Midlife can be bleak territory to navigate, once it hits home that you’ve landed and there’s no going back.
For the longest time, I could only focus on the paths I’d walked that appeared to me to have come to nothing. I’d wake in the early hours filled with dread that their meaning was that I had, in fact, come to nothing. Where had ‘I’ — the me I had thought I’d be — gone?
Day to day, life was to be grateful for… there were joyful times and there was still plenty of adventuring and worthwhile action. But the thought that wriggled in the stillness of the night was, ‘You should have been more by now. Or at least be surer.’
Maybe you’ll have an inkling of what I mean.
You might have once thought you knew your ‘purpose’, but reality now does not match your original expectation. Or, even though you feel your essence in some aspects of what you do, you haven’t yet found that one thing or one path that you once believed would give meaning and reason to everything.
You might have written that first book, or made those intriguing paintings, or created some possibly quite brilliant other stuff that you thought was important, a step towards something clearer. But now, they are in the past, and when you try to create any ‘art’ at all, you find your attention span is short, and concentration elusive. There’s little urge, it feels like a huge effort.
‘Are you painting? Or writing?’ people would ask me. I didn’t know what to say.
You look back and see only the cut or frayed threads. You haven’t given life to or raised another human being. You’ve said goodbye to so many things you once loved (and even things you still love) in the quest for space to ‘seek your truth’. Others have vanished back into the Universe or the Heavens because it was their time to go. Your way of life is pretty solitary, because, increasingly, you’ve needed it to be.
I sought calm and quiet in order to allow my dread to surface.
Eventually I thought, ‘How will I face my Soul family on the day I die and they say to me, What the hell were you doing down there, blind to all those gifts we gave you, you totally missed the point?‘
And when I thought this thought, I knew it was at the heart of the matter, because the energy around the thought was so heavy, it felt like it would and could never leave me. But, at the same time, it was a relief to ‘name’ the dread: I believe that once I see a truth, I can start to transform it, if I want to.
As my sister once wrote for me on this scrap of paper (around the year 2000)…
“Vision and transformation”
See the way things are
and change them…
And in that belief, that transformation is in our power, I didn’t just think this thought in secret. I brought it into the light — I spoke it aloud, to trusted friends, several times over the course of 2018. And because I did, I’m writing this now.
One friend assured me that I didn’t need to exhaust myself in further seeking, that the answer was already within me. Another read me a beautiful poem from John O’Donohue‘s Anam Cara (Soul Friends). Another’s resonance with my struggle lifted me enough to inspire the drawing that accompanies these words.
My dread softened into compassion.
Then, in November, an older-than-me and wiser-than-me friend said, ‘But you know it’s not about the individual threads Sal, it’s about the cloth.’
In the weeks that followed, I reflected on this. I decided to give myself permission to grieve for and then let go of any previous expectations of me, and just free myself to be who I actually am now.
One night in December, I had a new vision of me.
I had a fine golden needle in my hand, the ends of fraying silken threads in my fingers slipping easily through its eye and disappearing into the vast violet, green, pink and blue patterns that swirled and moved like mountains and valleys and ocean waves over my knees. There was no dominant colour, no single pattern. They emerged and vanished and shape-shifted as I stared into them.
I saw that I am in all the threads as they appear to come and go in my life, but all the threads are in me forever.
Maybe until midlife we actually need to focus on the individual threads to motivate us and open up our experience of being human. And the cloth only becomes visible, or can be sensed, in the second half of life, once we are ready to release our grip on all we had imagined we would become. It’s only then that we can see the beautiful truth — of who we now really are. For some of us, what could matter, is simply that we put our heart into everything we do, and the fact that in our very nature we are seekers, explorers and adventurers means that there may never be that ‘one thing’; because as soon as we thought we’d found it, we’d probably feel like a butterfly in a small box.
And anyway, without all the threads, even the broken, cut or torn ones, there would be no fabric to form the stunning coat the Soul must surely want to wear on its final journey, home.
Perhaps the Soul family waits with excitement to see it.
Oh Sal, they will surely say, when they see mine, It’s perfect. Like a kaleidoscope of rainbows.
It’s a joyful thought, isn’t it?
Yes. It is…
And with it, you know what? It’s cool. I feel free.
Why am I writing this?
1. Because, if I felt this ‘midlife dread’ (fear, panic, confusion, guilt, sadness) for months and months in my fifty-fifth year, maybe someone else is feeling it too. I thought, ‘Why is there no midlife map for people like me?’ Hand-crafted maps are great because you can choose to use them how you want, they don’t make you go anywhere. They give you some honest information based on the experience of someone who has already explored the territory, then leave you to choose the route. 2. I wish that more older voices can be valued and heard on the challenging subject that is the second half of life, because listening to them has helped me. And if you wish for something, perhaps you have to be part of making it come true.
3. Because after a very long time of being ‘quiet’, I felt compelled to do it. In a sense, I had no choice.
Disclaimer: Of course I know we are all very different, and our life journeys too. Some of us have children, or have relationships that stand the test of time, others do not. Some of us do feel we find our purpose, others have never believed in one. Some of us believe in Soul families, others might laugh at the idea. Some of us never experience any kind of ‘midlife crisis’, others do. I can only write my own account. If it resonates, great. If it doesn’t, great. I am grateful that you took the time to read my words.
 Of all the books I read during this period, Anam Cara was the most comforting. I know I shall return to it many times in the coming years.
 Day 11 My friend is the sun is the watercolour-pencil drawing I made, after talking with my friend, on day eleven of an attempt to explore my mental states and the effect on them of daily drawings during October 2018. Of the nineteen daily drawings I created, this is the first one that seemed to transmit hope.
I’ll be super-happy if you share my creations. Please use short quotes from the piece if you like and do share the images, but always always link back here:
For any other use, please ask me first.
See the journey of my paintings and drawings over the years here:
Photographed with an iPhone the colours can be compromised and small amounts of cropping can occur. The real paintings and drawings speak more clearly.
Share art, share <3.
© Sally Townsend Blake 2018