The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience. Emily Dickinson
I was watching Mamma Mia the other night and it made me sad. Well, more like annoyed. The idea that disturbed me was that the middle aged protagonist was living a boring, stale-feeling existence (on a beautiful island in Greece, d’oh!) and that her only way back to living an exciting life was to recapture the things she’d lost in youth – which were an errant boyfriend and her singing.
It disturbed me because this is a stereotype that propagates endlessly in our culture. One might have interesting experiences in middle age – but unless one is trying to reclaim one’s youth, the magical, fun, electrifying experiences are completely gone.
And I wholly disagree with that. I am nudging middle age – the internet isn’t totally sure what age it starts at – but my life certainly looks distinctly middle aged. I have two children – one of whom is 12 years old and is asking distinctly adult-sounding questions. I’ve been with my husband since the late 90’s.
My objection to all of this nonsense about middle age is how limited our view of what is possible for us not-20 year olds. How we seem to view middle age as some kind of descent, rather than what I believe it should be – an amazing ascent, an adventure in vitality, experience and fun of a totally different kind of than we had as younger people.
My idea here is not that we can have just as much fun as those youngsters – jeez, I don’t want any more of that kind of fun (I’ve had enough bad sex, brain-melting hangovers and walking through the city at dawn with chapped over-danced feet. Ok, the latter still sounds pretty fun :)).
I don’t want to recapture my youth, I want to awaken a new spirit within me that carries the tremendous wisdom I have at my age (hard won, I can tell you that). This, mixed with a deep appreciation of those things that are beautiful, sublime and life enhancing – not the frivolous and vacuous things that occupied me in youth (clothes, make-up, trendy restaurants etc.)
I want to chase the ecstatic. I want to plant myself in the middle of this world and say: what else do you have to show me?
The idea of this settles all around – what do we think is possible for us in our lives right now?
I believe the idea of possibility is wasted on the young, when really as middle-aged people we are in the best position to take advantage of the idea and potential of possibility.
What I think many of us believe middle age life to be:
Just a small casting around the inter-web brings out all kinds of insidious ideas about aging and middle age:
Dancing when it is done right is spontaneous, visceral and life-affirming, all the things that start slipping away once you become married and middle-aged. Sarfraz Manzoor
Ouch!!! So you’re going to give up dancing because your body is probably a bit heavier and stiff and you’re married??? Are you kidding? Give up something that has in previous times made you so happy.
Or this one:
No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful. Ernest Hemingway
And I know these aren’t technically false statements. But I think we are being sold a false bill of goods here. We are being encouraged to believe that middle-agedness is boring, and repetitive and full of mind-numbing responsibility. And the only alternative is to have a mid-life crisis.
That the times of wild excitement, of the electrifying thrill of possibility is long gone.
I know life can get like that, especially when you have a demanding job, young kids, older parents who need your help etc. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s not a foregone conclusion.
How do we propel ourselves out of the boringness of middle age?
I believe the process involves a few things:
- In order to have exhilarating experiences you need to try new things
- New things will often revolve around drawing you out of your comfort zone
- The more you push yourself out of your comfort zone the more interesting, exciting and electrifying experiences you’ll have
Let’s think about it. What makes youth so intoxicating is the newness of everything – the experiences of being out on your own as a young adult, of having a new job, of moving to your first place, of falling in love for the first time.
That tingle on your skin is simply a fact that we as humans are excited by the new, to push beyond what we know now, to go beyond habit and to seek out things that create new experiences for ourselves.
So, in order to feel that tingle of excitement in the life that you are living right now it all starts with trying new things.
Every time we do something different, something new, then we are changing our brain chemistry. We are issuing a direction to our subconscious, to our souls, saying – things are different now with me, I am doing things differently. Then in turn you start to change your perception of yourself.
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
And it can be with achingly, achingly small things. I used to say to myself, I am not a morning person. Then I got to a point a few years ago when I was finding working from home and having young children so stressful. I knew I needed to find some time to work in an uninterrupted capacity. I found it impossible to do after the kids were in bed, so I started to get up at 5am to work.
It took a few months to bed in the habit, and then even if I stopped for a few weeks or months, I always knew that I was someone who could get up early, I could be a morning person. By doing something small consistently I changed my perception of who I was – and what was possible for me as a person.
And I’ll tell you for nothing that once I got my butt out of bed, the deliciousness I felt of sitting alone in the depths of quiet in my living room working was worth all of the effort of moving my body out of bed. I found it so delicious it became exciting to get up early.
You just need one small change in your habits, your way of doing things, to create a little chink of light into the hardened shell of your habituated being and open up new worlds of possibility for yourself.
But there is more – I don’t think you can just stop at trying new things. It’s easy to do new things that are fun and bring easy goodness into your life. I think the real magic happens in your life when you decide to do new things that are tough for you, and perhaps invoke great fear.
That’s when you open your life to get really exciting.
You have to do things that make you grow and develop and push you out of your comfort zone. This will help you discover new and uncharted territories in your being.
And really if you think about it, you only need to do a little bit of staying out of your comfort zone every day to make a radical change in the size of your comfort zone after a few months.
In a week’s time I am leaving my little cute west London home, with my husband and my two children. We are setting sail into the world (metaphorically setting sail, not literally. I would hate to do that.)
We’ll be spends many months on slow work-travel in France, Hong Kong, India, Mexico and the like…
Now it may sound like I am running away from this stark reality of middle agedness and having my own mid-life crisis but no, actually I am setting out on one of the most personally challenging experiences I will have ever encountered – on purpose!
It is this, this element of challenge that I know will bring so much more into my life – I want to feel electrified by possibility.
You learn something valuable from all of the significant events and people, but you never touch your true potential until you challenge yourself to go beyond imposed limitations. Roy T. Bennett
I am throwing everything up in my life to see what else I can do. What is possible for me that I haven’t discovered, what is possible for me that I don’t know how to do.
I want to see what I am made of, I want to put myself into situations I will find super-challenging (which isn’t actually that hard, a field with a horse would do it). But I am going to kick it up a few gears and do some more exotic things – and see how I can grow and develop as a human being.
I want to learn to see what else I can believe about myself.
Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning. Mahatma Gandhi
If you want to electrify your life, it comes from a putting yourself in situations where you are pushed to grow.
And moving towards things that you really love and want to do – but probably terrify you – is the fastest way, in my book. For me it’s travelling to exotic countries, with lots of heat, danger-carrying mosquitos and killer jellyfish. (And the rest – travelling with my kids, being with the family 24/7, working without our support network of family & friends etc. etc.)
What you are afraid to do is a clear indicator of the next thing you need to do. Anthony Robbins
But you don’t have to travel the world or even leave your home to challenge yourself. It’s all about turning your belief on it’s head and saying – perhaps contrary to previous beliefs about myself – I could have a great relationship, I could earn more money, I could be a more patient parent. And it all starts for me with the idea of opening up your perception of what is possible.
One of the most important and growing costs of the modern way of life is ‘cultural fraud’: the promotion of images and ideals of ‘the good life’ that serve the economy but do not meet psychological needs, nor reflect social realities. Richard Eckersley
Let us grasp everything that makes us feel vital and alive, let us cheer from the rooftops about that things make us stupidly excited – whatever that may be.
Let us not become this:
The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil. C. S. Lewis
Let us deny the naysayers who say that life is a descent to death – but instead change it to an ascent to more knowledge, experience and relishing of the wonder of life.
I’d love to keep you updated about our journey – you can sign up for monthly updates straight to your inbox. Sign up box to the right 🙂
What Anthony and I will be doing on our travels
As Anthony, the kids and I meander around the world, settling into our little chosens spots for several weeks or months – Galle in Sri Lanka, Bacalar in Mexico, we will be doing a few different creative projects which I am beyond excited about.
My book & blog: I will be writing a book about the process of radical change. You can keep up to date with me/us, by following occasional updates here on my blog.
Photography workshops: Anthony and I will continue to run our very successful and well-reviewed photography workshops. We have a small selection over the next year of workshops in Anthony’s favourite places – Kerala, Mexico, Cuba, Hong Kong, Arles and Italy.
Anthony being the photographer (and amazing, amazing teacher. Don’t trust me, trust our clients) is the lead on these projects.
I am there as the organiser, plus joining in with the entertaining & fun parts. On our Mexico workshop I’ll be running early morning meditation sessions as an opportunity to get more fully and deeply connected to your creativity.
For me our workshops are focused on photography of course. However, the essence of them is that we are offering creative retreats, we are offering people the opportunity to take time out of their busy lives and totally and completely immerse themselves in a wonderful creative experience. These are transformative times of fun, photography and adventure.
Anthony will also be run a small number of live photography online workshops a couple of times per year, which are an awesome way to learn and work with him.
Free photo teachings: Anthony and I write a free photography blog that shares very powerful and simple ideas on how to get great photos and inspiration. We get awesome feedback – sign up for that here.
Anthony’s photos & books: Of course Anthony will continue to sell his photos and books. The breathtaking photos that utilize a talent that made me fall in love with him. His way of looking at the world is really incredible and he has taught me so much about how to appreciate the beauty in the every day.
And the kids!! What are they doing? Last – but clearly not least – we will be homeschooling our kids (or world schooling :)). We believe nothing could be more useful for them, particularly our 12 year old right now, than learning about the world – different cultures and people – than being immersed in it. If you’re interested, here is a little post I wrote about homeschooling, which we’ve been doing for about 5 years now. Things will be different on our trip – but the essence of how we homeschool is still the same.
If you feel the desire to share any of these projects and our blogs that would be awesome!!! Sharing is how we spread the word about all of our work. Thank you!!!