I’m still on the edge, and not often there, as yet. Yesterday is only the second time I’ve had an encounter with the menopause. The first time was two years ago, when I didn’t have my ‘bloody days’ for three months in a row – after which I wrote the ‘Celebration of the Circle’ poem, published here at Advantages of Age - and the second time is now. Now is when the blood is still not coming. I’ve been waiting for my period after what I thought were typical premenstrual symptoms. It’s that strain and unnerved-ness, which ends when the period begins.
Period-experience had taught me that when blood comes, the tensions cease. It’s just that I had not been as conscious of this relationship as I am at this moment when it’s not here and I am still waiting! I have realized that it’s the blood-flow which actually brings healing to the body. The sight of the blood signals the transition from the lowest state of ‘ebb’ back to ‘flow’. So one can say that there are tides inside the body, and for a long time in a woman’s life it’s our blood-flow, which enables the flow of things – and we go with it! We all go with it, we all ‘go with the flow’, when we are at ease! So our period enables and teaches us this.
Flow, tide, ebb, flow, ebbflowebbflowebb: I think that as women, as long as we flow, we are like rivers. When we stop flowing, it might be because we have reached the sea. All rivers, as we know, flow into the sea! So we will all get there eventually.
There are tides by the sea as well, of course, and even more obviously so – tides in a river are more likely to be overlooked than they are by the sea - and it matches how we, as women, are overlooked; and also how we, as women, neglect the significance of our tides, our periods. Sign of the times, sign of the tide, precisely, it is! Period! We are Zeitgeist! We are time and space, within!
Once we flow into the sea, we merge with a greater body of water, and merge with the oceans, a taste of greater expansion. But this body of ocean is not a male or female body, it’s universal. So the ocean is both male and female (and ‘other’ too, as the sea is fluid!). More evidence that the sea is not just male is that it ‘answers’ to the moon. So it’s another aspect of us, and of us all!
A gender-politics note of caution: I do not consider this to be a ‘women and nature’ story: rather it is about ‘geography and the body’. It’s embodied psychogeography.
Psychogeography is, traditionally (though it’s at odds with ‘tradition’!) a radical/alternative/ transformative exploration of urban (and non-urban) environments. It developed around the Situationist International, highlighting the constraints of capitalism on our life-experience, space, place, time, boundaries. It’s about us and space then - landscape, and the effect that has on us: what industrial landscapes do to us, or housing, urban planning, coastal edges, and more. And in this tradition too, I have looked at my body in itself as a geographical space, and what our bodies do to us, and what that means.
I think traditional cultures often say that rivers are female, and the ocean is male – though some rivers are male too. My experience echoes the idea of women as rivers, to start with, though. This leaves more space for gender ‘fluidity’ as well. How would you write a male version of this? I am curious to hear other interpretations and experiences, with perhaps other ‘elemental’ immersions and configurations.
So my geo-spatial body experience (and my choice of elemental signification) is that I am not in the sea yet, but I have reached the river-mouth, I am still on my way to the beach, and happily taking my time, doing loops and turns rather than moving in a straight line towards the sea. But despite all of my twists and turns: the menopause is not too far off – the sea is out there! As of now, my period will most likely come back again – rolling down the river!
There’s one more thing I realized from this experience of period-intermission: the idea that the onset of the blood, as long as it comes, brings healing. It’s healing because it brings about a release of that premenstrual tension in the body, signaling that body is ready for another cycle-turning. What blood can do! And that makes me think of Christianity in an inverted way. The church uses the symbolism of blood as a means of healing, during communion. The way the church sees it, however, seems taken out of context. From my experience here it’s a woman’s blood that brings healing, not that of Jesus – unless, of course, Jesus was a woman! And that now, seems more and more inevitable to me.
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.
Blood has been such a massive part of my life for the last 37 years. Every month, from the age of 12, I’ve bled like a stuck pig. One of my best friends recently said how much she enjoyed her periods. My jaw just dropped. I’ve always hated mine violently. From the first drop. Bleeding pints, great big fat clots the size of my fists, soaking up ultra-maxi pads in one gush, spilling over the sides, through my black pants and through my dark trousers, leaving a bloody puddle leaching into my chair in the middle of a business meeting. The shame of discreetly trying to wipe it off, waiting for everyone else to leave first and hoping no-one would notice.
And the pain, don’t talk to me about period pain. That time I was 15, curled up on the bed in my first boyfriend’s bedsit, then him calling out the GP (in the days when they would do home visits) to give me a massive shot of morphine to take away the most incredible pain I’d ever experienced.The morphine felt good.
That time in my early 20s on a rural bus in Java, when I was writhing in pain on the plastic seats, silently crying big fat tears down my cheeks. I had no sanitary protection as I’d been taken by surprise. A kind Javanese lady took me off the bus and into her home to clean me up, give me painkillers, wash my clothes and let me rest before making sure I got home. A good Samaritan.
The only respite I ever got was going on the pill as a teenager for seven years.
“You’re not to use it as a play pill,” my mother scolded. Little did she know. Too little, too late.
Numerous tests showed nothing – no endometriosis, no fibroids, no this, no that.
“Dirty blood,” a Javanese reflexogist told me, prescribing a thick black liquid brew that tasted putrid. But I downed it every day, desperate to have clean, light, easy blood.
Trying to get pregnant in my mid-thirties (my mother had me at 39, I thought it would be easy – too little, too late), how I hated my blood even more. Every month obsessing over cycle lengths, daily temperature charts, and urine samples. More tests.
“You have an unusually long womb and a tight vagina,” the gynaecologist said. Dirty sod.
Then a miracle. Just as I had almost given up – a missed period and a positive test. Excitement, elation, at 37 I was going to have a baby. Not my first pregnancy, but this time I wasn’t afraid, I was older.This time much coveted. Oh, but then the blood came. Hang on, that’s not right. Is it? “Go home, don’t worry about it, everything is normal.” Three months came and went. Blood came and went. Still the baby grew. Clinging on. Heart beating somersault twists and little kicks. Until the clots started coming. As big as a fist. No, no, no. This isn’t right. This can’t be happening. Please God no.
“Your placenta is coming away – see that shadow there – a large clot of blood,” the consultant said. “Very touch and go. Go home, rest, and wait.” A death star lurking in the lining of my womb. There is no God.
My waters broke at five months - ah, what a gush that was. 48 hours later I went into labour, was whisked into the Royal Sussex, sirens blaring. My beautiful perfect, tiny Tom Thumb of a son was born on 2 May 2006. The sun was shining on a glorious bank holiday. But everything was black. My world stopped turning. For the next three years.
“Dirty blood,” said the woman at the nutritional supplement centre, “full of copper, no wonder you lost your baby.”
The cow. So tactless - so unprofessional. I was furious. Bereft. Obsessed.
Then my first husband fucked off. Sick at the sight of my dirty blood. Wanting new blood – fresh and young.
Then I hit my roaring 40s. And how I roared, and wept, and bled some more – a whole lot more – as if my whole insides were falling out. Has someone just been murdered? Has someone slit their throat?
The period pain is minimal now. Almost non-existent. My cycles are starting to dither about but my sex drive has gone through the roof – the sex-surge they call it – do keep up; all that testosterone. The hot flushes come thick and fast (always carry a fan), night sweats come and go. My short-term memory is hopeless, and I’m forever losing things. Ah, the perimenopause. Bring it on – I want it to stop. No more bleeding at long, bloody last. No more packing spare sets of clothes, wearing two pairs of black pants, no more shoving a MoonCup up myself (I care about the environment) and yet still having to wear a maxi-pad, so what’s the point? Dear MoonCup, please can you make a bucket size cup – the size of the blood red moon?
Oh, hang on a minute. When my periods stop, that will finally be it. The finality of my fertility. And I will grieve all over again. Not as intensely, but it will still happen. Lurking in the shadows, popping up on Mother’s Day (will someone please send me a frickin card?), popping up when siblings start to become grandparents, all those life stages and milestones that my second husband, friends and family celebrate as their children grow.Of course, I celebrate with them.
The joy of being an aunt, a great aunt, a fairy godmother...the magical, mysterious, marvellous elder that comes bearing gifts. The exotic elder that always plays and dances, makes up stories, dresses up, hides and seeks. They all clammer to try on my jewels and trinkets. The elder that still goes clubbing in Cardiff nightclubs and gets crowned Queen; the elder that takes a drag, and does all the things their parents can’t as the responsible adults. I am fun personified. I’ll settle for that.
“Aunty I love you.” The best thing a child could say to me, as he gives me a big fat cuddle. “I love you too darling.” So much love – a bottomless well of it.
There was a time when I had to grit my teeth and sob behind dark glasses, closed doors, and in the loo at work. Although that time has gone now, I’m still a mother, and it was still a birth – however invisible, however silent. Always there. Always loved.
Dirty blood. I’ll be glad to see the back of you.
An imagined 11-year-old
Somewhere, in a parallel Universe, there is a bold young boy playing with his vorpal sword that goes snicker-snack. His name is Vincent. He has blonde hair, and blue eyes; he’s very creative and loves to dress up. He wears feather boas, and glitter. He’s a glam rock star in the making. He loves to fly kites. He can ride a horse and swim the ocean. He loves physics, art and dance like his mother. And English literature and New Wave films, like his dad. He’s a brave young boy, playing in a field full of sunflowers.
9-15 October was National Baby Loss Awareness Week. On the Sunday, I lit a candle and danced – a wild dance, shedding skins in celebration of a short life but whose soul lives on in my imagination, making me feel more, laugh more and love more. SANDS threw me an umbilical lifeline when my world stopped. You can support them here.
My hair was always my 'thing'. Thick, dark, dramatic. When I was a little girl I had a crow. Blackie. Well strictly speaking, my brother did. He shimmied up a tree and stole it from a nest, though he only admitted that recently, having said for years it had fallen out, just in time to be rescued. So Blackie would perch on my shoulder and preen and peck away at my wild nest of hair. We made quite a pair.
Now my hair is coming out. It's all over the bathroom floor, the kitchen floor, the corridor. They're the areas with light tiling - I can pretend it's not all over the carpets as it is less easy to see there. So it nests in the carpet, festers till I get the vac out.
The top of my head, the 'crown' is no longer host to my crowning glory. It is patchy, like a mangy dog. Oh and did I mention ageing? Well, I always looked really young for my age. Not anymore - or as far as my hair is concerned.
I'm 60 in September. I just moved to London, just in time to get my 'Freedom' pass to the city - trains, buses, the tube. All those eyes! And I'm thinking about hats, headscarves, feathers. Well, maybe not feathers. Not that brave, just yet (Rose Rouse).Still, I need to find some camouflage.
A woman told me recently at a party that I was very brave to come out without covering up my (lack of) hair. We all have faults, she said to my reaction of surprise, as if I should own it, grow up. Well, I was shocked because I admit I’m still in denial. I honestly thought that making a poor attempt at a double-plait at the back of my head (a piece drawn from each side) with a jewel blue slide, would hide my thinning hair. Clearly, it didn't. On reflection, I honestly think she meant well, though she hit a a sore spot. Or more accurately, various bald spots. So what to do?
Writing this article is one way of outing myself about it. I really do want to feel more relaxed about it all.
Several comments to my venting in a Facebook post suggested shaving it off altogether. Serena Constance even posted up a pic of an elderly lady with a bald head, tattooed all over - just to complete the deal, egg the pudding and gild the lily. She looked striking. Talking of striking, Serena arrived at a recent 'For the Flamboyant' Advantages of Age party wearing a kind of...well, Aztec headdress and as she arrived we all clapped her down the stairs. A fabulous entrance.
Loss. I'm losing my identity. My hair has always been so 'me', so much of myself is bound up in visions of dark-haired beauties. ''I want to look like Elizabeth Taylor'' I told a hairdresser, many years ago and he gave me an 'urchin' cut that was just so Liz, it was thrilling. People remarked about it on the street.
I started to go white when I was 17 - it looked wonderful actually when my hair was silvered with 'grey' hairs. Then it was streaky like a badger's coat. Then aged 30, it just began to fall out. If I hadn't had so much to begin with I would have been bald many years ago.
The very idea that I could lose my hair - ridiculous. At my convent school in Cheshire my velour hat was something of a sensation. My friends tried it on - it came down to their noses, looked all Fred 'Parrot Face' Davies - remember him? A big bowler slipping down his nose was his calling-card. So I thought I still had a big head and asked the woman at the party if I could try on her amazing hat then said- ''Oh no, it won't fit my big head''. Which was the starting gun for my rude awakening - as she pointed out it's just a normal size. It was my hair that made my hat so huge, that made my school friends call me 'the girl with two heads'. Now I'm just normal - normal head, normal life. Well, if 'normal' is a woman going bald on top. Anyone can wear a hat. Not everyone has masses of dark hair.
So do I cling on, root by disappearing root to what I have left? I still have 'pre-Raphaelite' tresses at the back. Wavy, still a bit wild, almost tamed. Shall I get a 'topper'? It's a weave made from human hair for women with 'male pattern' baldness, in which over years the hair just falls out until you develop an impressive monk-like look. You have to go back every six weeks so they can rearrange it over what's grown back. That's a lot of time and money (it ain't cheap) to invest in retaining your 'real' hair. Is it hot? Does it itch? Does it look the business? Or does it look a sorry mess?
So now - it's 'make your mind up' time. Shall I go for the 'scorched earth' look? The shiny pate? Shall I wear a wig, wondrous hats and scarves? Or just have a topper, the 'crown topper' that demolishes my resistance, my determination that I'm still a girl. A wild, untamed girl with a wild, though tamed crow perched on either shoulder. Preening and pecking away at my glorious locks, my calling-card. My hair.
My sexual early beginnings began not quite the way one would imagine, with princes and sparkly dresses wrapped in a fairy tale with love at the centre of my world; no my whole trajectory in the shaping of my early years was hot bedded, quite seedy and filled with notions that something heated up between my legs, in my belly and left me quite alarmingly hungry for love, for sex, for fantasy, for man, for touch and for intimacy.
When I committed to writing something for Advantages of Age I was feeling in my flow – that place inside of me where anything is possible. I was happy and excited to get my thoughts and feelings out into the world.
As the deadline for getting my piece in got nearer I found myself in a very different place . . . . a familiar place of fear and hopelessness. A place where nothing seems possible. Old voices telling me that I couldn’t write. Comparing myself with others. Trying to write something that I thought I ought to be writing. I felt immobilised and unable to even start writing.
As I was lying in the bath this morning, it came to me: all I needed to do was to write in my own voice. I didn’t need to ‘put on a mask’ or try to emulate someone else’s poetic writings. All I need to do is to share the vulnerability that is me – Louise de Caux – and that will connect with some people and not others and I know intuitively that this is okay.
Now, I’m a woman who has always hated structure and bureaucracy. This has got worse over the years but as I enter the third phase of my life, I have finally found the freedom that I have longed for my entire life.
Funny then that I spent the first 35 years of my working life in Human Resources (or Personnel as it was in the 70s) upholding rules and regulations, policies and legislations. And what is it about the Personnel profession that seems to be increasingly focussed on what they are called rather than what they contribute? Only yesterday I saw a recruitment post for an ‘Employee Success Partner’. Whatever does that mean? But hey, because I hate structure I tend to go off at a tangent and I think an article about the Personnel profession is probably for another day. . . . .
Back on track with structure and bureaucracy. In my 30s and 40s I worked for large global American companies, travelling to exotic places, meeting incredible people (including Bill Gates!) My parents brought me up with a strong work ethic – just the kind of employee most employers love. I worked long hours, attended telephone meetings at 1 00 am in the morning, lived in hotels, ate badly and drank too much. Finally I had the first of my Dark Night of the Souls or burnout from the stress of attempting to live a life which was nigh on impossible. I didn’t know what was going on. All at once, I couldn’t do anything, I was paralysed with fear that everything would overwhelm me, I wouldn’t be able to cope and my employers would finally see what I had known all along . . . . I was a fraud and I couldn’t cope.
By this time, I had begun a journey of personal development and I embarked on 3 years of counselling. This was the beginning of my journey to awakening. But looking back, I see that I did not enter this Dark Night of the Soul wholeheartedly. I brushed the fears aside and patched my life up and got back on the treadmill. I told myself it was different this time, I was working for one of the biggest companies in the world, I had negotiated working only 4 days a week, I would set my own boundaries and not work into the evening and beyond.
Two years later I was facing my boss in the US at an annual performance review and she was telling me that I seemed to be paralysed to take action . . . . . I had good ideas, I managed people creatively but I didn’t take action. She told me I would have to start working 5 days a week. For the first time in my HR career, I was in danger of losing my job! How many times had I faced employee in this same situation? I was scared. I didn’t want people to find out that I might be sacked. Me? Louise de Caux? I had to keep the mask on. This is the first time that I have admitted this out loud, dear readers, and I feel the vulnerability and also the relief of showing you a part of me that I am ashamed of. I could feel the Dark Night of the Soul beckoning me again.
However, this galvanised me into action for myself. With a great deal of trepidation (fears of financial security, giving up a good pension, etc) I handed in my notice with no idea of what I was going to do except a vague idea of coaching and running workshops.
Over the course of the next two or three years I tried to get something off the ground but procrastination and paralysis was dogging me more and more. Eventually I purchased a franchise business for children’s performing arts which I still love to this day BUT the company was literally taken over by a Venture Capitalist in the same month that I brought it and I found myself hurled into the cut and thrust of Corporate bureaucracy and playing by others people’s rules rather than being able to follow my heart.
This plunged me into what I call my Purple Dark Night of the Soul. I felt such Fear and for the first time, instead of ignoring it I began to feel and embrace it. No one knew that I spent days under my duvet or sitting in front of the television literally shaking with fear. I felt physically sick with an unnamed illness. I turned up on Saturday with the kids which was the part that I loved doing and no one knew what was really happening underneath. I was falling: falling to the depths of the darkness of my worst fears. As well as my own fears, I felt the overwhelming terrors that my father endured during his life and the family history of the atrocities of war. Everything mixed up in a swirling whirlpool of anxiety and apprehension. It was literally a living nightmare. But I stayed with it, found a somatic bodyworker to calm my system, spoke to my trusted women friends and somehow found my way through it. It took two years for me to begin to see the light again. I realise now that this process cannot be hurried, it comes in waves, sometimes unexpectedly when I am feeling really good, it taps on my shoulder to remind me that it is there.
And here I am, back at the beginning. Balancing the joy and the fear, the excitement and the hopelessness, with both structure and formlessness. Writing this is showing you a part of my Soul. As I enter what Jane Fonda calls the ‘3rd Act of my life’, I have learnt to love myself exactly as I am and to know that fear will always be with me, just as love is. All I need to do is to feel what I feel. I remove my mask and learn to live by my own rules. I found the freedom to live my life on my terms and discovered the wisdom and intuition of my own precious Heart and Soul.
I have found the purple-ness of my wise woman or crone and wouldn’t exchange this for the pinkness of the young girl who first met her power at puberty or the Red fertile years of a woman who was practicing her power. I am now post-menopausal and at long last am inhabiting my power: my own unique Purple Power, which has brought me the freedom I have always longed for.
My Purple is expanding and encompasses Red. My Women 2Gether brand is currently running Red Tent Activations for women of all ages to celebrate who they are as a woman (next one scheduled for Sunday 24 September in Cambridge). My Purple Power workshop for women entering, in the midst or beyond the menopause is coming up on 22/23 July also in Cambridge. It’s an exploration of the menopause maze using potent but simple exercise to help women find their own unique and innate purpose.