Here are some men's stories. These men had their lives 'turned upside down' at midlife. They tell what happened to them, and how their lives are now.
Courtney Milne, a photographer and author, went through both a 'Right Livelihood' crisis, and an "Existential Crisis'...
Don Haythorne: Don is now in his late 70s. Back in 1988, he was 55, an Economic Consultant, married for 29 years, and very ensconced in a routine life. Then, everything changed...
Terry Jones: Terry had run his health consulting company for 25 years, when in his mid-fifties, things started to change.
He lost interest in running his company, discovered he is a spiritual person, and took training as a Spiritual Director, among other things.
He slowed down, and began to investigate the idea of Elderhood.
At the same time, his wife was speeding up and 'moving out into the world', which forced them to renegotiate there marriage partnership.
He now finds his life is much quieter, but no less interesting, than when he was a hard-driving entrepreneur.
Chester Cunningham: Chester was a hard-driven man, dedicated to bettering the lives of Native people in Alberta. He worked hard, and played hard. Baseball was his favourite sport. Then, when he was about fifty, he ended up in the hospital with hypertension...
Wes Barrett: Wes was a teacher and he felt it was his calling... he loved the challenge and he loved the kids. Then, at age 42, his world began to fall apart. Not only did he have a 'right livelihood crisis', but a crisis of faith as well.
Mike Hebert: Mike is a computer consultant who was happily-married and loved his work. He expected some changes at midlife, but he didn't expect to 'wake up' emotionally, nor to get divorced, nor to have some of the other experiences that started at age 40. Now 50, he says he is happier than he's ever been, in spite of the trials he's been through.
Robert Lang: Edmonton, Alberta-based Robert Lang started his first lock and safe business in the early 1950s at age 22. He is also a magician, professional speaker, and classically-trained singer. He won the world safe-cracking competition the only time he entered it. By the time he reached 50, he was driving a Cadillac, and thought he had the world by the tail. Now he looks back at the stress of that time, and at some of the business mistakes he made, and doesn’t think he was having such a great time after all. He’s having a better life now, and hopes younger men who read his story here will stop and take a look at what is really important in their lives.
Doug Stevenson All Doug Stevenson ever wanted to be was an actor. He took training, paid his dues, and tried hard in Hollywood for 13 years. By age 35 he could see it wouldn't work, and left, not knowing where was going or what he would do. Twenty years later, he is living a life he could not have imagined, and using his acting skills in ways he would never have dreamt of.
Tony Rovere: In his mid-thirties, Tony was overweight, out of shape, and was starting to get sharp pains in his chest. He tells what he did about it, with the hope that other men in similar situations will be able to follow his model.
Courtney Milne's story
Courtney's first crisis hit him at age 33, when he was nearly driven to suicide by despair over a recent separation. He also lost interest in his job as Executive Director of a cable company, but did not know what he did want to do.
Around age 30 Courtney was in a conventional marriage, was working in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan after finishing his PhD at the University of Minnesota in Journalism and Mass Communications.
He was Executive Director of Saskatoon Cablevision Cooperative, which was competing for a cable television license for Saskatoon. It was a very demanding job, and he was working long hours.
He was trying to get community groups on board so they could get the kind of community programming they wanted.
Eventually the Cooperative lost the bid. A lot of politics were involved, which Courtney did not enjoy.
The Right Livelihood Crisis
By the time the bid failed, his marriage was falling apart, although he did not know why. His wife wanted out, and he was trying desperately to save it.
She finally left, and it felt to him as though his 'soul walked out the door with her'.
He saw no hope for the future.
For a number of months he continued to struggle at the job, to try to put some order into his life, but by December, 1975 he spent three nights where he couldn't sleep at all, and was contemplating suicide.
On the third night, around 2:30 or 3:00 am, he got up, got dressed and walked through a blinding snow storm into downtown Saskatoon, a 20 minute walk away .
He walked the streets, looked at the river, wondered about ending his life.
At 6:00 am, the bus depot restaurant opened, and he went in to get a cup of coffee. While he was sitting there, wondering what to do, he heard a voice, audible to him, but coming within himself, and it said: "if you want to survive, you will leave your job, resign your position with the Board of Directors. You will go out into the prairie landscape and photograph buffalo and northern lights."
He already had training in photography through his university courses, plus other training he had taken, but had no experience in working as a landscape photographer, although as a boy he had been interested in photography, particularly the beauty of landscapes.
His father had been a farm equipment designer and dealer, and had taken Courtney on many trips to the dealerships around the prairie provinces.
The voice also said that he needed to buy a little 580 square foot shack on the edge of Saskatoon, that a distant relative owned, and move into it.
He decided right there in the bus depot that he would do what the voice suggested, because outside of suicide, he did not know what else to do.
He went to work that day, resigned, and put in his last month at work.
The relative was willing to sell the little house, so for $2500 down, Courtney could buy it. He borrowed a bit of money from his mom to help make up the down payment, and with nothing else to fall back on, moved into the house in early January.
It had no power, no heat, and no furniture. The living room had a linoleum floor, and he slept on the floor with no airmattress or foamy. He had a small catalytic heater he used for camping, so he slept on the floor in his sleeping bag, curled up around the heater for the first week or so, until he got electricity hooked up.
He had a Samoyed dog that had 8 pups. He sold the pups for $50 each, which gave him enough to pay the mortgage for the first few months.
That January, in 1976, Courtney was 33, and felt he was too old to be making that kind of change.
But it turned out to be the beginning of his career in photopraphy, and he has never looked back.
Wrapped around the catalytic heater on his first night in the shack, he felt extraordinarily happy. He had taken his fate into his own hands, had followed his inner voice, and was doing what he truly in his heart of hearts, knew he was supposed to be doing.
He had no idea how he was going to support himself. Had no business plan, or life plan. He simply knew he was doing what he needed to do, and he did not listen to his friends and family, who ardently tried to coax him out of it, and get him to do something that was 'more sane'.
For the first two or three months, he got unemployment insurance. By spring he had set up ten-week evening courses in Landscape Photography and General Photography in the local community college, which made him a modest living.
He soon formed a corporation, which allowed him to collect all the tuition fees from his students, rather than just the teaching wage of $10/hour. Soon he was making ten times as much as he had originally.
From there he went to having prints of his best photos made, and selling them at craft shows.
He began to make a pretty decent living. If he budgeted carefully enough, he could get through most of the year with the income from his Christmas sales.
Within five years he began to move from teaching people locally, to taking them to exotic locations such as the Queen Charlotte Islands and Tofino on Canada's west coast and teaching photography courses there.
That quickly led to teaching photography in the Bahamas, the Galapagos Islands, and Equador, as well as New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia, Alaska, and a number of locations across Canada.
Soon he was doing full time teaching/tour leading to these various places.
As he became better known through the photography magazines he was advertising in, he began getting invitations to do weekend seminars in various places as well.
By 1985 he had accumulated enough photographs of prairie landscapes for a major theme, and when he showed his best 120 photographs to a local publisher, his first book, Prairie Light , was published.
So far it has sold more than 20,000 copies, which is exceptional, considering it is a regional book and most sales are more or less local.
The lesson Courtney learned when he 'jumped off the cliff and into the abyss' to start his career in photography is that there is a wise inner voice that can be trusted. He has listened to it many times since. He calls it 'intuition' for lack of a better word, and it is not usually audible, as it was in the bus depot cafe that night.
He has also had some extraordinary 'paranormal' experiences at times. For example one early dawn when he was sleeping, two 'velvet hands' lifted him to a sitting position, then turned his head to the left, and an audible voice said: 'we just didn't want you to miss it'. He looked out the window and saw the full moon setting as dawn arrived.
Although he has had some experiences like that, mostly his intuition gives him messages in the form of hunches, and he has learned to trust the 'inner voice' that always seems to be there for him when he needs guidance.
That doesn't mean he always listens! Sometimes he does things out of bullheadedness, willpower and sheer desire, but at least he can distinguish between intuition and willfullness.
He is most able to tune into this 'intuition' when he is out in nature with his camera. Inspirations and insights come to him when he is 'tuned in' in this way.
Courtney lived in the little house on the edge of Saskatoon for 13 years. He had a number of romantic relationships along the way, but none was the 'ideal' relationship, so he did not get married.
He became increasingly interested in travel, and a person he knew in Toronto gave him a list of twelve 'Sacred Places' of the world. He suddenly realized what he truly wanted to do was travel the world and photograph exotic landscapes in all their glory, and find what they had to teach and excite him.
He declared to himself and the Creator that he was not looking for a woman any more. He was going to photograph the sacred places, be fully self-sufficient, and no longer curtail his artistic pursuits in order to find a woman to be with.
Within two weeks of that decision he was introduced to a woman, Sherrill, in Vancouver who subsequently became his wife. She travelled all over the world with him, and was (and still is) invaluable in supporting his creative work. They have a very fulfilling relationship.
His book Sacred Places is internationally acclaimed.
He feels that meeting Sherrill is directly connected to his decision to quit looking for a woman.
The Existential Crisis
1998 Courtney got the chance to publish W.O. Mitchell Country , a book about the prairie landscapes in Alberta and Saskatchewan that figured prominently in the books of that famous Canadian author.
It was an exciting project, and he put his entire being into it. There was intense pressure to meet a very tight publishing deadline.
Within hours of sending in the final manuscript in late January, Courtney crashed in terms of health and energy.
The gym he had been working out in didn't want him to come any more because he seemed to be getting worse instead of better. He had been working out too hard with the weights and with running.
He had also picked up some parasites without knowing it on a trip to Equador a few months before.
The combination of the parasites, the stress from the book, an inexplicable rash on his chest, and getting shingles, caused him to totally shut down.
He had no will to live, no energy, and it felt very much like being back at the cable company and feeling hopeless in spite of outward appearances all those years before.
For a couple of months he felt totally trapped, and could see no way out of the situation.
By March he got himself to California to visit a friend who does nutritional counselling. She got him onto a much better regime, where he cut out liquor and caffeine, drank a lot more water, and started eating better food. He got into a more reasonable exercise program as well, and gradually his health improved.
During this time the photo image bank he had supplied images to for years, and which was his main source of income, cancelled his contract. He had also been writing illustrated magazine articles for a photography magazine for 15 years, and had published more than 180 articles. This was another significant source of income, but his relationship with that magazine was no longer satisfying to him, and he realized it was not in his best interests to carry on publishing the articles. That source of income thus dried up as well.
With both sources of income gone, it felt as though his career was over.
But again, within weeks of losing that income, new business opportunities presented themselves, and they have turned out to be very good.
The other good thing was that when he didn't have the commercial constraints on his work, which included a lot of computer work, and specific conformation (for example leaving a large amount of sky so a company's name a logo could go there in a calendar), he suddenly felt liberated in his work.
In retrospect, the whole scenario seemed like a godsend to him, in spite of the pain he felt at the time.
Being fired from the picture agency meant that he had to find new ways of making income from his photos, and he now finds that when he is making landscape photos he is much more free to follow his own heart and 'soul's content' instead of thinking "now this one should be vertical, and I need to leave a space to put text over the sky in case its going to be a magazine cover or calendar".
He began to see his photography evolving into a purely spiritual pursuit, and he saw that the 'shut down' of his body was a huge gift, because it put him on the couch for several months, where he had time to sort out for himself what his true desires were.
He hoped too that he could tune into his inner voice for guidance, and that his basic directions in his career, relationships and life in general would be increasingly based on following spirit rather than looking first to financial needs.
Having had this second crisis, it felt to him like he had been given a 'second chance', where he could do it all over again.
In spite of having gone through his first crisis, and having established a successful career in photography as a result, he felt he was facing the same amount of uncertainty as he did back then. There is no 'formula' that he could take from the learnings of the first crisis and apply it to the second.
It felt as though it was the 'giving in to not knowing the answers' that brought him the most peace, rather than thinking "aha, I know what I can do, now I can have peace".
He also felt that because some of his healing the second time involved some deep personal work, including 'Holotropic Breathing' (also known as 'Rebirthing'), that the experiences he was having of going into himself, the joys he was experiencing going into altered states of consciousness, were more rewarding than any of the 'conscious' work he had done over the years with photography.
That brought him the awareness that photography is a metaphor for something that is much deeper within, most of which was yet to be discovered. This was exciting to him and it gave him a new impetus to find more balance in his life to do more breathing, meditation and so forth along with his photography so that when he was doing photography, it was not just a photography project, but rather an expression of his spiritual path.
In spite of that, he was also aware that finding ways to make a living would probably be no easier, except that simply living every day was more joyous for him... richer and more multi-dimensional. He said if it means having less material wealth in order to maintain this level of spiritual awareness, he would be willing to give up everything he had to, although he did not think that would be necessary.
If you would like to buy a book or two of his, go to: Courtney Milne's Books
NOTE: Courtney passed away in August, 2010 after a year-long battle with multiple myeloma. He received many honours and awards for his photography over the years, but for me his most incredible photography was his 'pool of possibilities' . You can receive one of these beautiful museum-quality pictures every day by email, along with Courtney's 'Poolside Wisdom'. They are well worth the investment!
Terry Jones's Story
I founded a mental health consultant company about 25 years ago, and I was very motivated by it. It was very creative work. I felt that I was meeting my needs. I was able to accomplish things such as building my infrastructure, building a good family. It felt as though I was doing something of value in this work and making a good living.
But in my mid 50s something started to happen. I began to feel an emptiness form and I began a search that lead me to more than one place where people used different kinds of spiritual language. And eventually, and I mention this in my book, ended up with a group of people who were doing a retreat in the Pacific Islands. I was there about ten days. And during that time I was completely out of touch with my wife, which was very uncommon for us. And it scared her because when I came back she realized that I had shifted, and she hadn't been able to talk to me because I was just out of touch.
What happened was that I discovered that I was a spiritual person and I was feeling a connection to the divine, and I had not understood that the emptiness in me was really a spiritual hunger. I realized that there was an incompatibility between my spiritual journey and my work. I was in my work not only for good reasons, but the dark was that I was in a power position and I was disconnected from people. I didn't really have any close friends. My body was coping by my blood pressure was up and the cholesterol was rising, and for some reason I had reached a point in my career where I was beginning to get bored with the work. So I gradually began to develop a deeper experience with my own center through a number of different practices including, incidentally, the training that I went through a few years ago with Rabbi Schachter's Institute.
Gradually I began to drift down and out of managing my own company so that - where I had been so turned on, I mean even sexually, by this industry, and finding new business, and being able to create a new contract - I was not turned on any more.
So I went through a period of time where I was like in a desert. But I had a confidence that I was linked to the divine and there was no question about that, but I still didn't really know where I was going. So what happened then over the last few years, is I turned over the management of the company to another guy. I literally even gave him a piece of ownership so that he would feel motivated enough to take charge of the company. I work out of my home now. I started writing my book The Elder Within back in about 1999. I also did some things such as start spending time with people who are curious about their spiritual journey. For example I got trained to be a spiritual director, which basically is you sit with a person for an hour, kind of like a counsellor, but the goal is not to diagnosis a problem, but just to facilitate that person's spiritual journey.
Well going through the training is like a two year process, and I discovered it was again, elder training, because the people I was with were my generation, mostly. They weren't young people. The people I was with were in a passage between their mid life work and something else in terms of their creativity.
In other words some were entering what we call the retirement, others were just going on with what they were doing, others had quit, and were creating new professions, but we were all in this kind of occupational transition. And also we were all very hungry to be quieter and more centered.
Well another crisis that came out of that crisis, was that my wife and I of 35 years began to cross over, as the empty nest thing formed for her, as our five children, have become much more capable. She became much more energetic, and moving into the work world as an alternative to being a traditional mother. And now she is out there, as an instructor in a college, just really excited about the energy of the work place, and I have pulled back.
I go out into the land a lot, and I spend more time by myself, and I like to write, and I like to be with contemplative people and in many ways I'm a much quieter, less stimulating character than she signed on with. We had to go through marriage counselling to figure in part, what is the new paradigm for us? If she is going to be kicking butt, and I'm going to be quieting down and more contemplative, can we fill each other needs? So we had to find new ground for literally two new personalities, kind of.
I have discovered that other men and women who have long marriages who reach this point in their lives, and go through some of the transitions that I've gone through, and have these same challenges. And a lot of marriages don't survive it.
One of my favourite books is a little known book called Death of a Hero, Birth of the Soul: Answering the Call of Midlife by John C. Robinson. The message in this book is that the hero's journey is over. Now - because the hero to me is kind of an immature warrior - the hero is no longer riding in on a white steed and for this man's book talks about that when you get to mid life you are really making that transition from a not that you are dying in metaphysical experience or that you are becoming less potent but that your power is being used for healing and for blessing and for telling your story, and having the mental I think for me at least is a lot richer. So it was really perfect in '96 for me to have gone through the new warrior initiation because it was right around that time. There was one other man in my weekend that was in his 50 and that was it. There were no ritual elders then. There was no role for the elders; the leaders weren't struggling with elder power because there just wasn't any elder stepping up. As you know that completely changed.
So what has occurred in the new warrior at the same time that I was going through my transition was that growth in the excitement about the old warrior and the potential of the elder and the impact they can have on building a scared container for the brotherhood and for the weekend. I literally wasn't ready. I got initiated and I disappeared for a few years because I was not ready for this kind of personal growth. And I have been drifting backwards for the last few years since I've come sort of full circle on understanding some of this change in my life. So for me the pathway of the elder is a necessary paradigm shift for me because what I have been taught of what I've been modeled like by my father, who is a good man and is still alive at 86 and very vigorous, but his wasn't an elder pathway, it was an older man's retirement program. And it didn't have the depth that I wanted, it didn't have the connection to family that I wanted, it didn't have the teaching that I wanted, it didn't have the blessings that I wanted. So for me, the idea of elder expression has become not just something that I want to share with other men, but it is about me and my own pathway.
When I first started looking for the idea of elder, and started looking for people that understood this which were few, I had this impression that elders were kind of like Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, and I've come to realize that there are no elders. There are only times when some of us have enough grounding, and enough centering, that we can come on this way. So where I am today is appreciating that I don't need to be perfect to be on an elder pathway. That there is a lot of time left for me to develop this nature, and I may never get to a place like some of us admire, like we might look at Mandela, and feel that he is an elder, but it is something that can occur in a particular day but it may not occur in a certain week.
Through the ManKind project I've also been able to develop an understanding that my shadow is okay, that it is okay for me to have made these errors that I've made. It's okay for me to drag into this time of my life my history, that there are certain parts that I'm not proud of. It is okay for me to have a shadow it is not okay for me to let it run my life. So today I'm much more conscious of where I'm tempted by my shadow to make error, and so I'm less at risk. I'm more accessible to my children, because I'm not so defensive and not so angry, and I'm much more inclined to put up with the occasional desert walks that I'm called to do. There is a lot of time, sometime in my life between events. I'm just aware of it somehow. Because when I was entrepreneur there was no time for anything. And now when there is so much space I'm able to see it and I'm able to understand it as gardening, and even though it may be boring it is good for me.
I guess what I want to add is that I made a decision, when I was first introduced to the idea of elder as a paradigm by a couple of very important people to me, and they didn't even know exactly that this was what they were saying to me, but I drew from what they were saying is that I'm called to be an elder and be more elder like.
So the judgment I made back then, because I saw myself as no where near that image, that this would be something that over the next few decades I might pursue. And I've been aware that this is not something I'm going to accomplish, but something that I'll just continue to deepen in as I grow into my 60s, 70s and 80s and 90s.
I'm operating on the assumption based on the other models around me that I'm going to be around for an awful long time.
Don Haythorn's Story
Here is Don's story as he told it to me:
"When I was about 55 years old, in 1988, I changed a whole lot of things in my life. And in retrospect, I think it was because the pressures of being in a role, largely defined by others, that I took on, and the unauthenticity inherent in that, the pressures of that became a little bit too much.
I was working as an economic consultant, self-employed, but it wasn't very fulfilling. I didn't find myself doing the kinds of things I wanted to do. Or at least... I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I didn't find what I was doing very satisfying. So I knew I had to change that, and I was in a marriage that was not very alive, so I had to do something about that. Change that.
So it was a time of just sort of coasting. So I guess that was the part that became really unbearable. A lot of it wasn't really conscious. I found myself doing things and making changes that I wouldn't rationally decide to do. For example leaving my marriage of 29 years, leaving the kind of work that I was doing, leaving the place where I had been living for a long time... I wouldn't consciously choose to do those things.
I think my meeting up with Myriam (ed. note: Myriam is his partner now), and establishing a connection with her was the major trigger that caused me to rethink and make some changes.
Within my marriage, I was very much ‘solidified' or solidly caste in my own idea of who I was. And rightly or wrongly - probably wrongly - I didn't feel that I could make the changes I had to make, although I wasn't conscious of that feeling. I wouldn't allow myself to be that different in that framework. The fear was largely my own. I didn't want to destroy the persona I thought I had created. I thought that's who I was, and I didn't feel I could risk changing it. Again not consciously, but in retrospect, that was my fear.
In 1989 Myriam and I decided to strike out, live together and start a business together. So we moved from Edmonton to the west coast in order to do that.
The Beginning of Big Changes
The two or three years following that decision were pretty intense as far personal growth is concerned. So many aspects of who I had been were changed and challenged and yet new ways of being had not yet been established, so that was kind of a dark night of the soul. I didn't know who I was, where I was going, or what I was doing. I was still uncomfortable with the changes, and was not yet established in any new comfortable pattern.
We took part in a lot of personal growth seminars, such as the ‘Spirit in Relationship' seminar we attend shortly after we got out here, and those experiences were fraught with crises in a way... "who am I and what am I doing" came up an awful lot in them.
But at the same time we were beginning to establish a business, we were beginning to make a difference with some new clients, which was kind of a stabilizing, settling influence that helped support the personal changes.
I had been an economic consultant, an economist, providing advice through studies and analysis to different kinds of organizations. I went from that to facilitating organizational development and change in organizations, where I was no longer responsible really for the content, but rather for the process, for people to discover their own answers.
It was much more satisfying because people were making changes, they were making choices, they were moving in ways that they wouldn't in the previous work I was doing, where I was the expert and they could take or leave the kind of advice I offered.
Now they were empowered and engaged in making their own choices discovering their own answers, rather than have someone else discover them for them.
On the personal level, the changes were somewhat gradual. When I started taking the various personal growth workshops and seminars, I kind of thought and hoped and expected there would be some kind of ‘bright shining plateau' on the other side.
But it's interesting, there was just another opportunity to shift and grow on the other side. It may not have been quite as ego-threatening or as identity-threatening as the initial ‘big one', but I think after I went through the first big change, events kind of conspired to say "Ok, you've started, now here's another challenge for you, and here's another one and here's another one".
The challenges were really just next steps in growth. It's kind of an incremental thing, and I think it shifts from knowing it to doing it. The first few years was "yes, I know the things I need to do to shift to become more authentic", and then later on things would come up to say "ok, you know it, now here's a chance to live it". I can't think of anything specific, but there were a number of little things that came up that were reminders that you can't just ‘know it', you have to actually live it.
That period of learning is still going on to some extent, but I think I developed, as people do, some ‘muscles' for handling change, and some competence in dealing with the challenges of being genuine, being authentic, and being self-directed. Once you step out and do it the first time, it's a little easier to do it the next time.
The Big Lesson
I think the big lesson I learned for those years, is having the courage to be authentic. To say what's going on, to express my truth almost no matter what, when required. I spent a good part of my life behaving in ways I thought I would be most accepted and most liked. It turns out that probably wasn't true. I probably would have been more respected, admired and perhaps liked if I hadn't been trying to please everybody all the time.
So I think that's the big lesson - that there is no risk in being authentic, even though the ego feels rather threatened.
I am 68 now, and I think there is a certain serenity that comes from every little increase that one makes in being authentic. And I think that I am enjoying some of that, and even though the horizon is always the same distance away and I can see a lot of potential for further growth, it still doesn't deny the fact that I have achieved a lot of peace from the progress I have made.
On a physical level, there weren't a lot of noticeable changes when I started making all these other changes in my life. In the last couple of years I have noticed a couple of physical effects of getting older, but back then I didn't really notice anything in particular.
If I were to give any advice to other men going through the same kind of changes I went through back then, I would encourage them to stay the course, and to find support to be authentic, to be who they really are. It seems to me that the extent of any midlife crisis may depend upon the extent to which their authentic self has been abandoned in favour of some externally-defined or preconceived role. The further one gets from their being authentic, perhaps the greater the crisis, because the more they have to recover in terms of being who they really are.
Before I started this change process, our Unitarian minister talked about personal growth, and I wondered what the hell he was talking about. There was no such thing that I knew of, that I understood.
So I think it is important to realize that we are not fully evolved in middle age, when we think we might be, and to be open to new ways of seeing ourselves and our potential.
One of the things I want to emphasize is I think once one finds themselves in what feels like a morass of middle aged crisis, it may feel difficult, but it's really a very large opportunity. I guess any crisis is an opportunity, but the more it feels like a crisis, the greater the opportunity for making change, and those options will continue. It's not as if you are going to stop having them. They will be continually presenting themselves, and it's a matter of developing the capacity to deal with them. And as that capacity to be authentic, to deal with these things evolves, they shift from being crises, to being more of ‘yah... here's another opportunity'.
I think there is no such thing as a wrong decision in this. Its just a matter of being in the moment and doing what one feels is right.
When we are in a crisis, there can be a tendency to look outside ourselves for the answer, as if something new in our external environment will change it (new job, new car, new wife), and it might, but I think what's on the outside is a reflection of what's on the inside, and it probably doesn't hold the answer. I think the answer is to know ourselves, and to understand ourselves, first. If we need to make some changes first in order create the space, or the motivation to make internal changes - if it involves some clearing away to make space for changes - that's different. But trying to make external changes in order to solve an internal problem is probably not the first way to go about it.
For me, authenticity is the big one, and having the ‘right job' or doing the ‘right thing' as in ‘right livelihood' is less important. I think I can be quite peaceful and serene doing almost anything, if I am authentic in my relationships, and true to who I am while I am doing it. So, for me at least, its not about the ‘what', but more about the ‘how'.
Looking forward to the next ten years, I will take it a day at a time, but I have the feeling my life will become even more joyful and serene."
Chester Cunningham's Story
Introduction: I interviewed Chester on July 8, 2002. We have known each other for some time, and I knew he had had some struggles during his 50s. Chester is Metis, and lives in North Central Alberta, Canada. Many years ago he mortgaged his house to finance the start-up of a service to help First Nations people getting fair treatment when they run into trouble with the law.
His organization, Native Counselling Services, became very successful and is a model for similar organizations in other parts of the world.
Chester is 69 years old now, has turned the management of Native Counselling Services over to a new manager, and has 'retired'. He is very contented with his life and is less active than he used to be, but is still quite busy as a consultant and member of several judicial committees, where he focusses on get fair treatment for everyone who runs into legal difficulties.
Here is Chester's Story: When I was about 49, my blood pressure went up, and I wasn't sure what it was from. I had quit participating in active sports, like baseball, and I gained a fair amount of weight, and there were extra pressures at the job, and I ended up in the hospital being treated for hypertension.
And... you know, you feel like you're so much needed at work. The second time I was in the hospital, my dad visited, and I said "I've got to get to hell out of here and get back to work, and my family needs me."
He said "Hey, your priorities are all wrong. What the hell are they going to do if you're not there? You look after yourself first, then you can look after the others."
I sat back and thought about that, and decided he was right!
At that time, I was also noticing that I wasn't as strong as I used to be, and I didn't have as much energy. I used to be great at remembering people's faces and names, and I was starting to miss some. A name or face would come to me, but it often took a while. I had quite a chat with my doctor and told him that I'm losing my memory.
He said "In the business you're in, you are meeting thousands of people, and your brain is like a computer. You're putting information into it, and it's just taking longer to recover."
That kind of reassured me that I wasn't suffering with Alzheimer's or anything.
I was starting to get leg cramps, and he said I used to be very active and I wasn't any more, so some changes were bound to happen. He helped with my diet - I eat a banana a day - and I don't get leg cramps any more.
Diabetes also showed up, and I thought it was the end of the world! I didn't want to give myself a needle, but after a couple trips to the dietician clinic with a specialist, I've got it under control.
The first couple of times I went to the clinic I took my wife along, and sat back and let her take all the instructions, until it finally dawned on me that ‘hey... it's your body, you look at this stuff.'
That's another thing I learned... I have to be responsible for myself. When I first got diabetes I tried to get my wife to do my eating for me and my cooking for me, and it didn't work. I had to take my own diet in hand and guide it and watch it myself!
When I started to do that, things started to come around. I've lost 55 pounds by just sticking to the diabetic diet, which includes all the food groups. It's an excellent one.
They were treating me for hypertension for five years before they found the diabetes, and the symptoms I was having were a combination of the two.
By the time I was about 55 I had kind of adjusted, and realized that I couldn't do some of the things I used to do, but there were still lots of things I could do. I just had to admit to myself that I was getting older and there were things I couldn't do that I could when I was young.
One of the things that kind of upset me was my kids would come along and say ‘oh no, no, dad, you're too old. You can't do it. We'll do it." And I was still stronger than most of them! That kind of bothered me for a while, but then I got over it.
One of the things I learned through that process is I've got to know my limits. You know... what I can do, and what I can't. That's another thing my doctor helped with... learning to accept that I was 55 not 25!
I still stay active but in a different way. I walk everyday now. Usually about six miles. If I feel like I want to do a couple extra I can do eight, but sometimes I only do three. I just don't push myself so much that its going to hurt.
One of the gifts of getting older, and I started noticing this when I was about 35, is you get smarter.
I used to play a lot of baseball, and was pretty good. I was fast, and had a good arm, and I would often make spectacular plays. One day when I was in my mid thirties one of my uncles said "I see you're getting to be a better ball player.".
I asked him what he meant.
He said I wasn't making so many spectacular plays, because I was using my head more. I was watching more - seeing how the batter was standing in the box - and positioning myself, so I didn't have to run and make ‘big saves' so much. The plays weren't as hard.
And I began to notice that in other areas of my life... I began to figure out ways to cut things down, simpler ways to do things.
By the time I was in my mid fifties, I was getting a medical, and my doctor asked how I was doing. I said I was feeling pretty good. He asked how old I was, and I said 55. He said ‘you can quit worrying... you'll be alright'. I'm not sure what he based that on, unless it's his experience with male patients, who generally start feeling better by the time they get through the first few years of their 50s.
He did tell me to find something to take the place of the sports I used to play though. And I was travelling a lot in those days, and he suggested I find a way to do less.
We get together with our family quite a bit now. We have seven children, and we get together at Drumheller, which is the area I grew up in, and have a good time.
We don't interfere in their lives though. We let them know that we are there for support if they need it, but mostly they should resolve their own issues. We don't try to run their lives for them, even though sometimes they kind of invite us to!
I'm still enjoying myself a lot. I take things easier, but I'm still involved in lots of stuff. I don't try to change the world any more though. I've found that a lot of times if you sit back and just watch a bit, things will resolve themselves. It takes more patience, but it works well.
I used that at the office. My staff used to come in with a problem and I'd say "If it gets to a real crisis, we'll do something, but let's let it work itself out for a while first."
Often, after they thought about it for a while, and I thought about it, it passed. It didn't need to be solved. And quite often it worked out for the better.
I think a lot of people begin to worry that their life is over when their bodies start slowing down, but you can still have a great life. You just have to accept that your body can't do what it could a while ago. But your mind is better, and your body can still do a lot, if you keep it in shape.
The other thing is not to be afraid to ask people. Talk to people who have similar problems. Too many people think they are the only ones having a problem, but by talking to others, you can find out you are not alone, and you can find good information about how to handle things.
A good number of the guys I used to play ball with got so they would go drink beer and talk about ball. They should call it ‘baseball anonymous'. Just because you can't do what you used to do doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything. You've got to stay active, but just not at the level you used to.
I walk every day, and when I am travelling I sometimes get out of the routine, so when I get home it can be kind of hard to get started again, but I make myself start, and then pretty soon I'm back into it.
My wife has diabetes now too, so we walk together. I have to walk a bit slower, but it helps me get going on days that I don't want to. I think having a partner is a good thing. Maybe get a buddy to go walking with or do some kind of sport or something. Even a dog can be good, because you have to take it for a walk every day.
It can be hard to slow down... I used to be going hard all the time. It took two go-rounds with diabetes and hypertension before I caught on.
Leaving Native Counselling Services, I selected the person that was going to replace me, I sat down with him and told him I would be available if he hit a crisis. I told him the place was his, and he could do what he wanted with it, and this was the state I was leaving it in.
I also told him I knew he was going to manage differently than I did, and I was not going to interfere. There was only one occasion when he needed my help.
It was hard to make that decision, and it was hard telling staff, when they came to me, that it was no longer my organization, but it was the only way to be fair to my successor, and let him do his job. It's still hard to see crises in our community and know that I can do something, and not be involved in Native Counselling.
But once I got some energy back, I got involved in other things... I sit on the Law Enforcement Review Board, I do investigations for Corrections, and am on the Judicial Selection Committee for appointing new judges. And Ministers still phone me for my thoughts on policies and so on. So I still do stuff that feels meaningful for me, but I am not so immersed in things as I used to be.
So that's about it... take time for yourself. That message my dad gave me was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got.
Wes Barrett's Story
Here is Wes's story, as he told it to me...
Looking back, I see the changes that started in 1979/80 when I was 42/43 years old, as a confluence of two major things in my life.
One was an increasing job dissatisfaction. The other was a crisis of faith.
I started teaching in 1960. It was something I felt called to. In 1963, I got married, and was very happily married. We started raising a family. We were involved in the United Church, which was a tradition in both our families.
But by 1979, I had begun to outgrow the school in the sense that I had achieved what I wanted to do in terms of my teaching career. I had really enjoyed it for 18-19 years, but then I realized I had done everything I had set out to do. I had reached my goals and objectives. I had become, I thought, an excellent teacher, I worked hard at it, I loved the kids, but the interest just wasn't there any more, and I realized that about this time I was in a minor depression.
There were also hormonal changes obviously going on, and I can't help but wonder now whether I was genetically predestined. My dad was in a deep clinical depression, and that led eventually to his death. He had trouble adjusting to the world as it was developing around him, and he was a very sensitive man. He was a gifted musician, teacher, highly respected in his community, but a very introspective man at the same time. He had trouble getting out and socializing the way most people do. He was able to communicate well with people, but he didn't make a lot of friends. And I thought I could see some of that in me, and I mustn't let the same thing happen.
He died early, at age 64 in 1971. So I was determined to not let that happen to me, but I could see it happening. I was losing a lot of sleep, I was uptight. I must have been a bear to live with and work with at times. I can remember sitting at school in the staff room on my spare or at lunchtime or after school, and I just wanted to talk with people at a very deep level, and all they were interested in was their sports, and after school activities, and all this sort of thing, and I just had a real problem letting things be. That's what it boiled down to.
In 1980 Barb had started working again, partly because I had expressed the feeling that I wasn't sure I could carry on teaching. She is an RN, and hadn't worked for twenty years, but she was needed, so she started working shifts. She was rock-solid through everything.
I can remember going through almost sleepless nights, where I would go to sleep, then one hour later wake up, and it would be totally impossible to get back to sleep. Of course you can't function well as a teacher, or in any job, if you don't get your sleep.
I went to the doctor and he put me on a medicine I had an allergic reaction to. It just exacerbated the problem. I could not get to sleep.
I kind of felt isolated in my life. I wondered whether anybody understood what I was going through. I thought my friends must have known, but nothing was ever said. Nobody ever said something like "Hey Wes, let's go for a walk and talk about things. I can tell you need it" sort of thing.
So I was angry about that. As I say I must have been difficult to work and to live with. But I wasn't like that all the time. When I was in the classroom I was able to perform well. But the energy was starting to wane, the enthusiasm, the interest in the kids - I'd been there and done that. I had outgrown my profession, is the simplest way to put it.
In 1982 I took a five-month unpaid leave from February to June, and that was good. In February I had a wonderful week working on a freighter on the west coast that was operated by a good friend of ours, and that was something that was totally new to me. I had never been at sea, or operated machinery, or that kind of thing.
In September 1982, I went back to teaching and I was quite refreshed and charged up. But that didn't last too long. By 1984 I was really starting to feel down again, and I started realizing I was probably not going to last in that job. The school board, through government funding had been offering buyout packages, designed to encourage older teachers to get out. I didn't want to become like some of the other teachers who were just there strictly to qualify for their full pension, and then get out. Doing absolutely nothing for the kids.
During this time, as I mentioned, I was also having a ‘crisis of faith'.
We were involved at the church in many ways, so our lives were focussed on family and church. The United Church is a fairly liberal church, and I would describe myself as a small l liberal.
Ministers came and went, and late in the 60s, a minister named Jack Gardener came, who had a profound influence on us. He helped us get out of our ‘Sunday School' level thinking about religion and faith. He was followed by another minister who was more of a throwback to the traditional style, and then in the late 70s we had the gift of a minister named Ron Atkinson who was just an absolutely gifted writer, a poet, a musician, and teacher. He was just exceptional. His vision, his articulation of his vision, his understanding of life, humanity, faith, far surpassed anything we had ever come across before.
With his guidance our faith and belief grew from simple Sunday School tenets to a much broader creation-centred spirituality. Through him we learned and came to understand the sacredness and oneness of all life, the interconnectedness of life, and the traditional ‘way' of looking for something, waiting for something, beyond Now, wasn't appropriate, wasn't right. We learned to understand and appreciate the divine in the commonplace... the particularities of everyday living.
Also being an arts person myself, my training was in languages and literature, but I've always been interested in music, and Barb also was interested in the arts, in theatre for example, and through this minister in a program called ‘incarnation in the arts', we were able to expand our understanding of this faith. So we grew intellectually and spiritually beyond the church.
I'd also got to the point, through the influence of Ron Atkinson, and the influence of reading that he led us to - theological and non-theological - that I had a better understanding of what was wrong with the world, and why it was in such a mess. And I felt almost that I had the answer!
I just got to the point where I outgrew where the church was. It no longer had relevance for me.
I made it in teaching until 1986. In the meantime, during 1984-85, with the two incomes, we were doing pretty well financially. The kids were getting older and more independent, so we had more disposable income - we paid off the mortgage and so on - so there was a need for better financial planning, tax planning, and I became interested in mutual funds. I did a lot of reading and study, and eventually decided to start investing in mutual funds. The company I invested with noticed my interest and enthusiasm, plus I had mentioned that I was more interested in the funds than in teaching, so they suggested I come and work for them.
After a lot of soul-searching, and with Barb's support (she could see it was something that I just ‘had to do'), my last class was in June, ‘86, when I was 49 years old. So that was a real rupture in my life, but I felt I had to do it.
I took the plunge, got the buyout, and got out into the ‘real world'. I was quite excited about it. I wasn't too sure about the selling aspect of it, but I thought maybe I could use my teaching gifts to help people understand wise investing. But that didn't turn out to be the case. I found it hard to sell. Cold-calling was a real chore. It didn't take too long before I realized ‘I'm not really cut out for this', but I thought I'd give it a go. I realized I was more interested in getting to know the client as a person, rather than as an investor. I've always been people-oriented, but it was not really the best way to approach a business.
Unfortunately the 1987 crash occurred, and that slowed things down a lot. I hung on. I wasn't making a lot of money, but I did my best under the circumstances. But I also realized ‘this really isn't the right thing for me'.
I even tried teaching ESL (English as a second language). I thought ‘I'm a teacher, maybe I could do that'. I took some training, got a few clients, but it wasn't long before I realized that wasn't what I wanted to do either. I've done teaching, and I don't need any more of that.
I was feeling kind of lost, and I can remember realizing that all my life I've been kind of an ‘earth person'. Being in and with Nature has always been very important in my life. In Barb's too. I had been gardening for years. I became an organic gardener in the 1970s, and I realized more and more that I needed to reconnect with people who had a connection, like me, with the Earth. I wanted to help people care for the earth.
So I hung in with the financial stuff for four years, until May, 1990, when I came to the realization that I was, in a way, a ‘city farmer'. Here I was in the middle of the city, with my ‘mini farm' in my back yard, and I wanted to connect with other people who were growing organically, so I looked through the yellow pages. I don't know why I looked there, but there I saw ‘City Farmer' , and I thought, ‘whoa, I've got to talk to these people'. So I did... I went down in my business suit from the funds office one day to the City Farmer office, and I met Mike Levinson, and I felt at home right away. I just felt totally at home... this was a group I wanted to get involved with.
I started volunteering my time, and connected immediately with Jill, the gardener, and the other people that were working there for the summer under various government programs. I felt totally comfortable, totally at one with City Farmer and its mandate: urban agriculture. We all saw the garden as a microcosm of the earth, and we were doing our part to help save ‘creation', sort of thing.
The City Farmer staff felt good about me too, so in September, 1992 when Jill left, I was invited to become the head gardener. I was a little stunned! but I thought sure I would give it a try.
I had shut down my mutual fund job by then, and passed my clients over to another fellow in the office. My occupation had been volunteering at City Farmer, so I had had no income. Of course Barb was still working, but it had meant we had to adjust to living on a much-reduced income as well!
It wasn't long before I realized that the City Farmer garden is also a sort of healing centre. The number of people that I saw and heard about who came in there with broken lives, and connected one of us, and became volunteers as a result. Became friends. It was wonderful.
I worked there four days a week very happily.
I retired officially in 2000 when Barb retired from work. That was always the deal... when she retired, I would retire. Prior to retiring, I had begun to cut back on my hours, because the passion, even for that was waning somewhat. I was getting older. In 2000 I was 63, and I had ‘been there and done that' in so many ways. I just wanted to live a life now where I wasn't terribly involved, and Barb was ready for that too.
I guess what it all boils down to is I've learned to just let it be. Not worry about the world so much. Just go with the flow, and still treasure it, and treasure life, but not let the political situation, the economic situation, the mistreatment of the earth, get to me.
My life now is much smoother, although there are times when I still get a little uptight. But I am much calmer because we can leave town and go to our place in the Kootenays, in the interior of B.C. There we are totally surrounded by a beautiful forest, there's clean water, clean air... we can get away from the tv, newspapers and so on, and just live a simpler life.
We are not involved in community organizations, although I am involved in a band. As a boy, I learned to play the euphonium, which is a kind of small, upright tuba. My dad was a very fine euphonium player. I played it through university and into our early married life, but I got tired of it, and became more interested in choral music.
But its funny how life is a circle... my brother said ‘You're a bandsman. Why don't you rent a horn and give it a try'. So at age 60 I said ok, and it felt so good to be playing music again!
I also do carving and woodworking, which I enjoy very much.
The formal church no longer has a place in our lives, but spirituality is still very important. Not that we practice any particular rites, but I have always related to the native spirituality and culture, and right now our souls seem better sustained when we are at the cabin and in nature. We have a sense of connection with creation, and recognize the intrinsic value of everything, including even inanimate things. They all have their place.
All in all, life is good.
Note: Wes passed away suddenly in February, 2007. He is sadly missed by many.
Mike Hebert's Story
This is Mike's story, as he told it to me.
Around the age of forty I started to become aware that I had tears in my eyes. I hadn’t cried since I was maybe eight, when my sisters embarrassed me, by allowing my girlfriend to come and see me when I was crying about my dog, my dead dog. I stopped crying the instant she walked in the room.
Anyway, when I was forty, I suddenly started realizing my eyes would start tearing up at things. I’m watching movies and they’re triggering these emotions that seem to come from nowhere, and they’re very powerful emotions. There’s a part of me that oversees my life and will once in a while feed me an unemotional comment about this or that. Like “you’re being stupid” or “you’re being…” you know, a certain way. This ‘observer’ was encouraged when I was doing Transactional Analysis Group Therapy, from 1975 on. I was encouraged to nurture that part, told that we all had that part, but many people are unaware of it. So, there’s this voice in your head that you just have to learn to listen to and it will start to give you advice and information, and it’s always right and it’s never emotional.
I’d already read some articles on middle-age. I was expecting things to happen. For example, I remember driving down the road and seeing a red sports car and thinking, “oh wow, that’s really attractive to me,” and then a little voice popping into my head saying, “That’s middle-age syndrome. You must be approaching middle-age.” I immediately said to myself, “Oh shit, I’m not going to get a little red sports car. I don’t want to do that, I’m not going to be a stereotype.”
So the key was, when I was around age thirty-nine, forty, I was starting to tear up. My personality has always been fairly non-committal. I would listen to other people, but never volunteer anything myself in terms of how I was feeling. I wasn’t even aware of how I was feeling most of the time. I could only describe it as suppression of emotion, but I was totally unaware of it. I couldn’t find out how I was doing it. I thought, “I must be doing it,” because I wasn’t feeling any emotion and I knew that can’t be right. “Many people around me, my age and my gender, are feeling emotion and crying. Why aren’t I? Why didn’t I grieve my mother’s death, why didn’t I cry at her funeral when everybody around me was?” It wasn’t in me to cry. It was a very strong decision I made at the age of eight.
I’m fifty-one this year and by the month I notice that I’m more emotional. I’m sure it’s going to stop at some point. I mean how much emotions can one feel? But I am increasingly feeling more and more emotion and there are two sides to that coin. More love, more compassion for people, and also more anger at people’s failings and more hatred for people that refuse to be compassionate, that refuse to help others.”
Sadness is another one. When my little brother died February eleventh of last year, that was a trigger that changed a lot of things in my life. Sadness is an emotion I wasn’t allowed to feel until that point for whatever reason. The day he died, I started feeling sadness. Day by day, it got greater and greater and I found myself crying. Literally, crying tears and sobbing. I mean this is real emotion. But I was no longer afraid of it, and I no longer cared if anybody saw me crying. It doesn’t matter. I’m old enough and I’m an adult and I’m allowed to make my own decisions.”
When I was forty-three I remember saying to myself, “I’m forty-three. I can say the word ‘sex.’” Of course that expands to include things such as ‘penis,’ and ‘vagina.’ “I’m an adult now, I can express myself. I can say things.” And this is many years after when it should have happened to me. That’s a very important part of this process that I’m going through, getting in touch with my emotions. Getting in touch with the true me, the real me that’s in there, that’s always been there. That has been stifled and suppressed so that I could conform to other people’s picture of what the world should be. Their expectations.
I wasn’t aware of how strong, of how powerful an influence that is on me and how I lived my life. If you had asked me at thirty if I was expressing myself I would have said, “Oh yes, absolutely!” And I’d known all these groups, in seven years of group therapy, with many, many different individuals. Really intelligent people… I heard all kinds of other people expressing all these things, and I never did. I never felt it was in me. My older brother committed suicide when I was sixteen. I could talk about his death and I wasn’t really that emotional.
Basically until I reached thirty-nine/forty, I wasn’t allowing myself to express emotion. I can’t tell you what part of me could possibly have that power or that strength over my psyche. What can do that? All of my reading and all of my learning, I can’t tell you where it could possibly come from, or how it could be so well hidden. But it’s an amazing thing.
When I was forty six, I was working very hard. I was working seven days a week basically. I allowed myself a few hours off on Sunday, but my average day would be fourteen to eighteen hours. My wife and I finally went to Mexico for a three week holiday and I got nicely wound down. We didn’t do much drinking. We just basically went and looked at the pyramids in Chichen Itza and stuff like that. I got very much into the culture, and learning about the Mayans and the Mexicans, and talking to people. I really enjoyed myself for three weeks.
The night after we got back I was sitting in the hot tub just relaxing and still thinking about Mexico. I started to feel this tingling sensation that went from my forehead right around the back of my head, down my spine, right out my feet. It just sort of started, and expanded.
I relate this to having been a very devout as a child. I can get quiet and think about God or think about Jesus, and I’ll feel this tingling in my head. But this time, I was thinking about God for whatever reason, and this tingling started and continued happening right down my spine, right through my feet. There was a voice in my head telling me this is my fifteen seconds of clarity. I’d read in several books or been told, I don’t remember how, but I’d always been expecting this to happen. There’s a voice in my head saying, “this is your fifteen seconds of clarity, make good use of it.”
The image in my mind, I’m sure it comes from the ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ movie where it looks like a curve in the sky with a bright light above it but no light source and then kind of a darkness below that. And then there’s this voice talking, I can’t remember what the voice was saying. I only remember that I only had fifteen seconds and I had to make good use of it. And there for a few seconds, I’m suddenly realizing, “I feel… I understand. I understand what I am doing here!” I also understand that for half my life I’ve left God behind me. I need to get back to my God connection, and not the religious God. I have a belief in a God that’s slightly different from the scientific and the religious versions of God.
Still this voice is telling me, “you only have a few seconds, you’ve got to make good use of it.” And even as I’m suddenly realizing that, “I understand everything that’s going on,” that I suddenly feel good and safe. “Everything’s as it should be!” Then the feeling’s starting to fade, and I remember saying, “No, no I’m not ready! I need to ask more!” But it faded and I lost my understanding of how I could possibly believe that everything was right. Because everything is not right! But, the understanding has stayed with me. Not the understanding of how, but the realization that, “I felt it, I believed it. So it must be true.” That everything is as it should be. That this Universe and this world, is as it should be.
That was also when I cured a problem that I have had since I was five years old, when I fell on this chunk of ice with all my weight on my nose, I had probably broken my nose. My mother didn’t believe in doctors, so she treated me herself, and I’d never been able to breathe through my left nostril completely, since.
That night I’m realizing the tingling was continuing even as I got out of the hot tub and dried myself off, and dressed, and started walking back and forth in the Rec room with this incredible energy flowing through me. This went on for two hours. I figured, “well, I’m in a state right now where I can do anything, as long as I believe it, I can do it, and I know I can heal! So what do I need to heal right now?”
The thing that came to mind was this thing where I’d never been able to breathe properly out of my left nostril. So I sat there, and I got calm and I imaged an outline of a head like you’d see in a health book, and I imaged my nasal passages, and I imaged them draining down into my throat. As I was doing that, I was feeling this fluid coming into my throat and I had to swallow. I realized suddenly, “I can breathe through my left nostril!” I remember plugging my right nostril and sure enough I was breathing air! lots of air, through my left nostril for the first time since I was five. That was six years ago. I’ve never gone back to not being able to breathe through my left nostril.
Over two hours, the feeling of energy flowing through me slowly faded away and I came back to reality and I missed it. But the end result has been that my fear of existence, my fear of living, my fear of dying, my fear of pain is very, very diminished. I’m so much more a whole person. It was a great experience. I wish I could give it to everybody!
I believe it was proof from my higher self or from whatever form of higher life there is that the physical life is not the end. That’s so important to me. I was devout as a child, a devout Catholic and left that faith through my own personal observations. It’s been important for me to come back to a belief in something other than a physical existence. It can’t be that this is all there is. That’s the important part of that experience.
But I would not have been ready for that experience when I was twenty. It would not have happened. My God-connection wasn’t there. I threw away God, especially when my older brother committed suicide, I threw him away. My sister did the same thing. I said, “Well you know, if that can happen, if a good person has to go through that… God can’t exist. It can’t be that we can have all this pain, but you still have a God.”
But I take faith from my experience and my own belief for fifteen seconds that all is as it should be. That particular voice in my head has never been wrong. And so I believe that we are on the right path, as a race, as a civilization, as a planet. We are on the right path. One way or another, we’re going where we should be, despite all the negative that we see. We need the negative and we need the positive, and somewhere in the middle is: right. Other things changed in my forties too.
When I was twenty, I started my relationship with my first wife and started my own computer-based business. I was doing what I loved. I was dealing with people, I was dealing with technology. After twenty years of both the relationship and the business, I was starting to become less satisfied. I was starting to expect more from life rather than just work and the pleasures of having a good relationship. My relationship was starting to become strained, not because of the business, because my wife had agreed to work with me in the business and that was an important aspect of our relationship and it helped us grow again. We both worked hard at our relationship, but as I was approaching forty and beyond, I was less and less satisfied with the relationship, and less and less satisfied with my life, and the business and I eventually made a decision to end the relationship.
It was based on several factors. One was my wife was starting to use sex as a weapon. She was refusing to do things that I wanted to do, or when I wanted to do it and then saying that we needed to talk, that we needed to this... It was becoming a weapon, and she’d always said that she wouldn’t do that, and I was starting to feel betrayed by that.
I was still working long days in the business. The part of the business that I really didn’t like was having to prove myself to every single new client that came in the door.
I believe I’m competent, I believe I’m honest and I want to do what’s best for the customer and I want them to have a good computer experience. But my enjoyment of computers was always being poisoned by the people coming in. It was their expressions of distrust that bothered me the most. It’s always a tough part to get past that early meeting, that first meeting to the point where they trust me and they know that I have their best interests at heart. And yes, I’m there to make money, but I’m also there to make sure they get their value.
So the relationship and the business were kind of going downhill at the same time in my mind. My solution to the relationship was to ask my first wife for a separation, a divorce. She was very good about it and she took it in stride. We had what I would describe as a loving separation.
Before this separation I decided to close the retail store and take the business home. I told many of my customers that I was retiring, or semi-retiring. I told the best ones, the ones I considered the most trusting and the most trustworthy, the ones that hadn’t given me a hard time about billing, the ones that did what I said how I said it, that I was going to continue running the business from my home.
So I moved the business to my home and a year or two later my first wife and I separated and I continued with the business. But I was still unhappy. There was still something missing.
I started looking for another relationship. It had been six months, eight months since we’d separated, and I was working hard at my business and growing it again, and having some enjoyment. But I missed having another person to relate with. I’m not a person that has a lot of friends. I have a few, one or two good, close personal friends that I talk to on an occasional basis, and everybody else is basically a customer and a friend, so my business was also my social exercise.
I got married to a new wife and she and I had a rocky beginning. That was about when I started smoking marijuana every day. I switched from being an occasional smoker. I don’t smoke cigarettes, I rarely drink, but there was something missing and I could feel it even with my new wife.
Whatever personal problems I was having still weren’t resolved and it’s hard to say what they were. One day, I just started smoking marijuana everyday, and it was a major expense for a while. Everybody around me could see it, could see the price I was paying, and I knew the price I was paying but it didn’t matter. I had given up. I’d decided, “Oh I’m dying. I must be going to be dead soon and I enjoy myself when I’m smoking marijuana so I might as well.” So for five years I smoked marijuana every day, multiple times. Not at work, I always waited until evening and then I’d light up and smoke until basically I fell asleep. Being a perpetual insomniac, it was a nice way to get around that particular problem, which used to bother me a lot!
Then my little brother got a brain tumour. It took him seven weeks to die. I was driving to Calgary to see him, and I’ve already been told that it’s not going to be long now. That he’s only with us a very little bit every day and his eyes are closed all the time, which is the way it happened with this type of a brain tumour. You just slowly appear to go to sleep, and you’re unconscious, and your heart stops. And that happened when I was on my way to Calgary. I was almost in Red Deer and I got the phone call, so I made a detour into Red Deer to go tell Dad.
I drove to Dad’s house and told him that, “David passed.” Dad didn’t cry. He didn’t say anything. He was very, very sad and we all just sat there in the living room.
I spent the afternoon there, and injured my back somehow while I was sleeping, maybe to help me get a bit of a distraction from my brother’s death. But the next day I no longer had any interest in smoking marijuana. For whatever reason, I just… I guess one thing I should point out, that my observation for the past couple of years is that every time I lit up, after I was high, it wasn’t really the same high. It wasn’t a pleasurable experience anymore. It was more of a low. It was more something to relax me and wind me down, and it was a terrible waste of money. It was a terrible price that I was paying, and that I was making people around me pay, by being so suppressed.
So suddenly it was easy. I just said, “I don’t need to smoke it anymore,” and I stopped smoking it. Stopped, and I started crying. I started crying for the first time since I was eight years old. I mean really, really bawling, crying and waking up at night. I’d just lie there and start to use auto-hypnosis or transcendental meditation, or any one of a number of techniques to see if I could get to sleep that night, or if I’m just going to have to be with my thoughts for a while. Instead of falling asleep, I would start crying…bawling. I woke Lauren – my wife - up several times. She’d wake up and just hug me, it was all she could do. It’s hard to describe how different that is from what I was before I reached thirty-nine, forty. Before I reached middle age, I never would have done that.
I was what… forty-eight, forty-nine. My brother was forty-seven, and that never would have happened when I was thirty, or twenty. The change was so dramatic, and while I’m crying and bawling in Lauren’s arms, there’s a little voice in my head saying, “this is good. This is what you need. This is growth. This is important.” And that’s that little voice, that little unemotional voice that’s been there for a long time.
My brother’s death also brought our family back together. One of my sisters said I am the last male member of our siblings and we had to take good care of me. We started hugging and talking again and, so that foundation has come back. My wife is very supportive. The fact that I stopped smoking, again … that just happened for whatever reason. That brought my wife and I much, much closer. Everyday we’re a lot closer and we’re expressive of love, and expressive of sadness everyday. That’s so important in moving forward.
Today, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m at a point of happiness I’ve never reached before and it’s not because of any one factor. It’s not because I’m having a good sex life now. It’s not because I have a new vehicle, it’s not because I have an interesting job. It’s because of a whole variety of things that all add up to, “I’m not afraid anymore...” I’m not afraid of death, I’m not afraid of bankruptcy. I’m not afraid of being alone. I’m not afraid of being naked in the dark. It’s a feeling of security, that’s really what it is. There’s not just one factor that I can say, it’s not just one thing. But it all adds up to my being happier than I’ve ever been before.
Robert Lang's Story
I interviewed locksmith Robert in the Edmonton Casino, where he does a LOT of safe and lock work...
ROBERT: When I first started out earlier in my business career, like in my 20's, I had great expectations…doing this, and this, and this, and leading towards a goal of a very successful and profitable business and that my family life would go along very well. We'd have our home paid for, and the children would grow and go to University and so on. Which actually happened. I had a very successful business, yet it wasn't to the point where I really wanted it, I knew we could go a lot further.
But in my 50's, it was, oh, let's see…I still want to have these adventures go on, I'm still young, I still have my health, let's do this…let's continue the adventure. Instead of staying on track, of building a good solid business, now I still have my original business, that is in the lock and safe field. And at the same time I was starting to get pretty troubled in this area... I had scattered myself too thin in many different areas.
And it was just as if I was trying to, keep my mind so busy with all of these other things going on, in order to, and I missed the reality of really enjoying my own life. I thought I was enjoying it, but now as I look back I say 'hey, I wasn't really enjoying it all'... I had scattered myself so thin and my stress level within me was just so great, of course I was heading to talk to the bank manager every two or three days, because I was pretty deeply in debt at the same time, because I had taken on too much. So, with discussion with him I sold some of my businesses.
So I got into this stress level just as if I was... I gotta do this, I gotta do that, life is coming to a short end, I'm in my 50's now, my God, I'm probably going to be all ready to be put into my grave by the time I'm 60, because people don't live very long anymore. And, I was really mixed up in my own mind.
Some of the other problems I had was when I would get in to an organization, I would not say no to anything that was asked of me. I belong to a couple of organizations now and I will sit back and watch how the meetings go, and I keep my hands in my pockets, I keep my mouth shout and smile and laugh because now I see other people out there and they take on too much.
And when I had my first major surgery and that slowed me down a great deal, and started to allow me to look at life in a little bit different way. And then I could realize that there was still lots of time and I don't have to do this and this and this and this and this. I can get rid of some of the various things that I had been doing with my volunteer groups, organizations, I belonged to.
Often I've thought - Gosh, I would like to speak to some of these younger men who are in their 40's, coming into their 50's, they, have a good look at your life. Go into a retreat some place, talk to some people who have gone through this, don't hesitate to talk to a psychologist, and so on. They will help you figure out where you're going.
Now, if somebody said to me - you need psychological help, I'd have said I'm not crazy, there's nothing wrong with me. I'm just great. Things are going fine. What do you mean I need to have a look at my own personal life?'.
When I think back in those days I was searching for a more spiritual outlook, not religious, just more spiritual outlook. And I started doing some studying, I remember when I was flying to Yellowknife so many times, I always had a book with me called A Course in Miracles - and I found it absolutely fascinating. A lot of the things in that book I disagreed with, yet I was told - hey, accept what's there. You may not have to believe in it or understand it now. But just keep reading it and eventually you'll understand life in a little bit different way, and so I did.
And so, that was sort of my spiritual growth. And I got to know a number of friends over at the Life Enrichment Centre, which was where the natural life and course in miracles was taken and gone through.
I now have a deeper understanding of life and the world, and my ego.
Doug Stevenson's Story
As far back as I can remember, I only wanted to be an actor. I never wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher or anything else. I always wanted to be an actor.
I got involved in an acting workshop in Chicago. Then at the age of 22, I decided that I was going to have to make a move to either Los Angeles or New York, if I was going to take this seriously. My choice was Los Angeles.
At the age of 22, with a knapsack and a duffle bag and $250, I hitchhiked to Hollywood.
Every once in a while I would get a little bit part in a movie of the week or a movie. I would have a line or a sentence or something. I was called a day player, and all you would get paid for was that one day. You would go in and say your line or two, or you'd be in the crowd scene or something.
I was really struggling with this because it was so difficult to get noticed, and I just couldn't figure out how to make it work. I was very diligent, and I am a very good business man. After about 13 years in Hollywood, it became very apparent to me that it just wasn't working. I got pretty desperate, and I started to make some really bad choices about the kind of theatre I was doing.
The last play I ever did in Los Angles was just a two-character play - one man and one woman. It was really a disgusting play, a really foul and morally bankrupt piece of theatre. I did it solely because if I was going to be the only male on stage, they couldn't not notice me. It didn't even occur to me that 'yeah but the vehicle you're in, the play, is a piece of crap'.
Then I realized: "boy, I've lost it. I have no sense of judgment. I've done some things out here that I'm not really very proud of. I don't have those dreams and aspirations and morals and values that I had when I was 22, and this is getting very dangerous." That's when I realized that I was just going to have to admit that this didn't work, and leave.
I borrowed some money from my mother, and I made a decision to leave. I got in my car and just started driving east.
One of my exit strategies was that I was going to be a disk jockey. I got a job interview in Durango, Colorado. I interviewed for this job as a disk jockey, and for six weeks this guy in Durango jerked me around. Finally, it didn't work out. But what it did serve to do was get me to Colorado.
Just out of recourse and to try and figure out what I would do next, I decided to become a realtor. I actually became quite successful In real estate. I started going to all the networking breakfasts with the Rotary Clubs, and the Optimists, and the Chamber of Commerce, and I realize that there was this thing called speaking.
I thought that would be fun. I got into speaking, and I started to do the little 20 minute thing. I started to get some comments from people, that 'you were really pretty good at this'. I realized that what I was doing when I was speaking, was using my theatrical experience, because I was much braver, and much more theatrical than most other people.
So I started to sense that here was a possibility; that I could be a speaker. Eventually I joined the National Speakers Association in Colorado. I went to those meetings and got involved, and I started to study the business of professional speaking.
Along the way, I got up and I did my showcase story, my streaking story. I immediately got an incredible amount of recognition from everybody, and also an acknowledgement that the way I did story was different than what they had ever seen. And they asked: "what is that, is that acting?" In analyzing it, I came up with the answer that, yes, it was acting.
Over a period of time I did a presentation that was the genesis for the Story Theatre program. And low and behold, here I am now having left Hollywood, having left acting behind, teaching acting to speakers.
All of a sudden it occurred to me how perfect the evolution of your life path is. I started out on this path to become an actor, only to come back around many, many, many years later, seemingly in a completely different incarnation, with a completely different set of people, but basically calling back on my acting ability, my directing ability, my acting training, and now I am teaching other people how to do what I did naturally.
The lesson for me in this whole process is that everything that I've ever done has all added up and culminated in the work that I'm now doing. It is fascinating to me that what appeared to be mistakes, or failures along the way, were all stepping stones toward this wonderful life path I'm on now.
So the arc of this has just been phenomenal, in my opinion, and a very spiritual revelation for me that 'yes, life does work, and that God has his hand in it along the way'.
I always have been a very spiritual person, or a person who believed in God, but not a very religious person. I left the Lutheran Church when I was 15 years of age. It just did not resonate with me. I've always had some challenges with organized religion, and the way that they say it is 'our way or the highway', and 'this is the way it is, and if you do not believe like us you are going to hell'. I always had a hard time with that, but at the same time I have been very, very spiritual. I always felt a personal connection with God and felt divinely guided by that presence, which is part of the revelation of my life and how everything has made sense and has evolved in such a perfect order.
At a certain point I found my way to a church in Colorado Springs called the Pike Peak Church of Religious Science. Religious science is a very open, and loving and healing religion. It is not scientology or Christian Science, it is called Religious Science. I just found my place there, and I just loved it. It was very healing for me. It didn't have all the guilt or shame or vengeful God stuff. It was just a place where I felt like I could heal my wounds with spirituality, and find a religious practice within which I could play and participate.
Well I got involved in the church, and I got involved on the board and everything, and started singing in the music group. And low and behold, a few years after I got involved in the church, and they knew I was a speaker, the minister called me up one day and said, 'you know I am going to be out of town, and we need someone to fill in, and we thought maybe you could do the sermon'. I was absolutely shocked! And also I was so jazzed with the opportunity, and 'wow it was only a 20 minute sermon, but it would be so nice'.
I did that sermon and it was a very different experience for me as a speaker. It had a different flow, a different texture, a different spiritual sense. An intuitive sense of the whole process.
Over the next ten years I was asked to give the sermon probably another 10 to 15 times, including sermons at the Unity Church a couple of times, too. Then once in a while, I would put on my own program, which I called "One Spirit At Work", or "Phoenix Rising".
I got a band and I wrote a presentation, a speech and everything, and I got up there, and I blended the music and the speaking. And the response from everybody whenever I speak in a spiritual context has always been so amazing. They are just so receptive to me, and it has been so healing for me to speak in that context. I thought it would be nice to do some more of this and explore this part of myself.
I turned 55 this summer, and for some reason turning 55 really was a crucible for me. It caused me to take a look at my life, and ask: "in five or ten years, do you want to be doing what you've always been doing?"
This last year, 2005, was the most profitable and successful, and almost annihilating year I've ever had. I flew all over the country, I did three international trips, I did an incredible about of business, and an incredible amount of bookings. It was successful and tangible in every way you could want, but at the same time, while I was going through it, I thought it was painful. It was really difficult. I longed to be home and be grounded.
Turning 55 made me take a look at all that, and take stock, and say "if not now when? When are you going to do this spiritual speaking, when are you going to explore this part of yourself? If you don't start to explore it now, five years from now you're going to be doing exactly the same thing you did this last year, and that wasn't that great!"
It took me six months to come around to making the commitment to start doing a monthly program, once a month, at my church on a Wednesday night. It is called Gnosis. Gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge.
So I have now actually committed to myself to do at least ten of these spiritual, once a month programs in 2006. I'm assuming that there'll be a month or two when I'll be gone internationally or something, and I won't be able to do it. I've made a commitment to do this and to explore expression within myself, to explore this part of myself, to see if I can start evolving away from the business models that I'm now locked into, which is corporate training, and association keynotes, and corporate keynotes, and traveling all over the world in a corporate context. To just start seeing if there is a life after Story Theater.
"What if I evolve this, and develop this, and step into this part of me that wants to explore this spiritual speaking side of me? And what does God have in store for me there?"
So as a part of this process, I'm starting in January to do my first program, and I've got a band and I've got a speech and Deborah, my wife, is going to participate with me which, is really joyous.
So we are now evolving, continuing the evolution of my life path, taking a fork in the road, and going off on a little bit of a new direction.
Noel: A couple of questions - looking at stages of life, it occurs to me that you would have been in your early to mid thirties when you left Los Angeles.
Doug: Mid 30s, 35 years of age.
Noel: That fits right in with Daniel Levinson's idea of seasons and so forth of a man's life, and transition periods. You're 55 now, and in traditional society that would be a time, any time after 50, when a man would begin to move into elder hood. Does that feel like that to you?
Doug: It definitely feels like that. For some reason 55 felt like, 'this is the beginning of another chapter in your life'. A different chapter, with a different rhythm and a different lull, and it's time to stop running around trying to accomplish, and to actually relax back into taking advantage of the wisdom of my life, and see if you can use it in a different way.
I want to allow myself to shift into a more graceful pattern, a pattern that is not controlled by getting hired by a corporation, but that is more controlled by my creating things and putting them out in the world, and letting individuals find me. A different level of attractiveness.
Very definitely I'm looking at how I want my life to look at 60 and 65. I don't have the same energy or the same physical ability that I did, so 55 was an opportunity for me to look at both my elder part of me in terms of my wisdom and experience, but also look at myself in terms of my physical experience of life, and say 'well do I want to be in that many planes, do I want to be doing eight hour trainings in front of corporations who only have a bottom line objective? Or do I want to do something that (maybe I'll still be on planes), but that the result on the other end will feel more organic and graceful?'
I think that "graceful" is pretty much what I'm looking for at this period at my life.
Tony Rovere's Story
My Own Personal Mid Life Crisis…
Several years ago, I began to pay the price for years of neglect of my body. I had reached the point where I was 252 pounds, had a 48” waistline and was starting to develop heart palpitations…sharp, stabbing pains in my chest that I knew were the precursor to heart disease.
And this was happening to me at age 36…so some may not consider it a midlife crisis, but if I kept going the way I was going there was no way I was going to last into my 70’s and 80’s. At that point, getting into my 50’s would have been an accomplishment.
So I had to make changes, and the changes I made I can say with a great deal of confidence changed my life forever.
The first thing I did was to get educated about health and fitness. I read dozens of books to more familiarize myself with the right exercises to perform and the right foods to eat to lose weight. And while I read dozens of books, there is one that truly stands out.
It is Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish's Life Choice Program for Losing Weight Safely While Eating Abundantly. In it, Dr. Ornish describes how he became the first doctor to scientifically prove that you can REVERSE heart disease…causing the plaques in your arteries that cause a heart attack to disappear on their own…without pills, potions, medications or surgery.
I was fascinated by the prospect and the possibilities that you body could heal itself. So I thought, what do I have to lose? So I started on his program.
Dr. Ornish recommends a three-part plan for reversing heart disease.
First, at least 30 minutes daily walking for exercise.
Second, incorporating yoga and meditation into our lives through a daily practice of yoga and meditation to deal with the stresses of life.
And finally, completely changing the way that we eat. Dr. Ornish’s program calls for no calorie restrictions, but limits you to eating only the foods that have 2g or less of fat and 2g or less of sugar per serving. The program’s goal is for you to consume no more than 10% of your calories from fat a day.
I understand this is tough and having done the program I am not going to say it is easy, but I figured that it would be far easier to change how I ate than it would be to recover from a triple bypass.
So I began his program, but changed things up a little to suit me.
I never did hit his goal of getting 10% of my calories from fat, but I was routinely between 11% and 15%. And although I didn’t do the yoga as much as his program called for, I never missed a day of exercise.
What were the results? In 6 months I lost 60 pounds. In addition, over the course of the year my waistline shrank from 48” (measured at the navel) to 37”. I cannot tell you the increase in self-confidence this brought about.
I share this information with the readers of MidLife-Men.com so that any of you who may be struggling with the same health issues that I was facing may benefit from the approach that I used to regain health.
My note to you: I regained my health, strength and vitality by losing 60 pounds and managing to keep it off for over three years. At Health-and-weight-loss-tips.com, I share my passion for health and fitness in order to help you if you have similar health and weight-loss goals.