I just spent a few lovely hours with a dear friend, the conversation full of laughter and silences. Little did it matter that we live on opposite coasts and even less that I am almost a decade older. The connection between us has been forged in the cauldron of our experiences as women, as professionals, as colleagues and, ultimately, as friends.
As we said our goodbyes, I was grinning from ear to ear. Our conversation had touched on the perils of menopause, that physiological alien that takes over at a certain time in life. I remember being sold the pablum, ‘it’s not a hot flash, it’s a power surge’ in an attempt to turn that experience into a feminist badge of honor. Not so. When I first started feeling uncomfortable, unable to sleep, suddenly roaring into rage, I was confused, certain that the psychotic somnambulist was waking up. It took one night at the dinner table to set me straight. Something new had come to town!
I had made spaghetti with broccoli and the sight of that family favorite started the sadness. Within minutes I was crying. My family was exchanging ‘those’ knowing glances: Now what? I was overcome by a devastating loneliness and out of my mouth came the wail: “I don’t have any friends!”
I don’t know how they contained themselves. I do remember they were very sweet to me and later, after all had gone to bed, my husband said, “Sweetie, I think you may want to talk to your doctor. Just saying… this is not like you.” Luckily the evil dragon lurking in the corner waiting to flamethrow anyone who tried to get close was not aroused, and I meekly said, Ok. The doctor confirmed it, peri-menopause.
That was the beginning of riding the roller coaster of the second part of life, where the journey is headed not out into the world, but down into the deep underbelly of life. I had to discover what the future version of me would be, I would have to wrestle with the demons of my past- my friend called them “The Committee”. We all are familiar with those voices that shoot down any initiative, criticize, analyze and paralyze.
The journey that Jung called the mid-life individuation process plunges us into the night sea journey, into the depths of so-called depression - being held close to the earth in order to hear what the chthonic depths have to tell us. Be quiet, hibernate, sit on the couch and sink down and deep and paint, dance and sweat it all out. It is to crawl back into the womb of being, contained in ourselves until we are ready to emerge into the world again. It is a slow and painstaking process and we are not alone in it. Not only because we share it with all humans, male or female, but also because Psyche, God, the Numinous is there with us.
I will tell you why I was so happy at the end of our phone call. At the end of our far-ranging and commiserative conversation, she told me of casting for fish for the first time under the blood full moon. She said that somehow, the moment the fish first pulled, she felt in her very bones that this was right, that she had done this before, that she ‘knew’ this. Not as a master, and not as a newly converted fisherperson, but as someone who knew how right it was to cast herself into the unconscious and pull out of it what she needed for sustenance at this time of her life.
I then remembered the time I went kayaking on the South Sound some years ago. I had been coming out of the darkest period of my life and it seemed good to spend some time on the calm water. I kayaked to the middle of the Sound and stopped, my paddles still. Suddenly, a salmon leapt out of the water, flopped on my lap a couple of times and then flopped back into the water. I was in shock. I hadn’t had the wherewithal to grab it!
And then the words came unbidden: If a salmon can jump into my lap in the middle of the Sound, then I can do the next thing that is for me to do.
What I understand now, many years later is that when we submit to the process – when we say yes to the Dark God, when we undergo the suffering, the alienation, we are also held and helped, we are pushed down and in. But go down we must and thank God for those friends who are there to witness the entire journey and honor the passage.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor