“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.”

Gail Sheehy

    From time to time I will be using this blog to introduce some of you and to remind others of  women who offer us significant insight, courage and wisdom.  The first woman that I’m featuring here is Gail Sheehy.

When my daughter, Kristen, was growing up she and I frequently visited used book stores.  One afternoon while I was completely absorbed in the stacks she tapped me on the shoulder and when I looked up, she handed me a book.  It was a copy of Gail Sheehy’s, Passages.  “Don’t you wish that you’d written this mom?” she asked.  “Why honey?”  “Because I see this book in every store we go to,  she must have sold a million of them!” she replied enthusiastically.

My little girl was right on both counts, the book had been a best seller (making Tom Butler Bowden’s list of 50 top psychology classics) and yes, actually, now that she’d mentioned it, I did wish that I’d written it.

Sheehy reassures us that once we reach our mid forties, it truly isn’t  “all downhill from there.”  In  fact, as we enter what Sheehy describes in her follow up book, “New Passages,”  as our second adulthood, we’re presented with a multitude of opportunities for self discovery, reinvention,  and “new and more meaningful ways to live.  involuntary losses can become the catalyst for voluntary changes in the practice of our lives, altering the efforts that we make to connect with others, the values we choose to make congruent with our actions, the habits we change to support better health, the responsibilities we accept for mentoring the next generation and civilizing our communities, country, and planet… The massive shift in the passage to second adulthood involves a transition from survival to mastery.”

During our second adulthood the world cries out for our wisdom as never before.

Following is an interview with Gail Shehy speaking with Diane Rehm about the life passages that we each face.

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Photographer: Allison Fowles

Benefit Your Body and Emotions with Mindful Practices

There is growing evidence for the benefits of mindfulness on our health and well-being, but what does it actually mean to be mindful and how can it help us achieve greater wellness? Put simply, mindfulness is where we focus on our thoughts, feelings and environment. We do not pass any judgment on these and concentrate on just the moment so that our thoughts do not drift to the past or future. This Buddhist concept allows us to have greater awareness of ourselves, take responsibility for our actions and bring about welcome changes.

Mechanisms for mindfulness

There are four main components of mindfulness. Firstly, attention regulation, where we concentrate on a given entity, allows us to maintain our focus on the present. Secondly, body awareness puts us more in tune with our body when we concentrate on aspects such as our breathing or other sensations. Then emotion regulation, where we avoid examining our feelings, lets us accept our reactions to situations. Finally, by changing our self-perspective we acknowledge that change is possible, facilitating us to take positive steps that enhance our well-being.

Promoting better health through mindfulness

When we are mindful we can achieve better physical health. It is certainly the case that when we are more mindful of what we eat this helps us to select healthier foods and exert portion control, aiding weight maintenance and weight loss. There is also evidence that mindful practices can help us manage pain better and create a stronger immune system. However, your mental wellness can improve as well. For instance, practicing mindfulness is a valuable therapy to manage stress, anxiety, low mood and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also possible to boost memory, concentration and learning when we are more mindful. The benefits of mindfulness don’t end there though. Mindful practices can also promote stronger relationships and greater community spirit, as it makes us better at empathizing with others.

Appropriate use of mindful practices

All therapies have potential limitations and mindfulness is no exception. For example, when you are overly mindful this can make you hypersensitive to situations, such as your perception of pain. Equally, mindfulness may stifle creativity and stand in the way of learning new habits unconnected to conscious awareness. However, when you receive suitable instruction on this practice and understand when it is appropriate to use mindfulness, the benefits of this form of meditation far outweigh its potential drawbacks.

By Juliette Foster

Read Juliette’s Mindfulness guide here!

Here’s an important message for those of us who are hard on ourselves.

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I’m sorry that you’re hurting so desperately right now. I know how painful the seconds, and minutes, and days can be, how long the nights are. I understand how very hard hanging on is, and how much courage it takes.

I ask though that you hold onto one day at a time. Just one day, and slowly this despair will pass. The feelings you fear you’re trapped in will serve their purpose, and then fade away. Difficult to imagine isn’t it? Almost impossible to believe when every cell in your body it seems cries out in agony, desperately in need of comfort. When it feels like the only thing in the whole world that can touch your pain and banish it is beyond your grasp. And after all this time, the assurance that you will heal has become an empty, broken promise.

Just let one tiny cell in your body continue to believe in the promise of healing. Just one. You can surrender every other cell to your despair. Just that one little cell of faith that you can heal and be whole again is enough to keep you going, is enough to lead you through the darkness. Although it can’t banish your suffering, it can sustain you until the time comes for you to let your pain go. And the letting go can only occur in its own time, as much as we would like to push the pain away forever.

Hold on. Hold on to appreciate the beauty of the earth, to feel the songs of the birds in your heart, to learn and to teach, to laugh a genuine laugh, to dance on the beach, to rest peacefully, to experience contentment, to want to be no other place but in the here and now, to trust in yourself, and to trust your life.

Hold on because it’s worth the terrible waiting. Hold on because you are worthy. Hold on because the wisdom that will follow you out of this darkness will be a tremendous gift. Hold on because you have so much love and joy waiting to be experienced. Hold on because life is precious, even though it can bring terrible losses. Hold on because there is so much that you can’t now imagine waiting ahead on your journey – a destiny that only you can fulfill. Hold on although your exhausted and your grasp is shaky, and you want more than anything to let go sometimes, hold on even though. Please hold on.

So much in life can be difficult, even impossible to understand. I know, I know… So many of us have cried in despair, “why?” “why?” “why?,” and still the answers and the comfort failed to show. Survival can be a long and lonely road, in spite of all those who’ve stumbled down the path before you. And it can be a treacherous, torturous journey – so easy to get lost, and yet impossible to avoid even one painful step.

And the light, the light at the end of the dark tunnel for so long cannot be seen, although eventually you’ll begin to feel its’ warmth as you move forward. And forward you must move in order to get through the hell of remembering, of despair, of rage, of grief. Keep looking forward please. Rest if you must, doubt your ability to survive the journey if you have to, but never let go of the guide ropes, although when you close your fingers around them, your hands feel empty, they are there. Please trust me, they are there…

When you’re exhausted, when all you have to count on is a weakened, weary faith, hold on. When you think you want to die, hold on until you recognize that it’s not death you seek, but for the pain to go away. Hold on, because this darkness will surely fade away.

Hold on…Please hold on.

My heart aches since learning of Robin Williams death. Depression has stolen yet another bright and beautiful soul – one whose life work has offered up so many lessons – to live an authentic life, to love with our whole being, the distinction between curing and healing, what it means to be a father, to see the world anew each day, that life is truly a miracle, to follow our dreams, that sometimes when you win you lose, there is unimaginable power that lives within our stories, that death is not the enemy, to seize the day, and so much more…
Robin’s death is a grim reminder that depression is a liar and that we can never afford to underestimate its power to convince even the brightest and the best of us that there is no reason to hope, and that there will be no better tomorrow. It informs us that reaching out to those in our lives who are despairing can literally be a matter of life and death and that “having it all” doesn’t guarantee happiness.
We’ll miss him….

The Warning Signs of Suicide

A Blessing a Day

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In “Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest,” Christina Baldwin suggests the following practice before going to sleep. First, pause and review the day, and then write a brief statement, selecting one experience that you’ve recalled that you are willing to acknowledge as a spiritual gift from the day. Complete your entry with the words “Thank you.” Baldwin also suggests that you circle or highlight these entries in your regular journal so that you can find and read them easily or purchase a special notebook specifically for this nightly exercise that you can keep by your bed. It’s remarkable how a simple act practiced daily can have such a significant impact on one’s life. Try it for 30 days and see what happens…

Here is mine from last night: “I watched two young girls work diligently to save a crab that had been stranded on the shore. Each time one of them would manage to help it into the water, the surf would tumble and roll it back onto the beach again. Finally, the girls succeeded in bringing it far enough out into the frigid Atlantic that it did not make another futile return to the beach. It seemed to regain its equilibrium and went on its way. I was touched by the girls altruism and determination. Thank you.”

What will you be thankful for this night?

I recently discovered the work of spiritual teacher, Jeff Foster, who suggests that depression is an invitation to awakening and observes, “It’s interesting that the word “depressed” is spoken phonetically as “deep rest”. We can view depression not as a mental illness, but on a deeper level, as a profound (and very misunderstood) state of deep rest, entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own (false) story of ourselves. It is an unconscious loss of interest in the second-hand – a longing to ‘die’ to the false.”

Depression, asserts Foster, calls us to rest and to heal. Depression invites us to claim our authentic selves, and honor our deepest truths.


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