So you have been finding yourself waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat? Maybe you find yourself standing in the middle of the grocery store trying to choose which protein bar to buy and you suddenly realize you’re fighting back tears. Something doesn’t feel right. Something has changed. Your emotions are on edge and every nerve ending seems so raw! You wonder if you’re losing your grip on life. Maybe, you need a vacation? Or maybe, it’s too late for that. You’re embarrassed to talk about this with anyone. You don’t want to alarm your friends. You fear you’re alone in this.
Trust me, you’re not alone.
Last night I was sitting with a group of friends making a joke about how tough it has been for me lately, half-heartedly referring to this new state as a midlife crisis. But this morning I woke up and thought, “What the heck did I say? I don’t mean that at all!” I want to set the record straight, this is not a midlife crisis, this is a rebirth. And birth is often painful. But it is also miraculous and joyous and filled with hope.
Our culture doesn’t have the language to discuss what happens when you hit 40. It doesn’t talk a lot about the “empty nest” and the changing bodies and the growing need for play and pleasure in a positive way.
We call it a midlife crisis when a man buys a sports car, or a divorced woman dates a younger man. We judge these people as foolish and often scorn their choices. We assume that they are “falling apart.” But what if they are finally falling into place?
I want to offer us a new way to look at this time in our life. I want to talk about the pruning that happens, so that there can be new growth; the risks that we take, so that we can feel fulfilled; the reevaluation of our dreams and goals, so that we can reach our full potential; and the deep emotional and spiritual work that we do, so that we can come home to ourselves.
You’re starting an amazing new adventure. And just like any trailblazer you’re going to get nervous, you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to wonder what the heck you were thinking, you’re going to feel lost, and you’re going to get to the end–stronger and better than you began.
You’re living in an amazing time where people get to actually create their own “do-overs.” Where the titles that once defined us can be shed, and we can become more ourselves.
Our first birth into this world is often, to this world. We are swept up in the current of life that surrounds us. We are given a name, we are told who we are, where we belong, where we don’t belong, and what we are allowed to have. We are completely chained to the physical through this “training” program.
But then as we grow, we begin to unlearn things. We start to realize that these definitions and titles and rules are only guidelines and not hard and fast, immoveable mountains. We awake to realize, we are not our jobs, our social status, or our social roles. We also realize how these little cages that have been built for us no longer serve our needs.
Then we reach the stage where we tear ourselves from the safe womb of this world and we are reborn into our true selves.
Four Aspects of Your Rebirth
The Great Pruning
This is an aspect of everyone’s rebirth. We begin to awaken to our need for a simpler existence. We cut out the things that we no longer need. Sometimes we sell off our collections of memorabilia and junk. We recognize that certain relationships are draining and that they no longer fill our needs for a deep connection. We look in the mirror and decide that our clothes and hair are no longer congruous with whom we have become, or with whom we wish to be.
This is the great pruning of the branches that no longer bear fruit. There is no need to mourn it, but be grateful for what it gave you and know that there will be new growth to come. Take a deep breath, give it a good “snip” with the shears and release it.
The Flowering of the Courageous Heart
Sometimes people look at our lives from the outside, they see our new behaviors and begin to wonder if they ever knew us. We decide to take up salsa dancing and learn a new language. We start wearing clothes that aren’t considered “safe” or in fashion. We paint our living room fuchsia and make friends with people half our age. We decide that the old way of living was cold and sterile and mundane.
We now know, through the flowering of our courageous heart, that living quietly in our little cages is not how you learn to sing. The fear that used to stop us from trying new things still may exist, but our fear of not experiencing something new becomes even stronger. We start to give a lot less care to what others think of us, because we realize that our lives are our own. It is glorious and joyous and amazingly exciting! What a gift it is, to be free of those old “shoulds” that held us down!
The New Path
Have you ever looked at your career or life choices and just stopped dead in your tracks and shook your head in complete disbelief, mumbling, “what the fudge was I thinking?” Do not despair. This is fantastic! Your pruning stage has probably allowed you to see what isn’t working. You have probably realized that you were living someone else’s life. It may have been a beautifully curated one, following all of the rules, or it may have been a bit haphazard and messy. Regardless, you have finally wiped the sleep from your eyes. Now you can see things more clearly.
A lot of people are going to want to offer you advice on your new path. Listen to yourself. Make sure that the advice you heed is not based entirely out of fear or their own projections of what is a life well lived.
There are thousands of books out there that will offer advice to you on your new path. Some will tell you strategically how to launch into a new career or romantic relationship. These are often formulaic and may not work for you. Remember to take your own personal lived experiences into consideration. What works for one person, may not work for the next.
Other books will tell you how to get in touch with your playful side. These are great for those of us who have lived too seriously; but again, be careful. Some of us have been “playing” too long and need to get serious.
One of the most dangerous books is the one that tells you how to survive your “crisis.” Be very wary of any book that refers to this time in your life as a crisis or some other negative experience that must be managed. Finding a new direction for your life is not a crisis to be managed, it is an amazing opportunity to redirect your sails. Never forget how wide and open the ocean is, or how important it is to navigate with the compass of your heart.
The Awakening Spirit
If you are truly lucky and open to it, your spirit can awaken to such beautiful new horizons and to such deep fulfillment. This is the greatest gift of your rebirth. In the beginning it is painful, like your heart is cracking open. Maybe you cry at the weirdest moments; like parades, school assemblies, or a business meeting. It can be really uncomfortable and make you doubt your mental health. But breathe through it.
You begin to question everything around you. You see the whole of the world in a new light. All of a sudden you see the suffering around you and you become overwhelmed. You wonder if you can actually do anything to help?
You might even feel like you’ve been tossed overboard, frantically swimming in a tempestuous sea. But bear with it. Allow yourself to feel this wound, so that you can heal yourself. It’s time you came home.
So much of our early lives is lived trying to achieve, to become something. We go from completely dependent babies, to toddlers, to children, to teens, to young adults, and then finally to adulthood. Then, at the end of our lives, we become elderly, or older adults. There doesn’t seem to be a name for how we truly change. We don’t have the language to define how our spirit awakens to a new way of seeing the world.
The early phases of our lives are about developing our bodies and our intellect to become “productive” adults. We are kept busy with this until we reach the age of 40, give or take 5 years. At that point we feel almost alien to our own inner world. We often go back to our childhoods, to get in touch with that voice that we were once able to hear. That voice that was filled with love, trust, joy, and adventure. It is waiting for you. It has been waiting all along. The trick is to stay silent. To open your ears. To give yourself space, so that it can come through.
My rebirth started quite a few years ago. It’s a process. Some things started to feel “tight” and didn’t fit, so I needed to discard them. I’ve been weeding out my possessions and my unwanted beliefs. If it doesn’t help me or support me in some way, it doesn’t have a place in my life.
I’m still working on building my courage to live the life I want. I’m finding my voice. I’ve started asking for a place at the table, to value my skills and insight, and to share the gifts I’ve been given. I’m asking for the companionship and love that I’ve been missing and opening up and becoming vulnerable, in a way I couldn’t in my twenties.This all takes extreme courage. It takes strength and outrageous bravery.
My path and my awakening are completely intertwined, as many of our rebirths are. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend months being silent. I read books, watched documentaries, asked the big questions, and through that all I found a new path. I heard her voice and I have started in a new direction.
It hasn’t been a perfectly straight line. Sometimes I get off track, and then I get back on again. Sometimes I fear that I’m not worthy of the new life I believe I’m supposed to live. But I calm those fears, like soothing a frightened child.
I remind myself that I will have the ability and the strength for each new step on this path, as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other.
So today I will begin to tell my friends that I’m going through a rebirth, not a midlife crisis. I’m so lucky to have the people in my life to partake in this journey. I’m going to use this new language to express what I’m going through. This time of my life is not to be managed or endured. I don’t need to apologize for not acting “normal.” I love who I’m becoming, tears and all. This is what it means to be reborn; to prune the old, to be courageous, to forge a new path, and to awaken.