Forget the To Do list! Be soft and kind to yourself
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (March 28th 2023)
Queenager Life Lessons from our amazing Noon retreat yesterday
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Hope you remembered the clocks changed this morning – I ended up eating a very early brunch and had to go back to bed! Feeling a bit knackered as we had our Noon Retreat at Wasing yesterday. (All pictures taken by the brilliant Beth Colson).
It was so wonderful to see 25 of you lovely ladies for yoga, wild swimming in the lake and a very special Noon Circle. The theme of the day emerged as softness: being kind to ourselves. The yoga was led in a beautiful glass pavilion overlooking the ancient estate by Lesley Thomas who told us all to take the rest we deserved after a strenuous posture. It made me think how rarely I do that in real life, how we all power through task after task, often not stopping to pat ourselves on the back, or even to stop for a moment and regroup, before shouldering the next burden. Lesley’s mellifluous, comforting voice and ambient tunes transported us all to a gentler, softer place of kinder intentions. One particularly busy Queenager confessed she usually loathes yoga because her mind wanders all over the place, but even she succumbed to Lesley’s calm. She sent me a message this morning saying: “Thanks so much for the day, I feel like I’ve been on holiday, can’t believe it!”
From the glass pavilion we donned our wellies and coats and walked across the Wasing estate for half an hour through the woods (where they host the Medicine Festival in the summer), past a sunny grassy glade amidst the three-hundred year old trees where a Yurt – which would be our home for the afternoon – nestled in a clearing. Beyond was the lake glittering in the sunshine, red kites soaring over-head. Those who were used to cold swimming went on ahead. The newbies and I discussed tactics; essentially breathing out slowly as you climb down the steps into the water, and then changed into our cossies under the trees in some welcome and unsuspected sun. (My cheeks got sunburnt).
Out on the jetty we warmed up with some Wim Hof-style moves which work the thighs and inter-costal muscles turning the body into a mini radiator. Then, to many cheers, I am extremely proud to say that ALL the Queenagers swam in the cold water, bobble hats bobbing, excited chatter coming off the water and then we repaired to the sauna next to the lake for more chat and laughter.
“Usually I feel self-conscious in a spa,” said one. “But here I feel totally at home.” There was much agreement. I was delighted by the warmth and fun, the support and laughter. It was a cocoon of Queenager love and shared experiences. A truly safe space, free of judgement. We refuelled with burritos made on the barbecue, hot tea and flap-jacks, smiles on every face. A little chunk of heaven.
Then the Noon Circle: first the pinchpoints. We know from our research that over half of women aged 50 have been through at least five big life events. Around the circle all of those made themselves known: divorce, bereavement, redundancy. Ailing parents, teens with anxiety, going it alone as a single mother at 50, seriously ill spouses, a sense of life ticking by, of having lost touch with ourselves in putting everyone else’s needs before our own. There were lots of tales of the mid-life clusterfuck; many of these horrors hitting at once. Of the resilience required to dig deep and battle through. We lit a candle to acknowledge the troubles.
And then we talked about the wisdom and strength that this stage brings: how every death or loss creates a space for something new to grow. How the pivot into what my brilliant friend Avivah Wittenberg Cox calls the Third Quarter, Q3, at 50, also brings an opportunity to leave behind the box-ticking achievement focussed Q2 , or the parental expectations, or the full-on caring duties – and re-find ourselves. One of the women said, with tears in her eyes: “It is so long since I have asked myself what I want, that I don’t think I even know anymore. It is as if I am a stranger to myself.”
We talked about what brought us joy – connection with nature, pushing our physical boundaries, doing something new, the people we love. But also the headiness of being here in a yurt with a new tribe of Queenagers who understood, who don’t judge or measure us against past statements or personas but who take us as we are now, where we are now. Who see us, who understand, who are our fellow travellers. The freedom of being allowed to express the pain, or guilt, or talk about the families who are drains not radiators, or a big ambition or desire that we have barely admitted to ourselves.
Then we lit a candle for our intentions. We talked about the sweetness that comes after that midlife pinchpoint. The shift into more wisdom, knowing what you want – that sense of being full of purpose, lit up, doing your real thing in a place of joy. I feel that too. It feels so paradoxical that being ousted from my big job three years ago (almost to the day) should have opened up such opportunity. That on the other side of that dark pain – the humiliation, the rejection, the loss – should be so much good stuff.
I am not down-playing the dark: it was all there yesterday. Some of the Queenagers have really been through the worst that you can imagine. But as one of them who had lost a child said: “The loss is real and hard, but it is about what you do with it afterwards.” We all agreed that life is short and precious; that we owe death a living.
But what really emerged during the Circle is that by the time we are 50-ish we don’t need to be following anyone else’s script. That we have a right to our own dreams, whatever they may be. That we are of ourselves, enough. That we are someone. (This came out of a great exchange about how often women are asked: “Are you seeing someone?” The answer was: “Yes, I AM someone. I don’t have to be in a relationship to exist!” I loved that).
This is the time to become the women we always wanted to be – and to really work out what that means for each one of us. And that starts with some self-kindness. Looking after ourselves as we do others, gently, with love – and listening to what we truly want, even if it seems impossible and contradictory, and acting on that. It really felt like the Noon Circle was full of our awakened selves, calling to us through the forest, across the space about what we might be, what we could become, if we are only courageous enough to try.
That is the reason it was so wonderful to see so many of you taking the plunge into the cold water – a pretty extreme thing to do in late March! By putting ourselves into the New, somewhere we haven’t been before, like the cold lake, we realise that we CAN do something different, make an important change, establish some new boundaries perhaps, assert what works for US, rather than everyone else. That feeling of joy and triumph that comes after immersion in cold water – the shot of dopamine and adrenaline – is like a mini-hit of the joy that is possible if we try to listen to our real selves. I am not saying it is easy. In fact, the most helpful thing that anyone said to me on my own Queenager journey was: Change is Difficult. You are allowed to find it hard. It is ok to wallow and to feel sad for what is lost. But then – FORZA – hold your courage to the sticking post and you’ll not fail. Particularly if you are supported by a group of amazing women. To honour that, we held hands and felt the connection, the energy of us all together.
At the end of the Circle we drank hot cacao and walked back to the pavilion across the estate through the primroses, beside the rushing stream, talking-talking – so many new friendships forged such love and trust and sharing and cold water and laughter and bonding. Thank you all for coming and making it such a memorable day. I am so proud of you all for braving the cold, getting beyond your fear. I promise we’ll be announcing some more A-Wasing days soon.
In the meantime the aforementioned Avivah, who came and wrote about our very first Noon Retreat in Yorkshire (you can read her brilliant article for Forbes about it here) is running a Midlife Rethink course which I have done and is a brilliant jumping off point for thinking through some of these issues. There is a special link for newsletter readers to sign up here. Avivah is at the forefront of thinking about the 100 year Life and how we need to reshape our understanding of the different stages and how generations work together. She is also on our Noon Advisory Board. I cannot recommend her course – or writing – highly enough. She has been a huge help to me. It will set you on the right path of preparation for the next time we can all get together again at Noon.
Much love and have a great week.