Your Midlife Season of Life
Long ago, when I was a child, there was a song that used to be on the radio. September Song, by Kurt Weill.
I remember my mother would pause when it started to play. I remember the wistful look on her face as she listened…
Oh it’s a long, long time
From May to December
And the days grow short
When you reach September
When the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time
For the waiting game…
It was the first time I ever considered that our days, months and years could be understood through a metaphor.
The song is a metaphor for a season of life.
Even though I asked my mother what the song meant, I don’t really know what she was thinking as she listened to this beautiful, haunting melody. She was in her late 30’s, on the cusp of midlife.
And maybe, like many of us in midlife and beyond already know, the experience brought with it an inkling that her next season of life would be vastly different from the one she was in.
Nowadays, there are many ways to explore life through a seasonal lens.
The most common theme is that each season represents an age or stage of life:
- Spring: Childhood
- Summer: Young Adulthood
- Autumn: Midlife
- Winter: Old Age
While it’s certainly an interesting concept it seems quite limiting. I mean, can’t we access any season within ourselves at any stage of life?
After all, it was Albert Camus who wrote:
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
His words remind us that we only have to look to literature, poetry and music to understand the powerful pull of seasonal metaphors to capture complex emotional states.
Seasonal metaphors can be a balm during our middle years.
With so much happening during midlife, particularly for women, we need other ways to process and make sense of the changes we’re experiencing.
In midlife many of us go through the often rocky journey of perimenopause, only to arrive at menopause, with its own set of complications and freedoms. Our bodies (and self-identities) age and change in ways we hadn’t anticipated.
Yet the world we live in tries to capture our attention (and resources) by mostly denying this normal aging process. Even after decades, we still hear that we’re not getting older, we’re getting better. And 60 is the new 40. (I think. Because it’s always changing.)
And we can’t forget that this is a time when children grow up and leave home, often to return again. Not only are we usually the ones to look out for growing children and aging elders, we also begin to lose relatives and dear ones in midlife.
At the same time, work that was okay (or not quite enough) might begin to feel flat or confining or exhausting. Routines become boring and we may unearth the uncomfortable truth that our relationships have grown stale and dull.
No wonder midlife can feel like an overload of seasons to sort through.
Sometimes, even when the outward circumstances of our lives remain relatively calm during midlife, there’s still a feeling of internal unrest that keeps scratching at the door.
A deep internal hum grows louder and more persistent, like bees buzzing on summer lavender.
It’s a time when you may feel like life is passing you by, and a frightening but compelling question might begin to take root:
If this season of life is all it’s going to be for the rest of my life, is it enough for me?
Lately, during my midlife musings, I’m remembering my mother.
I wonder if, at the precipice of midlife, the song about getting older got under her skin in some way.
I know I wonder this because my mother’s midlife was cut short far too soon. She only made it to 49.
I also wonder about it because of what happened to me a few years ago in the midst of deepening into my personal midlife journey, when I went searching for my own season of life.
But it wasn’t a song that got its hooks into me, it was a question posed by poet David Whyte:
Are you Harvesting from this Year’s Season of Life?
It’s part of his essay, 10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away. And while they’re all good questions, this one in particular kept pulling me back to it, a knot I couldn’t untie all the way.
As Whyte explains it, humans tend to prefer comfort over change, and as a result “get behind in the curve of their own transformation.” Then, we keep pushing away the discomfort of transition until we’re forced to face it when some kind of loss or trauma wakes us up.
But, “having spent so much time away from what is real, [we] hit present reality with such impact that [we] break apart on contact with the true circumstance.”
I’d say that’s a pretty wise perspective on human nature and the nature of transition. And a few years ago I was surprised to discover that it applied to me in some ways, when I serendipitously came upon Whyte’s question.
Still, I was fairly sure I knew what season of life I was in: the days growing shorter (like the song says). Moving towards the later seasons of midlife.
It turns out I had more to discover about this season of life.
After getting a bit lost in Whyte’s question, I began to wonder if I was living behind the curve of my own transformation.
In spite of the somewhat radical (and fairly successful) life transitions I’d recently made, I felt confused.
Had my inner self really kept pace with it all?
I definitely dropped into the discomfort of the season of life I was in, largely because challenging things had happened that I hadn’t foreseen and couldn’t control. (Losing my dearest friend to brain cancer; Trump’s election; multiple years of devastating and frightening wildfires and evacuations; my husband’s somewhat difficult retirement; a global pandemic.)
So a part of me longed for more comfort, for the day when things would feel normal again. My journal was a constant companion during these times. I returned to it often, digging down below the surface questions.
One day I unearthed a buried insight about life transitions and life stages.
Here’s what I finally remembered: no matter how hard you try, you can’t always quantify these things.
Of course, I knew this! I had explored it with many clients, but couldn’t see it in my own life.
I realized that while David Whyte genuinely wishes that we humans could be more in sync with the curves of our transitions and seasons of our lives so that we don’t lose track of where we are, it isn’t always within our control.
This is the nature of grief, change, transition, what Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls the Life-Death-Life Cycle. There is hope and a way through, yet it’s often true that the hard part is going to be what it is going to be.
But Whyte goes on to propose that we can sync up with our seasons by frequently asking: Where am I now?
That proved to be a helpful journaling question that led to one I liked even more: What inner parts of me need more of my time and attention in this season of life?
Yet, in spite of all the journaling, something was still missing.
It bothered me. So much so that I kept honing in on one particular part of Whyte’s essay:
If you were a farmer, and you tried to harvest what belonged to the previous season, you’d exhaust yourself trying to bring it in when it’s no longer there. Or attempting to gather fruit too early, too hard or too late and too ripe…A person must understand the conversation happening around them as early in the process as possible and then stay with it until it bears fruit.
Not only did these words pique my curiosity but they puzzled me as well.
- Did I truly understand what I was harvesting in this season of life?
- Had I missed something?
- Is that why everything felt so hard?
So one day, kind of as a last resort, I turned to my husband and asked him the question: Dave, what does it mean to you to harvest from this year’s season of life?
His answer was so clear and uncomplicated. It almost instantly opened me up to what I knew but didn’t know I knew yet.
That day I finally saw how simple it can be to know what season of life you’re in.
Here’s what my husband said:
Harvesting from this year’s season of life means enjoying all the delicious fruits, nuts and berries that are available right now.
(He was speaking metaphorically, of course.)
His answer stopped me in my tracks. It was a turning point, the realization that there is always something delicious to harvest, even during difficult seasons of life.
Even when you’re out of sync with your personal transformations.
Now I know: You begin naming your season of life by naming what’s here for you now.
I’d forgotten that in midlife we often go a little unconscious to what’s available right now. This definitely happened to me.
Can I say it’s a little like putting the cart before the horse? I know, that’s a pretty outdated metaphor. But in the quest to get out of the muck and confusion of transition, you often want to escape the present and run ahead to what you think will be better. Or even return to where you were previously comfortable.
But by anchoring yourself to even the simplest things that are here right now, you begin to calm your brain and body, making space for the wisdom that will not only help you understand the season of life you’re in, but also reveal the path to your next season of life.
You can start by naming simple and pleasurable experiences, behaviors, feelings.
That’s the point when my journaling took a decided turn.
Praises for sunlight and wild turkeys, warm fires and winter sunsets began filling the pages. One day, quite unexpectedly, I wrote five pages on the pleasures of morning coffee:
It’s the ritual, the separating the drip cone from the cup, the pouring in of milk, the warmth of the cup in your hand. No matter the season you somehow need that warm cup to wrap your fingers around. It’s the transition from the warm bed to the warm cup.
Not long after that I discovered I could name my season of life: A season for savoring the things I used to take for granted.
And if you were to press me to name an actual season, I’d say it feels like late summer moving toward autumn. Warm days and cooler nights. A certain scent in the air that’s familiar and unnameable. The abundance of a garden on the edge of things.
Journaling Invitations to Unearth Your Season of Life
- Make a list: What (metaphorical) fruits, nuts and berries are available for me to harvest right now that I may or may not be noticing? (These might be very simple things.)
- Write short vignettes/snapshots about the things on your list. Slow down, savor, fully appreciate them. Write from sense memory and capture sensory details.
- Do a sprint through these writing prompts, spending about two minutes on each one:
-I really appreciate…
-The best part of my day is…
-I always love it when this happens…
-If my season were a color it would be…
-If my season were a place it would be…
-What I know about my season is…
A few days before I wrote this post, I hosted a journaling workshop.
About 25 amazing women gathered and together we journaled through the process I’ve shared here.
At the end of the workshop I asked each woman to put a few words from their journaling that day into the Zoom chat.
Below you’ll find the group poem that emerged from that 90 minutes huddled with our journals and each other.
Putting these group poems together after a women’s circle or workshop is truly a transformational experience for me.
And this one’s for my mother. As our individual voices merge and echo out into the wild and wider world, I’m pretty sure she’s listening.
Harvesting From This Year’s Season of Life
My ripening is about awakening
(no more languishing)
I want to learn from the clouds
and chickadees, the sound of chimes
that foster this lightness of being
to get lost in colors and textures and paint
reliving the joy of a simple moment
awakening to a year of transitions.
* * * * *
Time to give out parting gifts of forgiveness
moving fully into the next phase of my life
taking my power back from anyone or
anything I have given it away to.
Access my magic, access my gifts
grounding with the earth
feeling the sunrise warm the air
* * * * *
My season of gratitude
for the many parts of me
ripe for the taking
known or unknown in any lifetime
showing up fully with all of me.
Remembering: slow down listen
reflect…I have all the resources
I need to honor all the parts of me.
* * * * *
Relationships make a garden of life
a garden with all the parts of me
morning journaling in my hammock
alchemy of boiling water ground coffee
the best part of my day.
Singing spontaneously for no reason
soft, hard edges smoothed out
in this season of life…with me.
* * * * *