The Christmas after I turned 59 was my dark night of the soul. For the first time, I honestly faced the nagging concern I’d had for so many years – I’d messed up! I’d messed up by choosing not to take my place at university all those decades ago. Fear had kept on stopping me going across the years – fear of being back in an environment where I was not in charge, fear of having to conform – so I didn’t.
I didn’t get married, didn’t have children, didn’t have a career, didn’t have a house, and didn’t create any sort of nest egg. I seemed to lurch from one inspiring project to another but wasn’t able to build any firm foundations and each crumbled one by one. I went from being immersed in a frenzy of activity to crashing and burning. At 59, my lifelong failure stared back at me unblinkingly. I thought all there is left is for me – is to go downhill and die.
Yet instead of sidestepping all of this as I normally would, I allowed it to be. I allowed the possibility of it being true. I stopped resisting, stopped denying, and just stopped. I was holed up in bed with a bad chest infection and I lay there until I was motivated to move again.
Then something unexpected happened. Unexpected as I’d learned that to create one’s own reality you had to focus on it. However, all I was focused on was this barren landscape of a life less lived! At least, that was how I saw it during those few weeks.
Out of the blue, an ex-flatmate got in touch from Peru. He offered me a job, a paid one, writing for his spiritual tour company. Within a few weeks, I was on an all expenses paid trip to experience his signature bucket list tour, which included Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Amazon jungle for a week’s Ayahuasca retreat. I was rooming with another ‘elder’ woman and a seed of a thought emerged that maybe we ‘elder’ women have wisdom to offer the world. It came from some of the quiet thoughts she shared with me about the world.
Much of this magical tour was an ordeal because I was far too unfit for the Andes but it was still an incredible journey. And even though I am at my worst in hot humid environments surrounded by insects, I fell in love with the jungle. I loved the noise – the drumming rain on the roof of my roughly hewn wooden cabin on stilts, the orchestra of bull frogs and other wildlife which escalated during the frequent rain storms. And then there was the beautiful sound of the shaman singing his songs of protection in the middle of the night as I journeyed with Ayahuasca on a deep exploration of my psyche. I had a vision of my birth – me with my feet braced at the entrance to this world screaming for all I was worth ‘Noooooooooo!’. It was an opportunity to let that resistance to being alive on this planet go. About time too.
When I arrived back in the UK, I just wanted to lie face down on the grass in the rain all the time. And as the rainforest had got deeply under my skin, I found myself choosing to spend four months in an off-grid yurt in a secluded Welsh valley during the wettest winter on record in Wales! It was like living inside a drum. And as I learned the rhythm and voices of the stormy winds I knew I might never live in a house again. Emerging out the other side of this womb-like existence – where it took an hour to boil a kettle on top of the woodburner for tea, and two hours to cook a stew or heat enough water for a wash – I realised I may be a worry wart but I was also a resilient and awesome woman!
The idea that we women over 50 are wild, wonderful and wise began to root more deeply.
Having discovered that this part of Wales is my spiritual home I stayed. I found myself a small caravan to live in which shook in the wild winds and where I could hear the rain hammering on the thin aluminium roof. Joy!
An Intuitive PR course I did online around my storytelling – separate from my spiritual travel work – showed me that the people who would be most interested in what I had to share were women over 50. It was like a light bulb going on and it married so well with my increasing sense of us ‘elders’ sharing our wisdom with the world. And before you think you don’t have any – think again.
You can’t make it through 50+ years on this planet without gaining insight, understanding and your own unique perspective. I’d wager a bet on us all being far wiser than we give ourselves credit for. Somehow it’s easier in the ageist society we live in, to believe we’re not worth very much at all, particularly once we’re past menopause. After all, if we aren’t slim, young, fertile and gorgeous, we must be on the scrap heap. So speaks the masculine voice of authority through the press, through our peers and even through our own family.
Another out-of-the-blue opportunity pinged its way in to my inbox – the chance to participate in a shamanic retreat with Elen Tompkins, author of Silver Wheel – the Lost Teachings of the Deerskin Book. As I read the offer I burst into tears. And no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of it, I knew I had to go. I had already committed to following my heart, but this was the first time I truly followed it without having any conscious sense of the reason for doing it.
A couple of months later, I was camping in a tiny tent during a massive storm under the stern gaze of a rock giant and his mate, with the deep rumbling roar of a waterfall nearby. It was a mystical place to be and perfect for eleven of us to experience thirteen shamanic ceremonies from the Elven Realm of Lemuria. I still had no conscious sense of what I was doing there except reconnecting with an ancient vow. I wondered what that could be.
A few days later, I lost my job and my landlord decided that he had better ask me to leave too. I also had a very sick cat, who was cage-bound for weeks. Did I have a Plan B? Of course not! But I do believe that when things become so chaotic, a breakthrough is just around the corner. So I stayed as calm as I could and allowed life to unfold, and for magic to happen.
Money-making suggestions started pouring in. But I haven’t been able to work purely for money for years. I have to work from inspiration and ideally a bonus is the essential cash flow. But something else happened – out of the suggestions emerged the idea of a community. A community of women over 50 who acknowledge they are truly wise elders with something of value to offer the world.
As I drove through a beautiful Welsh valley, I asked out loud what would be the name of the place where these wonderful elder women would meet? Our version of The Red Tent. At that very moment, the name The Silver Tent boomed out. I felt goose bumps race over my arms while energy shot down through my crown chakra and out through my feet. I burst into tears. Just thinking about this moment as I write is enough to make the tears flow again. I knew in that instant this was bigger than me. It was as if I had been the open-hearted goddess through which this could be birthed. My vow.
All of a sudden, I understood why my life has unfolded the way it had. I had been waiting to be 62 years old, in the right place at the right time – in order to bring this divinely inspired enterprise to fruition.
I saw this community as a crystalline structure, transparent, strong and deeply feminine. It would be a place where we would meet on and offline, learn from each other, share with each other, and discover that being wise elders is our birthright. In fact, it is in our DNA, it is what we’re designed to be. This stage of our lives, far from being a fading out is the most profound, magnificent and creative time of our lives. And above all, we’d take our wisdom out in to the world. I began to believe the Gloria Steinem quote that says ‘one day an army of gray haired woman will quietly take over the world’. Yes, yes, yes.
This was back in October 2016. Since then, almost 3000 women from all around the world have joined the Silver Tent Facebook Group. It is the most engaging and supportive group, I have personally experienced and the feedback is quite extraordinary. I was totally clear from the beginning that this was to be founded on the principles of conscious, co-creative collaboration and to be a place of non-judgemental support, nourishment and learning. What came through intuitively is that this would be the space to create a movement of women over 50 who would create this third stage of our lives imbued with meaning and celebration, as well as making a profound difference in our world.
I am in awe every day at the conversations unfolding in the group and the transformations, which occur. One woman shared her sadness and anger at her relationship ending. She allowed herself to be vulnerable. The wisdom and support from the community was way beyond what you’d expect in a FB group. Woman after woman shared their experiences and reminded her of how wonderful she is and that she didn’t need to settle for anything less than she deserves. She kept in touch with us posting her feelings along the journey -of failure and upset and of challenge – until she shared with us her excitement at enrolling in college again to learn something new. She changed her life and herself in the process and told me that her transformation was helped substantially by being a part of The Silver Tent and receiving such non-judgemental support.
Another woman poured her heart out about her ex-husband and his imminent death. As she posted, day by day taking us with her on her emotional journey, she called on our help and support, but what she didn’t realise for a long time was how much we received from her. Her growth shone through as she learned moment by moment to be more of herself through self reflection and forgiveness. She has been an incredible beacon to all of us. She has helped us understand that our most vulnerable moments can give others more than we can ever believe possible. We certainly don’t need to be perfect in order to share our wisdom.
There are many stories of how this growing global circle of women over 50 is transformational. The Facebook Group is giving people the space to be vulnerable and find support. Our online video meet-ups have taught us that even though we’re meeting in a virtual room, we actually feel as intimately connected as if we were all sitting round a blazing fire sipping mulled wine together. There is an oxytocin rush, which gives us all a wonderful level of deep nourishment. And from this, we’re developing offline meet-ups around the world as well as retreats and house parties.
One of the biggest visions of The Silver Tent is to create co-housing communities all around the world. A new Silver Tent member contacted me recently to talk about just this. She had been her mother’s carer for six years until her death about two days before we spoke. Depression had been her companion for a while and she believed there was nothing for her after this. But she came across the idea of co-housing and it brought some light back to her life. After we chatted for an hour or two about co-housing, we knew we were on the same page. She came to meet me and we are now working together to create the first community of this kind. We’re starting from scratch with no funds available so it is a fascinatingly big project, one that is changing her life… and mine!
There are so many plans to develop. Silver Sofas will be our version of AirBnB helping our women travel around the world feeling supported and safe. Our Silver Wisdom Portal along with Silver Tent Radio and TV will be where we share our wisdom within and beyond the community. Not to mention the quarterly bursary and the philanthropic foundation, which will emerge once we are more than breaking even financially. And there is always more.
It is fascinating to look back and see that the seeds of this have been within me all my life. Just like an acorn grows into an oak tree, I have at last grown in to who I have been destined to be. It is an amazing and magical adventure.
Francesca Cassini, Founder, The Silver Tent
The Silver Tent is creating a movement of post-menopausal women regaining their wild, wonderful and wise elder status to enable the re-emergence of the female elder in western society.
It does this by serving women to reconnect with their wisdom and re-ignite their dreams through an online community offering on and offline conferences, coaching and mentoring, luscious retreats and workshops, global travel experiences and peer to peer meet ups.
The current foundational team and faculty coaches/mentors are wise elder women themselves, are experts in their field, have great experience in running relevant events and in particular supporting women to recognise their value and wisdom through a number of modalities.