calm. As my Buddhist teacher Charlotte "Joko" Beck once said to me, "If not, why not. If not now, when?" There is no disagreeing with that. And so like a great Zen Samurai warrior I must cut away the things that have not only held me back but not been healthy for the people that I love and the world I have walked in. If not, why not? If not now, when?
Later there is a quote attributed to Confucius... "If you don't change the direction in which you are going, you will end up where you are headed."
I was not headed in a good direction in many ways. That I have been fortunate to have had a mid-life wake-up call when I still had the time to do the work, the healing, and continue on through the rest of my days living fully all that I was meant to do and be is a true gift of grace, and I am more humbled and feel more blessed than I can say.
May your own path become clear, may your soul be a reflecting pool that shows you who you are and who you are meant to be. May we all have the grace to keep moving forward. I wish you all of this and more, from an open heart.