Article by Susan Westbrook
I can bring the moment to my mind in a flash. I was 50 years old, sitting on a bed pillow with my back against a bare wall. I was eating my dinner from a paper plate; alone in an empty apartment in a strange new place 3,000 miles from home.
Listening to a familiar song playing on my laptop, I had a clear sense of balance and freedom that had long escaped me as a professional educator, single mom, and somebody’s partner.
Changing my life completely
In the process of shifting gears and moving in the direction of my inner guidance I did more than leave a relationship and move across America. I ultimately gave up my house, car, and furniture, dumped the retirement fund, and moved to another country.
Were I to do it over again, perhaps I would change a few things. What I would not change would be my decision to leap out of the plane before I could even get the parachute on…knowing that if I hesitated one second, I would likely shrink back into the comforts and confines of the life I had always known.
Mom. Wife. Caretaker and homemaker. Renovator of old structures. Dog sitter. Cook.
Where was the teacher, the writer, the healer? I assume she was buried under the daily routines, old stories, and outdates expectations.
I am not sure exactly when the inner call for change came. Perhaps when I could not find a job after leaving the university where I had earned tenure and the charter high school I had created and directed.
Maybe after rejection from the counseling program at the university where I had faithfully served.
Maybe when I first discovered the truth of “this is not working for me” knowing full well it was working quite well for everyone else.
Maybe when I stepped over a moral line I had always held sacred and entered an “affair.”
Frankly, I have trouble teasing out the boundaries between the casual agents and the symptoms of a long-term problem.
Writing this for you to read, I imagine it is my job to recount a hero’s journey. You will be looking for the valleys, my learned lessons, and the summit of success I have attained. Would such a recounting make me more “fab after fifty”?
I wish I could tell you that the last 8 years have taken me from that bare apartment to a picturesque life on an enchanted Greek isle. And, no, that is not how it has been.
Leaping out into mid-air means allowing the currents to catch you and lift you…and drop you. I often picture the glorious kites in the Scottish highlands soaring above me. Flying high over the valleys amongst the mountains. Rising and rising and rising….and then being let down by the diminished drafts nearer and nearer to the earth until caught in mid-fall and lifted back up again. Like my mentors the kites, I have known the high rises and the long falls.
How employable am I over 50?
Financially, I am yet to find a place where I can support myself as I once did. I have discovered that well-educated women over 50 who have had successful careers are virtually unemployable in the US. Younger folks with less experience cost less and have fewer opinions and successes.
Personally, I have known the ups and downs of being in and out of relationships as my own path and center have continued to shift. The more change occurred within me, the more chaos seemed to emanate outside me.
But there was that day when I followed a meditative mandate to seek a Reiki teacher and become trained as a Master. Answering that call changed my life. Not because I created a lucrative Reiki practice, but because my Reiki Master taught me a set of exercises called the “5 Rites” or “5 Tibetans.” From those moments of instruction on her sitting room floor across the street from the rolling tides of the North Sea evolved a personal practice that transformed not only my inner life and outer body, but also paved the way for me to do what I love – to help people look in and courageously take on the work of their own healing.
That journey was recently recounted in my new book, The Five Tibetans Yoga Workshop: Tone Your Body and Transform Your Life. Big updraft!
And….personally and financially things have not yet shifted.
While l feel unable to provide you with a star-studded heroic ending, I can leave you with a few pointers about living life to its fullest as you venture into this fabulous new part of your life span.
Say ‘Yes’ to new experiences
The first and most important step to the upward flight is saying “Yes.” “Yes” to experiencing something new and to expanding your perspectives.
In my case, that important conversation went a little like this:
Elizabeth: I can teach you some yogas. Me: “OK. Sure. I‘m here. Might as well get all I can.” No one – least of all me – could have imagined what that “yes” would create.
The second step is to act strategically. When you feel the downward pull in your flight, you cannot afford to get stingy and hold tight to what you have or believe. Continue to imagine, dream, and live grandly. Not in opulence or excess, but expansively with, as Stephen Covey prompted, an end in mind. When the downdrafts come you do not have to feel compelled to let them carry you all the way back to earth in a heap.
An important piece in my own story was stepping into the knowing that I was to go to Scotland to write my book when circumstances and all manner of sense-making indicated I should get a job and settle down like “normal” people.
Prime your heart for transformation
Finally, life’s journey is not about positioning yourself as a hero. It is about priming your heart for transformation. Each soar with the updrafts and plummet with the ill winds is an opportunity to open your heart to more love and light. To dissolve the old ways and to create new emotional and spiritual pathways for greater connection to yourself, others, and your Source.
It is a mindset that truly does allow you to soar no matter how the winds blow.
Susan is the author of Five Tibetan Yogas