Living in our modern culture of speed and increasing social isolation, many mid-life women confide regretfully that they have left friendships by the wayside. They have memories of their own mothers at mid-life, gathering over cups of coffee (and sometimes a cigarette) to discuss their children, husbands, and their transition through menopause. However, today's world encourages productivity over fostering human relationships.
What are we losing as we continue down this path of isolation? How can we create powerful female relationships that have integration into our world?
The value of woman-to-woman relationships. Abigail Trafford says in My Time, “Your future [as a woman] depends on a friendship network. " The popular term is “social capital. " Trafford goes on to say:
"Not having a close friend can be hazardous to your health. Study after study shows that people who are socially isolated are more likely to die ‘prematurely. ’ The relationship between isolation and risk of death is so strong that it stands out whether or not you smoke, drink too much alcohol, eat a lousy diet, or lead a sedentary life. "
Consider how much energy goes into our exercise and diet regimens, and yet this would suggest that our relationships are even more crucial to our overall health and well-being. I remember my grandmother telling me before she died that her family doctor had said to her, “Good friends are far more valuable than any health insurance policy, especially as a woman grows older. " Perhaps it is time to reconsider our priorities.
We women talk to each other, confide, whine, wail, plan, and just plain kibitz, and stress subsides once we feel heard and understood. " Lillian Rubins says in Just Friends:
"…it is friends who provide a reference outside the family against which to measure and judge ourselves, who help us during passages that require our separation and individualism; who support us as we adapt to new roles and new rules; who heal the hurts and make good the deficits of other relationships in our lives. "
At mid-life many women are dancing with the vision of becoming our true selves, and woman-to-woman relationships can form a foundation of physical, emotional, and spiritual health in our lives.
Women's witnessing. What is witnessing? My first exposure to the term was in a Christian context. One would stand up on a Sunday morning at church and witness to the Holy Spirit's presence, healing, and other precious gifts in one's life. In other words, telling the story, and being affirmed by people who know and understand you, is what witnessing is about.
The power of witnessing. In March 2005, I beheld the most powerful experiences of witnessing in my life when I spent seven days with eight mid-life women, backpacking on the South Island of New Zealand. These women came from different professional backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles, and even countries. We were all bound by the code of confidentiality from the beginning, which created a safe and sacred place for us.
Initially we bonded through fun activities, such as sailing, walking, and swimming with dolphins, as well as with inner-journey activities. However, the most powerful witnessing came in the struggles and frustrations of backpacking in the hot sun, running out of water, walking at different paces, and having sore body parts. We witnessed the strength to move on, joy in our surroundings, and support for each other as only women can do. An amazing sacred space of witnessing was happening on the track, in our evening groups, and one-on-one as women shared their life stories.
"It is no small matter to be a witness to another person's life story. By listening with compassion, we validate each other's lives, make suffering meaningful, and help the process of forgiving and healing to take place, " writes Bolen. I witnessed one woman's peeling another layer of perceived limitation away as she recognized her amazing sense of direction and ability to lead. Previously, she had relied on her husband to navigate, feeling that she had no skill to do so.
Another woman, who had nearly cancelled the trip and had personal obstacles doing the trip, finished it, in her word, “exuberant. " All participants witnessed for each other the discovery of new strengths which enabled limiting beliefs to be cast out. We also were able to ask for help from each other, something that can be foreign to strong, competent women. Rubin writes of mid-life witnessing friends that they “…offer encouragement for the development of parts of self…we test our sense of self in-the-world, that our often inchoate, intuitive unarticulated vision of the possibilities of a self-yet-to-become find expression. "
Witnessing is not a one-way experience. The witness herself is forever changed by the event. “To comprehend the truth of another person's experience, we must truly take it in and be affected, " says Bolen. For my own experience, I witnessed the changing of each woman's perception of her self. This was humbling for me. I was recipient of witness by another woman's gift to me, a gold shell pin, with which she proclaimed my “being gold. "
We were all forever changed by the witness of our own testimonies.
At mid-life we find ourselves on uncharted ground, dealing with changes in body, mind and spirit as we enter our “second adulthood. " This is time that can be marked by career change, divorce, remarriage, children leaving home, parents becoming dependent or dying…to name just a few. Mid-life is also a time of an awakening to the call to be true to our real selves. Many of us have had advantages our mothers did not, with more education, access to birth control, and better health care. However, our need to be supported and witnessed by female friends remains timeless, and affects us all.
Jennifer Wright, “Mid-Life Spirit of Adventure Guide for Women” coaches women globally in over-40 transitions of mid-crisis, pre-retirement, empty nest, career change, and life style to find their own unique life adventure. Get her report Top 10 Health Habits for Women over 40 when you sign-up for her FREE ezine for Baby-Boomer Women.
Visit her at: http://www.MidLifeAdventure.com or check out her upcoming adventures at http://www.MidLifeHeroine.com