Photo credit: Nicole Mlakar
It’s hard to believe I haven’t written a blog in seven months. Seven months? How’d that happen?
Hearing myself say “seven months,” I’m chuckling as I picture the classic scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when Principal Ed Rooney calls Ferris’ mom to say he’s been absent nine times this semester.
“Nine times?” she says in her suburban Chicago accent. “I don’t remember him being sick nine times.”
Of course, we all know he wasn’t sick; he was skipping school. During the same scene, we see Ferris hacking into the school’s computer to change his absent days from nine to two. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’m not a hacker and there’s no one keeping record of my seven-month absence from blogging.
Except me, that is. And maybe you if you’d become a reader. Thanks for sticking with me, by the way. I’m sorry for going off-grid with no warning.
The truth is I didn’t plan on off-gridding. I encountered it.
I encountered it as part of a journey I’ve been on the last two years. The hero’s journey taking me from the first half of my life into the second.
For me – and for all willing midlife transitioners – these years have been about grappling with who I’ve been and what I was about for my first 4 ½ decades. It has been about reckoning with and reconciling my past, grieving losses, acknowledging disappointments, and accepting failures.
On the first leg of the journey, I despaired, disillusioned, raged, wept, and wrestled. I felt disoriented within my self, depleted in energy, deprived of tribe, and downright defeated in my attempts to fight with my war-torn and worn-out first-half survival armor made of control, compensation and codependency.
If this sounds unpleasant and maybe even harsh or brutal, you’re catching my drift.
I used to eyeroll when I heard the term “hero’s journey.” It felt a bit hokey and abstract for my taste not to mention over-used AF. I’ve changed my mind and am totally good with calling this my hero’s journey because I would have never made it this far without some BHE. Big Hero Energy.
I’ve done all this in service to a higher cause, though – my Soul. I’ve chosen to heed the call of my sacred inner spark and committed to trusting that it was lighting my way through the dark.
As I’ve moved from being driven by my ego to drawn by my soul, I traded the known for the new. The problem is I had to give up the known long before the new showed up. That’s the deal. More hero shit.
I let die what had already lived so new life could begin. That’s the task for all of us in any major life transition, and certainly in midlife. We must leave one familiar and often comfortable place before we find the next. We must end one phase before beginning another.
As I’ve moved from being driven by my ego to drawn by my soul, I’ve traded the known for the new. The problem is I had to give up the known long before the new ever showed up.
Entering the Fertile Void
Somewhere along the way, the terrain of my journey began to change. It went from treacherous to less so to not so at all. The journey stopped feeling so arduous and battle-filled.
I noticed I began to change too. I felt light-er and clear-er although by no means light or clear. And although more sure, I was far from completely sure of myself or where I was going. I was only sure that I was still alive and indeed heading somewhere.
I’d entered what I’ve taken to calling the “fertile void” part of the journey. Sometimes referred to as the “liminal space” or simply but accurately “the in-between place,” it’s perhaps the deepest stage of any rite of passage. It’s the after-death-but-before-life phase. The in-between our ego’s death and our soul’s (re)birth.
We don’t talk much about the fertile void. We prefer clear beginnings and clean endings over the ambiguous and amorphous middle part filled with awkward, unsettled uncertainty.
Pema Chodron writes “we are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.”
She goes onto say “the challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid.”
The softening she speaks of is into our emerging soul - our true nature and authentic self. The “I” and “me” that will soon rejoin and rejoice with the “we.”
The void, of course, is the seeming nothingness or maybe nowhereness. My experience and those of my clients affirm this. This leg of the journey can feel like nothing is happening because it can look like that’s the case.
It can seem stagnant and like growth and momentum have stopped. They haven’t, of course. Our experience of them is just evolving as we are.
There is indeed growth and hearty life gestating beneath the surface. While not visible just yet, living within the rich, nutrient-dense ground you're on are seeds that will soon grow into the powerful and established self you’ve been and are working to become. The heroic self who will soon be ready to fill the second half of your life with all that is notably you.
A life cultivation practice
Since you can’t rely on seeing the fruits of your heroic labor just yet, you must sense your way through the fertile void. Like Pema’s softening, the sensing asks for you to turn inward and listen for inner guidance and wisdom.
It asks you to stay with what’s there – and not there – and to do this for just a bit longer than you think you can. Each time you do this without saying “I can’t, it’s too hard!” as you turn away or “see, it’ll never happen for me” as you throw your hands up, you will cultivate new life.
That’s your job title now - New Life Cultivator. Put that on your nametag. Your task at this stage in the “middle lands” is to cultivate, tend to and care for your life – and your soul-drawn self in it – knowing that is life. Your life.
You can do this with a daily practice of asking for and listening to inner guidance. Start with turning inward by taking a few breaths to quiet and center yourself in the present moment, relax your shoulders and bring awareness to your heart. Then, experiment with asking questions like:
a. What am I here to learn on this part of the journey?
b. What is next for me? How will I know when I’m ready?
c. Where am I most needed now? How and who am I here to serve?
d. What is being asked of me so that I may complete my journey?
e. Who am I becoming? Who am I being called to?
Doing this consistently will help cultivate what you need most in the transition, liminal, in-between space – a new and intimate relationship with your soul.
So how about your soul? Whether you are pre-midlife (mid-late 30s) or firmly in it, where are you on your hero’s journey? Maybe you’ve reached the fertile but uncertain ground of the in-between place, or perhaps you’re through the void and living to tell. Or you may have just set out and the storm clouds are rolling in.
Wherever you are, just know it’s necessary and on time. You’re doing critical work for yourself, yes, but it will serve the rest of us too. We need you do go out, seek and find your soul in that most fertile in-between place. We have full faith you can do it.
We commend you for your commitment and we're waiting for you with open arms - and a mezcal margarita - on the other side.