An Excerpt from
EMBRACING YOUR POWER WOMAN:
Coming of Age in the Second Half of Life - A Course in Feminine Power
"I see the wise woman.
She carries a blanket of compassion.
She wears a robe of wisdom...
From her shoulder, a mantle of power flows."
— Susun Weed
When I fell into midlife somewhere in the beginning of my forties, I struggled alone to understand and accept what was happening to me. I began having hot flashes before the rest of my friends. My mother had mysteriously forgotten that she'd ever been through menopause, and there was a dearth of reference material on the subject. So I read what I could find, and used the tools and practices I had acquired in my years studying and teaching spiritual growth and healing to plow my way into the next phase of my life.
Once I had made some headway, I realized that what lay on the other side of menopause was the promise of an exciting and powerful new woman. I kept going, delving into the dark corners of my psyche to release the old me, and excavate the new. Sometimes I spent days and even weeks, depressed, obsessed by thoughts of death and dying. At other times I felt energized, and brand-new ideas would pop effortlessly into my mind. Yes, there were bouts of crying, hot flashes, and a general sense of loss, followed by days of frustration. But all the while, there was an underlying sense of excitement bubbling beneath the headaches and hot flashes.
At the time, I worked in Hollywood, struggling to produce films with female leads. But the projects loved by mid-life women like my producing partners and myself were the furthest thing from the criteria of the young male-oriented film industry in the early 1990s. Realizing that I needed to live in a more supportive environment for this crucial period of my life, and aided by a nudge from Mother Earth in the guise of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, I packed my bags, and, along with my husband, headed for a new place and a new life.
We landed in Boulder, Colorado, where I found clean air to breath, magnificent mountains to explore, and like-minded people. Except for the fact that we couldn't find work, the place was idyllic for this change in my life. As I hiked through Colorado's exquisite, rugged landscape I began to feel support from the environment, and each day, fresh insights made my life more and more fun to live. I was also faced with new challenges, both physical and financial, but as I faced them, and moved through them, I found I was building new muscles. These spiritual muscles would eventually become the infrastructure of my Power Woman.
After awhile, I realized that although things had seemed random and fate had seemed to jostle me blindly to this new phase in my life, I had, in fact, taken specific steps on an initiatory journey. Around me, I saw other women struggling with these same issues, and in 1998, I decided to share what I had learned so far by preparing and teaching a course on becoming a Power Woman. At that time, I was also leading groups through Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, a journey to embracing one's creativity. Therefore, I wanted to give the women in my circle essays and exercises as I had done with the Artist's Way groups. In the planning stages of this book, I simply jotted down some of my thoughts and devised a few exercises each week to pass around at the end of class. Over time, working with circles of diverse women, revising and adding, this book was born.
What we discovered along the way was each of us was becoming a new kind of woman, a woman who had biologically completed the childbearing years, whether still raising children or not, and yet who was not yet the wise-woman Crone we had expected to find on the other side of menopause. She was not Crone-like at all! She was still youthful, active, and ready for new challenges, and most importantly, she was ready to fulfill her life's true purpose.
Today, as I travel around the world leading my workshops, I find that many mid-life women are struggling with relationship problems, physical exhaustion, depression, money issues, and questioning of their own self-worth. Not surprising, since we have no guides to follow into and through this phase of our lives.
In times long past, in the era before written history, when women and the feminine energy were honored, there were sacred rituals and initiations held in a circle of women for the major life transitions. Scholars believe these rituals and initiations helped women channel and embrace the emotional and spiritual energies brought on by our biological changes. Without guidance, the biological transitions are often so confusing that they lead to anger, frustration, and even depression.
This book is a course that guides women through midlife and suggests eleven initiatory steps of power into, through, and beyond this transition. As we mid-life women are able to work in a sacred initiatory way to transition into this next phase, we will then be able to create rituals and initiations for younger women and girls coming up behind us and thus bring joy, excitement, and fulfillment to the other stages of feminine life, adolescence, and motherhood.
In my many years of working with women, I have come to believe that we of the baby-boomer generation (women born between 1946 and 1964) are in the process of developing a new stage of life, the Power Woman stage. It seems to me, all women have the potential to become Power Women as we emerge on the other side of menopause. This Power is not given. It is achieved. To become a Power Woman we must be proactive participants in the birth of our new selves. Luckily, the hormonal shift between our childbearing biology and our post-menopausal biology affects not only our bodies but also our brains, infusing them with a potent new spark of energy, intuition, and wisdom, igniting our imaginations and fueling our willingness to make the leap.
Our Power Woman has her genesis somewhere in our forties when a majority of us begin peri-menopause. As we reach menopause in our late forties to mid-fifties we are entrenched in this new phase of our lives, and by the time we have completed our menopausal journey, our Power Woman, if nurtured and supported, will be born.
In the ancient vision of womanhood, there were thought to be three stages of life: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. But as we live longer, healthier lives, the number of years between menopause and death are increasing, offering us an extra thirty or forty years of activity before we move into the wise-woman Crone stage, in what I believe will be in our late seventies or eighties or later.
As we emerge from our childbearing years, in which we were emotionally and biologically focused on our Yin energy, we begin to expand into our Yang energy. We begin to focus the feminine qualities we possess in a more dynamic and outgoing, or Yang, way. Men do the opposite. As men reach midlife, they move from Yang energy and begin expressing their masculine qualities in a more inward-focused, Yin way. That's why many men who never felt comfortable in roles around the home in their younger years find activities such as gardening, cooking, and playing with the grandchildren so enjoyable in their later years. This is explained by our biological hormonal changes, as Joan Borysenko tells us in her book A Woman's Book of Life. As women's estrogen levels become lower, our testosterone levels increase. This happens in the reverse in men, with their testosterone lowering and their estrogen levels rising.
Women have a natural ability and desire to nurture, to take care of others. But now, as we move into the next step in our lives, no matter how we chose to live the first half of our lives, we are being urged to turn this nurturing toward ourselves. And no matter how we lived during the years before midlife—whether as stay-at-home moms, career women, or a combination of both—and no matter what our sexual orientation was and is, we are all being called to become Power Women.
Our emerging Power Women need care, love, and training. We, ourselves, in company with our peer sisters, are the best qualified for the job.
Society has never experienced the Power Women that we are becoming. Until now, society has held that post-menopausal women had no worth. Even today after forty years of feminism, the media still glorify the girl-woman. There is no traditional place for women in the second half of life other than as sweet little grandmothers or vaguely wise old Crones. But this generation of mid-life and midlife-plus women isn't going to accept marginalization. We are powerful, potent, and ready for a change.
While I was preparing this book for publication I attended a conference in New York City on the weekend of September 11, 2004, sponsored by Omega Institute and Eve Ensler's V-Day, called "Women and Power: Our Time to Lead." The presenters and attendees at the conference were women of all ages. It was exciting to witness so many women in the second half of life sharing their knowledge, their life experience, and their abilities and desire to take a powerful stance to make a difference. The energy at the conference— which was attended by more than 1200 women from all over the country and the world—was emotionally, mentally, and spiritually impassioned. As I cheered, cried, and took assiduous notes with my 1200 sisters over the course of the four-day event, I thought about how best I could share this experience with my readers. I realized that women reading and engaging in the work of Embracing Your Power Woman could experience this level of excitement in their own homes and circles. As we prepared to leave the conference Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute, and the "Weaver" introducing all the events and integrating all the strands of the conference, charged us to take the lessons and passion we had gleaned back to our homes, our communities, and to our women's groups and circles.
During a panel discussion with conference speakers, Jane Fonda spoke at length about her own emotional healing and growth over the past several years, noting that she couldn't have done it without the help and guidance she received from women such as noted Jungian psychotherapist and fellow panelist, Marion Woodman. And she was concerned about how other women who couldn't afford such professional guidance would be able to grapple with the issues that keep women from discovering themselves and becoming empowered.
I believe Embracing Your Power Woman is a tool to fill that need. As you explore this book, you will learn from your peers, other women whose stories become your guides, helpers, and confidants. And if you choose to join with a group of women to discuss the book and the exercises, your circle of guides, helpers, and confidants will expand to include all the stories of all the women in your group.
As was evident from the Women and Power Conference, all women, no matter what our age, are powerful. As younger women, our power is focused more in our Yin nature, and as we move into and through menopause, our power grows and deepens as it includes our Yang nature. In my fifties, I'm just hitting my stride. I feel like I've been preparing for this part of my life since adolescence.
This in no way detracts from the first half of my life, which was far from dreary or boring. I have been an actor, writer, dancer, mother (a single mom for the most part), and motion-picture production executive working in Los Angeles, New York, and Europe. I reared a terrific son and married three wonderful men. The third, whom I married at forty-five in the middle of my peri-menopause, was the charm. I studied metaphysics, have been on a spiritual path of healing and transformation for thirty years, and have a successful transformational healing practice. Having done all that, I still feel that I am just beginning to fly.
I believe all of us have a seed waiting deep within our souls that holds the key to our life's purpose. In adolescence we had glimpses of it. In this book and course we will reconnect with our teen years to rediscover that early vision of our life's purpose and reacquaint ourselves with the power we felt, however fleetingly, during that potent period of our lives. Though most of us have little or no memory of it, we all had immense surges of feminine power and potency as adolescents. Unfortunately, for the majority of us, it was immediately squelched. It was too heady, too strong, especially for that era. So we pushed it down. We ignored our power; we listened to our parents, and society. We became supportive girlfriends and then wives, even as we formed women's groups, shaped the feminist movement of the 1960s, and demanded equality. Many of us worked hard in the male-dominated work world, and we made great strides. But very few of us have achieved the level promised by that seed of purpose suppressed in adolescence.
Angeles Arrien says in her audio cassette The Second Half of Life, "We are born with a great dream for our lives, a dream which may have been submerged or derailed along the way by family or career realities. In the second half of life, after your roots have gone deeply into the world, it is time to resurrect this dream. For now, the blossom of your 'wild and precious life' is ready to bring forth the fruit of your unique and special creative gifts. By reclaiming your life dream—by refusing to stay down—you 'lift your heart up to heaven' and make all things possible."
In our youth, there was no definition of feminine power. To be powerful meant to be like men. Men's power is about power over others—and it is thus one of the reasons so many women shy away from the word "power."
Elizabeth Lesser opened the Women and Power Conference by saying, "This weekend we are asking the question, what does it mean when we put the words women and power in the same sentence?...and how do we change the power paradigm?" Later Eve Ensler described the new paradigm and women's power as both mystical and practical, saying, "[This new paradigm] power would not be about conquering, it would be about collaborating. It would not be about invading; it would be about inviting. It would not be about occupying; it would be about offering, inspiring, and serving."
In the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s, women looked at the world outside the home, realized we wanted to be part of it, and learned the rules and traditions of the male-dominated worlds of business and commerce and how to gain power over others. We were junior men in training. Some of us were able to adapt more easily than others, and gained levels of success based on that ability. Others of us struggled to fit into the uncomfortable mold of this kind of power and found marginal or little success.
This book and course are about discovering the true feminine power within us, the power that is not about power over, but the power of co-creating with others and the power within ourselves. The power of the feminine is immense. And it is this very immensity that created the patriarchal backlash five thousand years ago that has forced women to suppress their power ever since. The great goddess Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of the whole earth, who will be one of our guides throughout this book and course, represents the enormity of true feminine power—the power to create life, embrace death, overcome fear, and command the forces of destruction to relent, recede, and reform.
Aging comes to mind first as most of us contemplate moving into and past menopause. Aging in our western society is a time of endings. We retire. We give up our previous lives. Many move away from their long-time homes to huddle with other aging people. There is a sense of giving up. Being finished. And failing health is the great expectation of aging in the United States. Each little ache or pain reminds us that, "Yes, we're getting old." Psychological research shows that we get what we expect. Expect aches and pains to lead to dementia, cancer, or heart disease, and it's pretty certain that they will.
So why not change what you expect from this phase of your life and see what happens? Scary? Yes, it's a little scary, but there's not much in life that isn't at least somewhat frightening. And still, we go ahead. Deepak Chopra explains how it is our intention that dictates how our body ages. In Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, he says, "Because the mind influences every cell in the body, human aging is fluid and changeable; it can speed up, slow down, stop for a time, and even reverse itself. Hundreds of research findings over the past three decades have verified that aging is much more dependent on the individual than was ever dreamed of in the past. ...nothing holds more power over the body than the beliefs of the mind."
But, as Wayne Dyer tells us in The Power of Intention, that power of the mind or intention is not a "pit bull resolve," as we've so long believed, but rather the ability to connect to what Dyer describes as "the ominipresent power of intention." And in connecting to this universal intention with the power of our hearts and minds, we can create our own reality of aging.
My friend Elissa recently turned fifty. She has had a very exciting life. She's lived in LA, Italy, and New York. We met when she was twenty-six and working as a secretary for the head of a large motion-picture production company in Hollywood. She is an extremely beautiful woman and therefore found herself in relationships with several prominent film directors. And though she left Hollywood and found success selling real estate in New York City, it wasn't until a couple of years ago—when she made the transition from peri-menopause into menopause—that she allowed herself to listen to the inner voice that prompted her to find the seed of her true purpose.
At first she thought her inner voice was telling her to become a graphic artist, so she went back to college and majored in art. In art school, the voice that lay dormant during her younger years was allowed to get louder and louder. Finally, it got so loud, she could hear that graphic art wasn't what she longed for. Instead, she found that what would fulfill her purpose was filmmaking. Against all odds, she was accepted into the graduate film program at Columbia University. The beautiful young woman dated film directors. The beautiful older woman will direct films herself.
When I told Elissa about this book and the course, she told me to tell my students and readers that the hardest part is the fear. "Tell them to face the fear no matter how hard that is," she said, "because it's so worth it."
All I can add to Elissa's impassioned statement is that when you do face those fears and overcome them you will feel a pride that is sweeter than any feeling you've ever had.
The Eleven Points of Power, which this course is based on, came out of a lecture about creativity that I gave to a group of mid-life women just before I began teaching this course for the first time. To find the thread for the lecture, I played a game that I often give to my students. In this game you write a heading at the top of a piece of paper and then free-associate until you have a list of about ten subheadings. On this occasion, I wrote the heading WOMEN AND CREATIVITY. Quickly, I scribbled down a list of subheadings—motherhood, nurturing, home, love, capability, intuition, understanding, partnership, and community. I was a mid-life woman myself, and when I read the list, I could feel something missing. Something more powerful. I played the game again. This time, I added another word to the heading, and I began free-associating under the heading OLDER WOMEN AND CREATIVITY. I was amazed to see how different this list was: direction, frustration, ability, health, money, power, worldliness, leadership, success, and freedom. From this new list, I shaped that first talk. Over the next few years, as I developed this course in women's circles, the original eleven subheadings evolved into the Eleven Points of Power, which we will work with in this book and course. They are:
- The Power of Self-Love
- The Power of Creativity
- The Power of Self-Trust
- The Power of Courage and Ability
- The Power of Health and Beauty
- The Power of True Wealth
- The Power of Our Own Direction
- The Power of Partnership and Community
- The Power of Authentic Leadership
- The Power of Enlightened Success
- The Power of Freedom
In this book and course, we will make the journey through the Eleven Points of Power to become initiated into the next step of our lives and to embrace our innate feminine power. As we meet the challenge of this transition together as sisters, we will dive past resistance, down to our true worth. And once we've found it we will excavate it, bring it into the light, revel in it, and prepare ourselves for our powerful new life as Power Women.
This course can be done alone or in a circle. A circle is simply a group of women who meet in the spirit of sisterhood to share their hopes, fears, losses, successes, ideas, and joys in an atmosphere of respect, honor, loving, caring, and sharing.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., in her book The Millionth Circle, says, "...women as a gender have a natural talent for [circles]. The circle is an archetypal form that feels familiar to the psyches of most women. It's personal and egalitarian."
Women work well in this kind of environment. Our learning and growth is often triggered when we hear the stories of other women's similar life experiences. Doing this work in a circle gives you the opportunity to heal and grow in a safe, supportive space, so that when you have completed the course you will feel ready to step out of the circle into the larger community, with the power of true sisterhood as a foundation.
At Omega's Women and Power Conference, Gloria Steinem said that it was time for us to make our "declaration of interdependence." She said that in the 1950s we were dependent, in the '60s and '70s we declared our independence, and now it is time for us to become interdependent.
Eventually I see all of us—women and men—living and working interdependently. But to learn and begin to embody the possibilities of such a bold and exciting next step, we must first learn to be interdependent with our sisters. Together, women can cause powerful positive change throughout the planet. As we do, we will be cutting a new path for the women who come behind us.
If you decide to do the work in a circle, it's good to be aware that all the women who choose to journey through the Eleven Points of Power are different people with different dreams, different purposes, different desires, different ages, and in different stages of their menopausal passage. Some of you won't even have begun it, some will have completed it, and others may be right in the middle of it. Some will have children at home, some will have grown children, and others may have never been parents. But what everyone has in common is that we are all women in the second half of life and we are all women with a future.
Many women fear close interaction with other women, because they have been wounded in the past. Peri-menopausal women can feel especially vulnerable as they experience themselves dumped unceremoniously into this unknown world. Older or more secure women need to reach out to help our younger or less seasoned sisters to feel safe and honored in their process.
As Power Women in or beginning the second half of life, we are part of a new sisterhood. As sisters united, we can work miracles. The world needs our wisdom and our strength. Our communities need our vision, and we need to express our gifts.
We are living in an era of exciting transformation. And although this is sometimes difficult to believe while we're reeling from constant media reports of war, terrorism, executions, torture, and retribution, many women are nevertheless feeling a new sense of feminine power emerging along the subtle waves of awareness. And this translates into the belief that there is another way to live together. I think many of us know that, if given the chance, we could suggest and even execute programs that could lead us out of this worldwide cycle of violence toward a more loving, caring, and nurturing society.
"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for oneself, one's own family or nation, but also for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace."
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Women across the globe are sick and tired of having their sons, and daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, lovers, and strangers slaughtered in senseless violence—whether in war or on the city streets. A concentrated effort focused on healing is needed now by a large segment of the population skilled at organization, diplomacy, nurturing, decision-making, budgeting, scheduling, and crisis management. Where can we find people who have all these qualifications?
The answer is simple: women in the second half of life.
You can't raise a family, handle a career, and maintain relationships over thirty-odd years without becoming mighty proficient in these areas. Feminine wisdom is needed to carry the world through today's chaos and into the next age. What the world needs now are powerful, wise, courageous, compassionate women who will step up to the boys and tell them to sit down, shut up, and listen to their mothers.
Women in the second half of life are the greatest untapped natural resource on the planet. We are plentiful and getting more so by the day as the Baby Boomer generation ages. As we women in the second half of life learn to honor our wisdom, we will be able to make sweeping changes in our society while simultaneously having a helluva good time.
I envision Power Women as a great force for good in this world. I see us sitting around chatting and weaving the fabric of a new and more hopeful society. Though the idea of women chatting is often viewed as frivolous, I believe that when we chat about the things that matter to us, our families, our pain, our healing, our emotional growth, our dreams, and desires for ourselves, our communities, and our world, that the focus we bring through the act of chatting has the power to create change. I see us using all the wisdom we've gathered over the past forty, fifty, sixty, or more years to step into our true destinies. I see us working as partners to heal ourselves, our communities, our countries, and our Earth.
I believe we can do this by healing our inner adolescent girls, bringing them up to speed with our Power Women selves, and in so doing discovering our true paths with grace and ease. I see us grappling with our monsters together. I see us healing each other and helping each other see the true beauty within all of us. Finding and owning our true power is a daunting task that takes courage. But are you ready to spend the next twenty, thirty, or more years, succumbing to society's stereotype of the post-menopausal woman? Someone said recently that post-menopausal women would make good cat burglars because no one sees us or notices us. Do you want to be invisible? Or do you want to screw up your courage and embrace your power? The owning of our power is exhilarating. I hope I can help you find joy in this amazing process of healing, growth, enlightenment, and empowerment.