Lessons From a 54th Spring

Los Angeles, California — There are trips you take that are laden with adventure, and then there are the quiet trips where the adventures take place in your soul.

I’ve been writing my eyes out these last couple of days, immersed in expressive writing classes as part of an Expressive Arts summit that I’m attending in the city of angels. Expressive Writing is a tool I intend to use more of in my grief coaching clients and with depressed and anxious youth. In order to be effective, I’ve had to practice doing it myself. It’s been my guiding principle never to use any method on my clients which I have not tried and tested. Expressive Writing is both an exhausting and liberating exercise that gives the client clarity, wisdom and courage for the way forward.

It’s been affirming to re-discover that the intersection between writing and healing is where I want to be. Writing has been my way in the world. Now I am grateful to learn the techniques and to be able to put structure in a writing method that helps others make sense of the difficult things in life at the same time as we witness their pain.

With my teacher, Dr Kay Adams

Today in class I wrote, “Sometimes you need be gutted first in order to rebuild.” And often in life, you are gutted, not just once, but twice. Thrice even. But it is in the gutting where, in the presence (or not) of kind and affirming companions on the journey that you discover or are reminded about your strengths, of what you are capable of, and that with God’s help

you can rebuild again.

There were many moments on this trip where I was often alone with my thoughts. One afternoon, my friend Natalie and I went our separate ways and I strolled through gardens, and contemplated on art at the The Huntington Gardens and Libraries in San Marino. In one hall, I found myself mesmerized by the beautiful marble statue of Pandora depicting her in a vulnerable moment as she gazed upon the box in her hand. I stood there thinking about some of the choices I had made in life, how it’s always a delicate and tenuous moment when we make certain decisions that change the course of our lives for better or for worse. When Pandora opened the box, the only thing left inside was hope. I stayed with that thought as I gazed up at her beautiful face.

Pandora. Marble. 1858. Chauncey Bradley Ives. The Huntington Gardens and Libraries.

Many quiet ordinary days where I enjoyed the silence and reveled in the solitude. And everywhere, there was so much laughter and love from family and friends who are like family to me. As I’ve grown older, and because technology has made connecting so much easier, distance is no longer a barrier to the ties that bind and keep us afloat.

It is when you are far away from everything familiar where you learn so much more about yourself. Away from your comfort zone, you hear yourself better, and new parts of the self make themselves more evident. In your 50s something inside your brain clicks that changes you. According to a study by Dr. Francine Benes, a psychiatrist at the Harvard Medical School, there are two significant increases in the accumulation of myelin – a 100 percent growth during the teenage years, and another 50 percent around the age of 50. And then there are the changes that menopause brings which also impact these brain changes. There is a newfound mellowness, pragmatism and courage that wasn’t there before. Psychiatrist Jean Shinoda Bolen said it best in her book, “Crones Don’t Whine” — “The suffering of others or the feeling of enough is enough radicalizes older women.”

Suzanne Braun Levine wrote in her bestselling book “Inventing the Rest of our Lives” that “When we gather for 50th and 60th birthdays, we ask each other if we are grown up yet. The answer is: Yes, we are grown up, but at the same time we are only halfway there. We are about to grow up again.”

It’s been good to get away, to learn new things, and engage in adventures of the soul. Every trip changes us in ways big and small, and the learning and the growing never stop. Now, I look forward to returning home, calm and ready to share the many lessons I have learned well in this season of life.

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