One month or so before my 40th birthday, right on time—for once not procrastinating, I was hurled head-first and with great tenacity into my impending mid-life crisis. Although transitions of identity, whenever they may come, can be liberating, fulfilling, and even joyfully amusing, mine definitely started as a crisis before it became an awakening!
After six years of pouring blood, sweat, and yes even tears into Nourished Health Center, the integrative health center I founded, I lost the lease on our building and had to close it. This meant I also lost the lease on Nourished Health Cooking School. At the same time, I lost the lease on where I was living. Hence the hurling and not a gentle choosing of my mid-life crisis, as all of a sudden I had zero roots, no sustenance, and a feeling of a ripping away of my life-purpose and community.
No, I didn’t buy a red sports car and I didn’t start sexually stalking boys half my age.
My version of a mid-life crisis? I took off to the back-country of Alaska to live without technology, electricity, or running water and to experience minimal human contact. I found adventure internally while immersing myself in the most heart-breakingly beautiful, wild, rugged landscape I could find—alone in myself in Alaska.
I took a volunteer position with Alaska State Parks. They don’t have enough funding to hire enough rangers, but with a world seeking refuge from industrialization and a drive to return to wildness, state parks are often overburdened. With my newly minted Advanced Wilderness CPR/1st Aid card, I took a position with no supervision and the minimal expectation that I would provide a presence, conduct some trail maintenance, and provide emergency medical attention to stranded hikers and campers who are occasionally known to be mauled by bears, to die of hypothermia, to get lost, to fall off cliffs, and to succumb to whatever other wilderness catastrophes we fear await us, but rarely ever actually materialize.
For this “presence,” I received a food stipend that I would cash in every two weeks or so when I hiked into “civilization” and I received sole access to a minimalist ranger station on the Kenai Peninsula amidst old-growth rainforest, with no electricity or running water. I checked into town by radio twice a day, to assure the state I was still alive as I scoured the mountains daily for stranded or endangered hikers and provided a “presence”—a presence to Alaska adventure-seekers when I hadn’t even taken the time to be present with myself for so very long.
I read a lot of books. No, I mean, I read a lot of fiction (of the antique, paper-version) and eventually found pure contentedness in simply staring into nature for hours at a time and doing absolutely nothing.
But at the beginning I feared I would go crazy—like really, really “batshit” crazy. I went from working 80-hour weeks with no break in sight, tied to my computer and phone to a not so gentle complete dissolution of access to all technology and human interaction with my companionship changing to come from an abundance of eagles (more on the Kenai peninsula than all of the lower 48), families of black bears, sure-footed mountain goats, raving Steller jays, screaming ravens, and bedazzling puffins. Oh and in companionship with myself.
In doing so, I learned that I’m really hard to get to know, that I easily laugh at my own jokes and foibles, that I squabble out loud with myself a lot when there is nobody else to talk to, that I can’t sing but I like to, and that I am very competitive, even when playing Scrabble against myself. But every day I went a little nuts, for those first several weeks, wondering if this was a really horrendous idea, stranding myself away from everyone and everything, and well, let’s be honest, mostly from my fear of being away from technology and my business.
I slept. Boy, did I sleep. I heard it was hard to sleep much in the summer in Alaska with so much daylight, but I had no problem at all. 10 hours… 12 hours… It was as though with every sleep I washed more and more of my previous life away and surrendered blissfully (no, more like kicking and screaming) to my mid-life crisis. To quiet. To solitude. To myself. And to being okay with being.
During my initial craziness, I clung to a need for productivity. I made lists (on paper with a pen) of what trail improvements needed to be made, of how Alaska State Parks could increase revenue, of how… of what… of why… of more. I sought constant action. Constant movement. Constant purpose. Must not stop doing. Must not stop working. Must not stop. Stillness, when not sleeping exorbitant amounts, was my nemesis. And eventually I became movement itself, within myself, until finally I became being. And I became stillness. And I became joy. I even became love—for everything, for everyone, and finally even for myself. But woah nelly…that took a while and I did not go gently to that place of ease, but once it finally came I surrendered completely to it.
That is, until again, I was pushed (again, kicking and screaming), back to civilization, back to Colorado as Alaska State Parks’ minimal funding for a minimal stipend ran out. And now here I am back in Colorado (on technology), but more importantly, differently, back in myself in Colorado. I am already growing wary of the constant barrage of technology and of human communication and fighting to keep a hold on myself, on my peace.
And it seems everywhere I turn, I am being asked: “What are you doing now?” “What is your plan?” “What about your business and your classes?” The eagles, the ravens, the mountain goats, the Sitka spruce trees, and the mountain hemlocks were much gentler, unassuming companions. I find myself regularly having to close my eyes to reconnect to them and to myself, to not worry, and to know that it (the answers) will come—to allow myself my continuing crisis—my awakening—my self. I don’t need Alaska for that. Alaska was a gateway and it was perfect, but an awakening, a finding of myself of ourselves can come anywhere, at any time, and without a hurling and a ripping away of all we know and hold dear, but it’s not easy and we do not go gently to that place of ease.
Friends, family, and lovers may not understand when we excommunicate ourselves from them to venture into our own beings and away from their expectations and entanglements. It is a messy, ugly process that will win you plenty of frustration and anger, but in the end will hopefully also win you yourself.
Industrialization, civilization, our education system, capitalism, and our family units have all hammered into us that what is “out there” is more important than what is “in here” and that productivity, hardship, and struggle is critical to happiness—a happiness often predicated on the collection of “stuff”. That our worth is somehow defined by struggle and pain, competition, and what others think of us. We risk being completely consumed by this current of thinking that assaults us until we are a shell of ourselves and we forget what is actually important and why we are actually here. We stop caring about our path and only seek the end of our journey. We resent ourselves for this and that hostility transforms into our hatred of everything and everyone disguised as our judgmentalism and low self-esteem.
Okay, so what is next you still ask? I still find myself called to the realm of health, though with more of a recognition of the interconnection that is between the healing of our core being to the healing of our environments, our rainforests, our oceans, and all bioregions. I am coming more and more to recognize that the persistence of disease states has so much more to do with the persistence of industrialization and of a loss of self, of our identity, and our soul place than merely as a result of inflammatory foods, pesticides, GMOs, and inflammatory cytokines, although certainly these play a hefty role too. I am expanding my awareness around the interplay of disease states, autoimmunity, and our energy meridians; the interconnection of all life and all energy; and the effect of our emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being on our health generally and more specifically on our digestion and our immune system. My practice is an extension of myself and as my mid-life crisis has become a mid-life awakening, so too will NourishedHealth.com change, awaken, and transform. I am still focused on the ways we choose to nourish ourselves, though I have a recognition now that nourishment goes far beyond food and nutrition.
How about you? Have you had a life crisis/awakening? I would love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below as I think we can all benefit from learning from each other’s transitions and transformations. As we awaken (calmly or kicking and screaming), so too does our world.