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  • Kathy Shimpock

Is it a Wall or a Door? Shifting perspectives can make all the difference.

Jean Shinoda Bolen writes that a crone is "a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, 'Enough is enough.' You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon."

I experienced that loose cannon for myself when I turned 50.  Every now and then, but not so often, I’d find myself possessed by the crone.  I was unable to control my actions and unable to keep my mouth shut!  It was as if I was being possessed by some powerful archetype that took control over my body. I remember the first time clearly because it surprised me.  I was ascending on a steep escalator heading to work.  It was a narrow step with only room for one person.  But even so, I found myself pushed to the side as a young man of 19-20 ran up the moving stairs.  As so often happens in these situations, I made it to the elevator by the time it arrived, and we entered alone.  Then without even being able to control myself, I told him how reckless that behavior was and how he could have injured someone if they fell.  To my surprise he just said, “You’re right, ma’am.  I’m sorry.”  I’m not sure even my crone self would risk that confrontation today, but it was simply out of my control.  The crone took over.

I found the same thing happening a few weeks ago. I was on a Zoom call with some much younger friends.  The conversation turned to some career decisions they made that they now regretted. They felt perhaps in hindsight that they had made the “wrong” decision and now their lives were irrevocably changed.  Before I knew it, the crone took over.  I found myself saying, “I’ve got to stop you right there.  I just can’t let you stay with that thought.  At 71, I know a bit about that.  Every time you stand at the crossroads, you have a choice.  You do the best you can to make a good decision, but sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way.  Guess what?  You can decide again.  You can go back if you wish, or completely switch course.  The choice is up to you. There are few decisions that can’t be made better just so long as you always see a door and not a wall before you.”  And you know what?  That crone was right!  I began to think about all the decisions I had made, jobs quit, relationships ended.  At the time, it seemed like I stood before a brick wall, but if I just gave it a bit of time and a new perspective, I always found a door before me. Going through that door to the unexpected led me to new beginnings that I never thought possible.  It only happened when I shifted my perspective and began to see what was before me in a new way.

I’m sure all of us have faced many walls in our lives.  It’s made up of all those negative thoughts and beliefs that keep us from living a full life. We don’t have enough money, enough time, enough education to achieve our dreams.  Or perhaps we are too old or too young.  As a conscious aging facilitator, I’m always on the look out for negative thoughts about aging.  American society is full of them: filled with stereotypes and expectations that build walls around us. Suddenly, we are too old to do this or that, or we don’t have enough time to even begin. But it’s only a wall if you make it so.  Researcher, Becca Levy, has studied age related issues for some time and discovered that it is our thoughts about aging that impacts how we age.

Becca explains, “So in fact, we have found that these age beliefs can, in part, also influence a number of different outcomes in the direction such that if they take in more positive age beliefs, we see improvements in cognitive health, in physical health, such as recovery from disability and also in mental health—so outcomes such as depression or anxiety. So, if people take in more positive age beliefs, we see an advantage in these different types of health outcomes.” 

Is aging the ultimate wall or is there a door?  Are we destined to the rocking chair, or can we still write the great American novel, learn a new language, or discover the cure for cancer? While age brings new challenges to all of us, it’s only a wall if you make it so.  It can instead be a doorway to new discoveries.  You can choose to go in any direction you wish.  Make a mistake?  No, problem.  Just choose again. That’s the long view of life.  It’s the view the crone knows well. Remember it’s only a wall, dearie, if you decide it is.

Questions to journal:

1.       What is the wall you are facing?

2.       If you could find the door, where would you like it to lead?

3.       How is aging impacting your life?  Is there any way to see things differently?

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