I usually don’t take seriously the sentiments found inside Chinese Fortune Cookies. But last night as I bit into its crunchy center and pulled out the message the cookie actually yielded a worthwhile sentiment:
Engage in group activities that further transformation.
Good idea, I said to myself as the world crawled out from behind COVID during which we had lost all semblance of social life. Hell, I can’t remember when last I attended a book club meeting, church service or coffee klatch and what’s worse, my retreats came to a sudden end. What followed was doom, gloom, and too much Zoom.
So, several weeks later, as if by divine intervention I received an email from one of my year by the sea retreaters asking if I had time to get together when she and three others would be on the Cape. I was eager for any or all connection, especially with like-minded seekers. Somehow, women who have “done the work” (by that I mean spent time asking the universal questions) were the ones with whom I wanted to hang around.
This would be a win, win as I had long since realized that ex-retreaters usually possessed a zeal that only persons in search of themselves seemed to possess. I had only met these women in a large group but that didn’t stop our personalizing the conversation right from the start. Huddled in a dune at my favorite beach we began sharing our recent pasts…I started by sharing the loss my husband and how understanding the dimensions of grief was enormously debilitating; Donna had downsized and felt she didn’t belong in the condo she just bought; Pam was caretaking her mother with little help from her siblings; and Sally had just sold her business and felt isolated from 20 years of daily routine.
There was much nodding of heads with understanding although underlying the stories was the silent question: What about me? I noticed that the conversation became peppered with words like purpose, feeling invisible, not fitting in with grown children, being sidelined. I settled back in my beach chair and sunk into the warmth that comes with reciprocity and raw truth smiling at the energy, the passion, the desire, the shared knowing. It brought to mind a line by therapist, Jean Shinoda Bolen:
In a circle where we face ourselves, we listen like a miracle.
Although our lives could easily become generic, seeking women sense that the real horror is not death but the featureless passing of life. The only standard we seem to live by is the one we designed for ourselves. Propriety has little meaning in the way we behave anymore. In fact we women are more of the “when I am old I will wear purple women” variety, trying to do pretty much what we please.
There seems to be an unspoken credo that being of a certain age, we’ve had our moments and played them out on various stages. Now we’re left with the challenge of filling space which comes with little or no narrative. The question we are asking ourselves is what character have we finally become or want to become.
If we keep asking we will not age out…only grow up.
Join me in pondering this very important question.
Who have I become after a lifetime of being all things to all people?
Leave a post here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Moving back to Ma after a 10 yr. Absence just as the Covid lockdown hit was very isolating.
No time to get back into anything in a new Town….
Never realized how much community life was SO much a part of me
Reading your recent blog I was able to put words to some of what I have been feeling… Feeling invisible not fitting in with grown children sidelined… Yes, now how will I respond to that awareness… Thank you.
OMG… Do you have a retreat soon…or just a space to rent so that I can walk where other women have walked before me…You have inspired me so much over the years…While I was in my career …while I was struggling through huge traumatic life events..and again this year Cape Cod / Joan Anderson /so much has been on my mind as I have just a year ago lost my mother in law (my best friend ) as well as my own mother. My marriage has been turned upside down , kids grown , grandkids most all are grown and even a couple of great grands running around….LIFE HAPPENED WOW! 60 years …I REALLY need to get a PULSE ON ME…Who Am I ? Where do I go from here? How DO I MAKE MYSELF A PRIORITY FOR THE 1st TIME IN MY NOW SIMPLE CAREFREE KIND OF LIFE? Really…How do I get to that SIMPLE CAREFREE KIND OF LIFE and Be Happy For ME for a change… Joan…Thank You I just need to get me feet in the sand ans start over with your books…on your sand:}
Your books have been a joy to read and read again. I often take one of your books with me on vacation as we typically do nature activities. I am so sorry to hear the loss of your beloved husband, Robin. I wonder if somewhere in your life now there is another book waiting to be written. My husband and I have two kids in college and eagerly await retirement. We both work full time and often can’t get enough of vacation. We look forward to those days of freedom when we get the kids through school. I just said today to a dear friend of mine that instead of feeling recharged after vacations we are left wanting more. She said the exact same thing to me at the same time in her text. At age 52 I feel like there are more years behind then ahead and that there’s never enough time. I would love to read another memoir from you. Perhaps, the time of life that you are going through now? Last minute thoughts? Maybe the processing of grief and the way forward? Thank you for all that you have done for us!
Dearest Joan, You have touched my Life in so many ways over the past years….I have tried so many times to book a trip for a few weeks at your place….I am so unfinished…. to the point I do not even know where to start.
Seems like I am the one who continues to pick up the pieces so others can travel on to their happy destiny. For that To be used as a great Vessel to help others has been a beautiful blessing to say the least. I’m 60 now…My best friend (My Mother in law passed last March, My Mom passed last July and my marriage has been sinking for years) I have longed for many years to attend your Cap Cod Women by the sea Retreat any of them I would LOVE to come and stay for a few weeks..helping out where I can Just to get some insight into my own personal healing…I have read your books and they have touched my heart and emotions beyond anything I can ever image. Can you private message me what yo might have available for someone in their 60’s who was born into a world on Survival Mode and so desperately is in need to LET GO And REGROUP Thank You Gwen
Just finished A Walk On The Beach.
Can’t entirely put my thoughts in order as I sit and ponder.
As I turn 70 in September it is particularly encouraging and so full of Joaniesm. It’s time to reclaim my essence.
Thank you for your books. Next up is A Weekend to Change Your Life. Got notebook and highlighter ready.
I’ll close by saying the movie Year by the Sea led me to you. Your books have led me to Joan Erikson.
Bless You and thank you,
What a delight to read your blog. I’ve thought of you often recently and wondered how you were.
I often recall the delight of the 2 retreats I attended at Omega institute. As I emerge from the pandemic I find myself very busy but not finding fulfillment. Hmm time to take stock I think. I realize I am caught in a web of people pleasing again. First my husband, to juggle my activities with assuring that he’s not getting too edgy. Then the people directing my organizations seem very driven now, and draining the heart out of our missions.
Thanks for reminding me it’s time to pause and reframe these inter-relationships.
Be well Joan keep on being Unfinished and encouraging us to embrace our unfinishednesd
Pat Schwimer NYC
Having lost my sweet husband a few short months ago has left me pondering my next chapter. So many options, so little time…
So happy to hear your thoughts, Joan. When is your next retreat?
Blessings and Love,
Marilyn Stein Underhill
PS. Peggy Johnston is your neighbor ( Tody Bole Lane) and my fab friend.
So incredibly grateful to read your words again and oh your questions challenge my soul. I think the question I entertain now is not only who have I become but what do I want to do with all of the time and energy that I used to spend on others. I am beginning to feel the trickle of replenishment and hope filling up my body, my heart and my soul. Grateful for you, Joan.
You unfinished friend, Kerry (ie. Lobster woman)
I love this! I am still unfinished, as you taught me, stretching forward day by day. My mantra is “you will never be younger than you are today.” So, go for whatever. I love being retired from nursing and doing my own thing now. I have become comfortable in my own skin and look for ways to encourage other women to look forward. You are an inspiration foe me and it is so good to read your blog again. Thank you Joan, for being unfinished.