You wait in the dark, in the blank absence, the void, and sooner or later, something appears, begins to take shape, something that could not have come into anything other than absence. Something, in fact, that needs absence first in order to have form later.
It is mid morning, probably a Monday, sometime in June, 2012. It has been raining all weekend— that endless, north-coast rain that envelops everything in damp and mould—and I am weeping and keening in the bathtub. It is as if all 42 years of my sorrow have caught up with me. I am sick. I have been sick for some months. Tired to the bone with the onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a very disconcerting heart arrhythmia. I sob ugly, tearing, guttural grunts—of exhaustion, frustration, relived trauma; my tears flowing into the tepid bath water. This grief feels hopeless, bottomless. I grieve for the disintegration of family-love, of father-wounds repeated, and the forever karma of having to be the piece-picker-upper, the responsible one, the one who holds it all together.
‘Tears are a part of the mending of rips in the psyche where energy has leaked and leaked away,’ says Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Seven years later, as I write this in winter’s noontime, filled with blinding sunshine and a gentle cool wind, I know now that Monday morning was an essential point in my healing journey of ‘descent’.
There is an ancient wisdom tradition that charts the passage of a woman’s physical and psychic development throughout her lifetime into seven year cycles. Now 49, almost through perimenopause, I am shifting into the next seven year cycle: much stronger, healthier, clearer and happier than that woman in the bathtub.
I’ve done a lot of inner work so that the ‘rip’ in my ‘psyche’ is a little less raw. I know myself a little better, and I’ve made radical changes in my personal and working life indicative of the sifting and shedding that can be precipitated by perimenopause—if only a woman listens and takes heed.
I am setting a new pace for myself. I’m settling into a glorious 6-month sabbatical, which is all the sweeter after 15 years of solo parenting and running a busy small business, with lots of teaching and travel, and all the juggling that entailed.
Gorgeous, languid time begins to open up for me, which leads me to contemplate the idea of slowness.
Indian-Welsh poet Tishani Doshi delivers an interesting TED talk about the value of slowness. She makes the point that time is one of our greatest luxuries. When you gift yourself time, like I have, you no longer need to parcel it up into neat, pre-allocated bundles, robbing it of all of its juice and vitality. Doshi suggests that slowness can nurture creativity. I couldn’t agree more! All that creative head space that was previously given over to work-related ruminations is becoming free real estate. Freedom to play!
I’ve recently stumbled upon the idea of ‘mental white space’. This was originally a design term denotating the negative space around an image. This blank space is just as important as the image because it serves a unique purpose: ‘It is balancing the rest of the design by throwing what is on the page (or screen) into relief’, explains Jocelyn K. Glei, host of the Hurry Slowly podcast. Mental white space therefore is that spacious, non-doing time when we’re daydreaming or taking pause and it fuels our creativity.
The best way we can gift ourselves white space is with time. ‘Time scarcity is like kryptonite for creativity. If we want to create an environment that nourishes innovation and imagination, we need to build quiet counterparts to our daily rhythm. These small moments of “white space”—where we have time to pause and reflect, or go for a walk, or just breathe deeply for a few moments—are what give balance and flow and comprehension to our lives as a larger whole,’ says Glei.
The key to cultivating slowness in a previously over-stuffed life is starting your day slowly. I’m learning to take long morning walks on the beach—with no set time that I have to hurry home and ‘start’ my day.
I’m also taking more time for quality connections with my loved ones—again without a time agenda. The afternoon siesta is becoming a regular fixture. And the chores that I still must do—housework and shopping, parenting, and, some work tasks—I’m trying to do in a gentling way that is kind on my nervous system.
Slowness means I no longer have the excuse of saying that I don’t have time to set the timer for a 20 minute meditation, or that I must rush into and out of a leisurely yoga practice. I’m discovering the deeper subtleties of slow movement—whether that be walking meditation or somatic body practice. I’m delighting in making myself slow right down, to feel the essence of movement, stripped back, and to settle into the spaces between movements, between moments.
This all means that when I get a massage it doesn’t just serve the purpose of relaxing and rebuilding my body and nervous system—now it also opens up a whole creative portal. As I lie on the therapist’s table my mind sparks with creative synapses that were previously exhausted and overwrought.
Another great pleasure that this time and space affords is long hours in cafes reading and writing, writing, writing—channelling this rejuvenated creativity onto the page. Slowness therefore means I must finally put my money where my mouth is and see if I really do have any talent for writing fiction, narrative non-fiction, memoir and poetry.
But of course, this is why I’m calling this time off from running my company a ‘sabbatical’ rather than just an extended vacation. This was always going to be time to really explore my untapped creative resources and see where it takes me. And that is perhaps the most exciting thing: amidst, and because of all of this slowness I’m filled with a buzzing excitement, a creative, throbbing energy that I haven’t experienced since adolescence.
Ah! Adolescence! That was a golden, creative time for me. In middle age I feel inextricably drawn back to the innocence of myself as a budding young woman. I feel the pull of a force that is beyond the conscious, and it makes me wonder what this means in terms of the feminine archetypes.
‘We enact the Maiden whenever we bring virginal innocence to a new enterprise. When embarking on an adventure, setting out on travel on our own, or taking some risk in our professional lives, we can invoke out Maiden aspect to help us blend vitality with purity of intent,’ suggest two midwives and women’s wisdom visionaries, Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard.
In their seminal book, The Women’s Wheel of Life, Davis and Leonard lay out the 13 various archetypes that women can cycle through during their lifetime. In simple terms, an archetype is an essence or quality that we can personify in order to progress our psycho-spiritual growth.
Could it be that in my recent joyful quest to uncover my dormant creativity that I’m revisiting my ‘Maiden’ archetype? You see the Maiden archetype is closely linked to and on the opposite sign of the coin of the ‘Matriarch’ archetype. The Matriarch is one of the perimenopausal phases that certainly reflects my current chronological age and development. Nudging 50, I’m now at a point in my life in which I am able to harvest some decades of life experience and journeying into self-knowledge—‘…she has passed through innocence and nurturing to a point of security with herself and her place in the world’. And, the very fact that I’ve carved out the time for this sabbatical embodies this Matriarch quality: ‘She knows her own limits and will no longer take everything upon herself; she recognises overload as a disservice to herself and to those who love and rely upon her’.
During my first Maiden phase, as a teenage girl, I would write with abandon: poems, plays, stories. I would bake elaborate sponge cakes, croissants, and other delectable delicacies. I would knit. I would act, dance and choreograph. I suspect this was chiefly because I had the time and space to explore my nascent creativity due to the lack of any imperative to earn a living, which, as we know, can weigh heavily upon one’s time and energy. Also, in my ‘maidenly’ innocence, my inner critic was still immature, which meant that I could indulge in creative-play without censure.
I do know one thing for sure: my teen-self couldn’t not create. It is this self that has in mid-life again come out to play. I am finally liberated from decades of toiling in ‘survival mode’ and gosh, it feels good!
As Leonard and Davis write:
‘…the Matriarch rekindles the passions and dreams of youth and may pick up broken threads of spiritual pursuits with new intensity and direction’.
There is an ancient Native American story about an old woman in a cave. This old woman who ‘remains unaffected by the rush of time and the confusion and strife of daily life’ sits all day weaving a beautiful garment. The garment features a fringe of porcupine quills that she must level out by painstakingly biting on them with her teeth, wearing them down. But she does not care as she is focused on making the most beautiful cloak in the world. Every so often she must leave her weaving and go to the back of the cave to stir the pot of creation (filled with all the roots and seeds of all the plant life on earth) bubbling over a fire. While she is gone, a black dog skulks out of the shadows and pulls on a thread of her garment and unravels it. When she returns, she finds her beautiful cloak totally destroyed, in chaos. Slowly, in her own time, she sits down again and picks up a loose thread and has a vision of an even more beautiful garment than the one the black dog has ruined, and she begins to weave again.
And so it is.
Ana Davis is Director and Founder of Bliss Baby Yoga and author of Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond.
Ana will be co-teaching a workshop, Yoga for Conscious Menopause, along with one of Australia’s most experienced and senior yoga teachers, Eve Grzybowski, on October 27, 2019. More info here.
 Barbara Hurd from the anthology Breaking Free: Women of Spirit at Midlife and Beyond, p. 201
 Estes, Women who Run with the Wolves, p. 404
 Both Estes in Women who Run with the Wolves and Maureen Murdock in The Heroine’s Journey, discuss the idea of ‘descent’, which refers to a time of chaos and crisis that we must embrace as a critical stopover in a woman’s journey into wholeness. This idea of course was perhaps first posited to a modern Western audience, outside of fairytale and myth (yet drawing strongly on these traditions) by Joseph Campbell in his thesis of the ‘Hero’s Journey’—see his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell writes of ‘the Road of Trials’ that every hero must traverse: ‘…anyone—in whatever society—undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally, into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth..’, p. 84
 See Estes, and Joan Borysenko, PhD’s A Woman’s Book of Life: The Biology, Psychology and Spirituality of the Feminine Life Cycle.
 J.K. Glei author and host of the Hurry Slowly podcast, https://jkglei.com
 Davis & Leonard, The Women’s Wheel of Life, p.117
 Ibid., p.117
 This story is retold by mythic storyteller Michael Mead see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64DmK28Cv2Q. Mead offers it as a cogent allegorical story for our ‘turbulent times’. My gratitude goes to award winning Australian storyteller, Jenni Cargill-Strong who introduced me to this rich story, find out more about her work here: https://storytree.com.au
 A good retelling of the story of the old woman can also be found here: https://juliegabrielli.com/2016/11/09/weaving-and-unraveling-in-black-dog-times/