By Barbara Cody Smith
June 2016: Recreate a sense of identity for who you are now which includes what life experience has taught you.
“For each of us women, there is a deep place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises.…Within these deep places, each one holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling.” Audrey Lorde, novelist, essayist and poet
For the past several months we have looked at our past history, recognized our strengths, our skills, the mechanisms we have used to come through hard times, the ways we have learned to understand the people around us and the world we live in – our wisdom. At this point, (and again and again throughout the rest of our lives) we want to consciously recreate a sense of identity, which incorporates my life experience, and grows out of what I am drawn to, invigorated by, rather than based on “I should”.
How do I do this?
“ Each of us is many women, and each stage of life offers the potential for discovering new freedoms, new growth, new pleasures.” Penelope Washbourn, theologian
How will this new identity or pieces of that identity create or be the product of both inner balance (born of reflection, reading, prayer, study, observation – enrichment) and outer balance (time with friends, nature, family, school children, service)?
If service is part of my identity, where do I engage in service which contributes to the meaning of my life and that of others? Is it in my family? my faith community? my political party? my neighborhood? Do I work with or in support of children, adolescents, families, men, women, prisoners, immigrants, seniors? Which of these fills me with joy? Contentment? And how do I deal with the frustration which are inevitable so that they don’t destroy my joy or undermine my commitment? How will I know when the service in which I am now engaged needs to change, devolve or end?
How do the identities which I assume in the different areas of my life, come together in a balanced and non-competitive way? Do I strive to be a peace-filled, kind and compassionate person? And how does that express itself in my different roles as spouse/partner, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, colleague, team leader, neighbor?
How has age and experience, mine and other family members, changed the roles which we now have in each others’ lives? Where there is dysfunction, do I feel that I must fix it? Am I contributing to that dysfunction? Am I trying to define for others what they must define for themselves?
With the years, many of those who have been our dearest friends and confidants precede us in death. It is not easy to build new friendships with the depth of the old ones, yet we must try. What would life be without friends? Am I open to making new friends? How and where am I likely to find kindred souls? Do I actively pursue opportunities to cultivate new friends? Am I alive to new opportunities to explore common interests or learn from others’ experience?
What does it mean to be an Elder, and how does that change over time?
If my style has been to want to jump in and fix things, how do I learn to listen with the heart and encourage others to assume leadership roles?
If I have come across as “always having the answers”, can I learn to help others find their own answers?
If I have felt that I needed to carry the responsibility, the fears and worry, can I let go of all of that and support others, as they assume those responsibilities, allowing space for them to do and grow? Can I stand to be “not needed”? Can I really let go?
What skills and knowledge do I have to offer? What have I learned from my experience of living in other cultures, and with people of different backgrounds? I have been a generalist, with experiences in several different fields – health, adult education, project management, human rights, community organization, networking, etc. Are there opportunities beyond what I am doing, to share these skills with others? Can I take on more and maintain balance, so that my whole life does not become filled with “doing” rather than “being”?
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” Etty Hillesum, diarist