Midlife dilemmas and how to solve them by finding the calm in the storm
When women are faced with a dilemma in life (no matter how big or small), I encourage them to practice an awareness of thought.
One part of this practice is to pay attention to which thoughts arrive in a sea of calm, and which thoughts arrive in a storm.
Through recognizing where lies the calm and where rumbles the storm, we're more likely to reach the best solution for the problem before us. We can also reduce any additional negative impact that may arise from a dilemma we're facing.
To help explain what this means and why it’s so important, I'm happy to share an example from my life of how I struggled with a dilemma, got carried away by the storm and then reconnected with the calm and was able to reach a solution.
It was the first day of school last year and my children and I joined excited groups of pupils and parents heading to the classrooms of our local elementary school.
When we reached the classroom of one of my children, I was shocked to discover who had been assigned as her teacher.
I was already familiar with this particular teacher and I couldn't understand how or why she was still in the education system.
At that moment and despite the commotion of the back to school crowds all around me, I stood to the side and decided that my daughter would not spend the year being taught by this teacher. I didn’t know how I’d be able to change the situation but I knew I would. It was a decision that arose instantly and calmly. There was no fear, no calculations and no questions. Just an understanding that this would happen.
By the time I left the school that morning, the storm had begun. Through a string of phone calls and messages it was clear that parents were at different levels of outrage, confusion and indifference over the teacher who had been appointed to teach our children.
A parents’ meeting was quickly arranged for that evening.
Following the meeting, my husband and I drafted a letter to be signed by the parents. We needed a majority of parents to sign to move ahead as a united class.
We had a majority.
And then we didn’t.
Parents began dropping out. They didn’t want their name to appear on the letter. They didn’t want to attend meetings with the school principal. There was a fear of retribution. Fear of an even worse teacher taking over. Fear of what might be or could be.
The weeks passed and soon my husband and I were alone in our struggle.
As we set up meetings, wrote emails and collected testimonials from parents whose children had suffered under the same teacher in previous years, my thoughts were stormy. Why did we have to do this alone? Why weren’t other parents with us? Why hadn’t parents taken action in the past? Why were so many parents fearful? Why was the school principal behaving the way she was? Were we right to fear nothing as we kept moving further up the ladder of bureaucracy until we could receive an answer that would satisfy us?
The storm was consuming me and taking its effect.
Not only was I miserable but in addition, many of my symptoms of perimenopause that I thought I'd cured started to return – migraines, skin outbreaks, tender breasts, night sweats – and these in turn brought more stormy thoughts:
“I’m a fake! How can I possibly claim to help women through perimenopause when I’m in this state?”
But then I remembered this:
Traveling through storms is an inevitable part of the human experience and when we’re in a storm we can have stormy thoughts, but we don’t have to take stormy thoughts too seriously.
Living a life consumed by a storm is not our purpose and our bodies will object by subjecting us to discomfort, until we pay attention and lighten up.
During midlife – a period of great physical change as we move from our reproductive years through to menopause – our bodies become ever more sensitive when we find ourselves struggling in a storm because it is in our bodies’ best interest that we don’t get stuck in a repetitive downpour of fear and distress but that we rather keep returning to our default, which is JOY!
In short, I reminded myself once more that I’m here to enjoy life, not to be burdened by it.
It was very useful (and humbling) to remember what I teach because it was then, as if by magic, that I was able to reconnect with the calm moment at the very beginning of the school year. The moment of no fear, no questions, no doubt and no blame. I was able to use that calm resolution as my fuel to move forward and my symptoms disappeared.
Several weeks later, in a heated meeting with representatives from the education ministry, a senior representative admitted that mistakes had been made at the school but she didn’t know how long it would take to fix them. She advised us to move our daughter to a different school as soon as possible and gave us the option to move all three of our children. My temper was high in the meeting and at the time, I thought that was an outrageous suggestion.
By the next morning however, I recognized a thought coming in on the calm sea:
Move school. You’ve been offered a solution; now take it.
And we did. We moved our two youngest children to a different school and offered our eldest child the option to complete his final year at the school without moving, which he preferred.
In every sense of every word, it was a wise move.
So for me last year, I spent a few months in the storm of issues around school and for the first month I took all my fearful, angry, stormy thoughts very seriously. In that month, my body immediately sent me signals (symptoms) to stop. When I did, not only could I progress through the endless emails and meetings feeling healthier, I could also enjoy everything else in life at the same time – and luckily for everyone, there is a life beyond school.
In addition, because I was aware of the storm and I was able to observe it and my stormy thoughts, I was also able to catch the calm thought which offered the solution when it arrived. I was therefore able to reach the goal I had initially set for myself, which by the way was not to solve what I believed were the problems facing every child in my daughter’s class – my hot headed initial objection why not to move school - but only for my child.
In the end, being able to move two of our children to a new school turned out to be a bonus.
In this example, my dilemma was about my children’s school. Perhaps in your life you’re facing a dilemma around work, or family or a relationship or if to move house or buy a new car or even how to answer an upsetting email that arrived in your inbox.
No matter how big or small the dilemma you face now or in the future, I encourage you to pay attention to which thoughts arrive in a sea of calm – these are the words of your inner wisdom - and which thoughts arrive in a storm. Often, if you are not interacting with someone or a group of people when a dilemma surfaces, the calm thought will be the very first thing that comes to mind, before the drama – the fear, the questions and calculations - sets in. Catch that first thought, if you can.
As luck would have it, on the day I wrote this post I came across a video of Stephen Spielberg describing how to discover your purpose or life work. Such a dilemma might well occupy our minds at any age but it’s also a classic midlife question: what will be my legacy?
Within the video, Spielberg describes calm thoughts about your life coming through as whispers, whispers that are often hard to hear (especially, I may add, if you’re consumed by a storm). I love what he says:
"When you have a dream, it doesn't often come at you screaming in your face: This is who you are, this is what you must be for the rest of your life! Sometimes a dream almost whispers. And I've always said to my kids, the hardest thing to listen to—your instincts, your human personal intuition—always whispers; it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to every day of your lives be ready to hear what whispers in your ear; it very rarely shouts. And if you can listen to the whisper, and if it tickles your heart, and it's something you think you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is going to be what you do for the rest of your life, and we will benefit from everything you do."
You can listen to Spielberg’s whole speech in the video below (the speech describes how he first became interested in film) or just the quoted section, which starts at 11 mins 40 secs.
AFTERWORD: By the end of the school year, both the teacher in question and the school principal had been replaced. Hoping for the best for all school children, parents and teachers this school year.
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