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11 years later — a true story about consequences of loss

5 Sep

I am back from Germany and had a great time. The biggest blessing i experienced in Berlin was community, and the greatest gift i received was the support of a very capable friend who offered to help me and my four siblings sell my mother’s house which has been empty for many years. We siblings have dragged our feet—my sister local to the house who was my mother’s caretaker and is the main heir has been too emotional, and those of us far away did not feel in charge, as we are only secondary heirs. But after years, even from the distance across the globe, i have become upset about the situation. It feels disrespectful to my mother’s memory to not deal with the estate (the house has been neglected and is in disrepair). So, when i set off to go to Germany, facilitating a settling of my mother’s estate was my major objective, next to spending quality time with my 5 year old niece Stella, my sister Anne, and some other people close to my heart.

I tell you about this not to cast blame on anyone but to share a story of loss and its consequences. Underneath my sister’s procrastination (the house was left to her) was an overwhelming sense of loss with which she was left more or less alone. It may be that my family’s situation is particularly extreme as we siblings have dispersed in all winds, living on three continents, in time zones so different that talking to each other on the phone regularly is almost impossible. But i know that my sister’s pain and isolation is not an uncommon occurrence. Major losses are super tough challenges. And it does not matter much whether it is the loss of a parent, a friend, a partner, a close family member (including pets), or the the loss of one’s long-term relationship, one’s health, or one’s youth. The shock of death and separation, the scariness of major health problems, and the depressing cultural implications of dwindling youth are not only hard to face—we are usually not prepared for them and most have no support structures to help. When this loss is the death of a loved one there might be a lot of sympathy, but there is usually little capacity to be in the presence of grief. When the loss is that of one’s youth, often there is not even sympathy.

For the last two years i have been offering Midlife Alchemy. My intention with it has always been to offer a structure that provides the space to reflect, process, and find support in times of loss, impending loss, or during a major redefining of one’s self. I want to fill the cultural gap around loss and offer a place that encourages authenticity and trust, inspires self-reflection and sharing, and becomes a place for emotional healing and transformation. With Midlife Alchemy I am offering the kind of space and support here that i wish my sister would have in Germany.

Midlife Alchemy is not just about loss. It is about embracing what is and connecting with your inner strength in the face of what life presents you. It is about reconnecting with your true nature so that you can gracefully unfold and be the beautiful being you came into this life to be.

A new in-person Midlife Alchemy group in the Bay Area is forming this month. We will meet on Thursday evenings. You can find more information at http://evaruland.com/MidlifeAlchemy. Please don’t hesitate connecting with me if you are interested but have any questions.

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Pink?

10 May

Pink was never my color. I stayed away from it because i did not want to come across girly. Today, i turned around and chose pink. It’s right in my face, too. I got pink bangs. WOW!

When showed the colors i wanted in my hair—bright pink, a radiant red, and a dark leafy red, the stylist grabbed the hot pink and held it on my forehead. She suggested to die my baby bangs pink. Okay, i said, and she was in disbelief. She double checked three times with me. Yes, i was going for it.

She worked on me for over 2 hours. First, the color had to be stripped from my hair so that the lighter colors would show. The smell of ammonia creeped me out. How can i do this to my hair and my skull, i thought for a moment. But there was no going back. I was in for the ride. I had to sit under a heated hood for a while to bake the color in. No denying it, this treatment was not nature friendly.

But, then, once the bleach was washed out and the pink applied, i forgot all about the chemicals. I fell in love with my little patch of pink. She put in foils on the side and added color for the highlights. When the foils had come off, and my hair was washed, i felt giddy. I could not wait to see the result. And there it was: bright and pink right on my forehead, and red, orange and pink stripes on the side. While she was blowdrying my hair i saw colorful feathers appear on my head. “My true feathers,” i thought, “i am showing my true colors.”

I love my new colors. They uplift me. This pink has nothing to do with the pink of being a well-adjusted, well-behaved girl. This pink is the color of joy. It feels exuberant and is super liberating. When i went to a networking event tonight, lots of women came up to me to compliment me on my hair and my courage. That’s when i realized that my hair has become my messenger. The message is: dare to be yourself.

I invite you to connect with your own pink. Your pink might be orange, or turquoise, or purple—and it may or may not want to show in your hair. What is your true color? How can you connect with and step into your authentic self?

Need help? I’d love to support you in living your life from your truth, unapologetically, unabashedly, and gracefully. After all, i believe that the universe had something special in mind when it made you.

[photos: Pat Mazzera | hair: Universe @ Festoon Salon Berkeley]

© Eva Ruland, 2016

Wow, I have become my Mother

1 Jun

In a couple of weeks it will be the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. The dull feeling of grief is not there anymore but I still miss her. Recently, i have been thinking of her more, perhaps because i was taking stock of my own life.

Peonies
Peonies remind me of June in Germany.

I started coaching the summer my mother died. Soon, it will be 10 years that i have been a coach. I love my work and i love my clients. It makes me happy to know that i make a difference in their lives. The acknowledgements i receive for my work are ambrosia for my soul. I feel deep gratitude that i have found what i was looking for for many years: my calling and my passion. And, it occurs to me that, interestingly enough, in many ways i have become my mother, something i actively rejected as a teen and young woman.

My mother was generous, big-hearted, and never stopped championing her children. She was intelligent and a free-thinker, and in her life prior to motherhood she had been a respected professional. But, growing up, my mother was more of an anti-role model for me. She did not care about appearances when everyone else did. She believed in authentically being yourself even when doing so brought you into trouble. She was kind, and i saw that others-—her children included—-could all too easily take advantage of her. I loved her with all my heart, but, as a teenager, i wanted to be anything but my mother. I wanted to be in control of my life and craved the power needed for that, and i also wanted attention and admiration from others, things that my mom did not seem to need at all. She was a Mother Theresa, seemingly without any need beyond caring for others and doing good.

Growing up under my mother’s protection i was allowed to have my own reaction to situations and people. But i was not immune to the judgement of others the way she was. She seemed to shrug it of and continued with her life. I was far from having that true independence from others’ approval. I remember that when i was 11 and had recently started at a new school, my mother invited a classmate to come home with me, hoping to help me cultivate a new friend. To my mom’s delight, the invitation was promptly, reciprocated. And that is when the girl who was groomed to become my friend—but with whom i never bonded—introduced me to the power of comparison and judgement. While her mother asked me friendly questions, my classmate noted to her that my mother wore neither lipstick nor nail polish, and later incredulously asked me why my mother’s appearance was so generally unglamorous. I hated the girl for being so shallow, and i hated my mother for not making efforts at glamour at all. How could it be that she did not care?

I loved beautiful things, followed the latest fashion, and enjoyed adorning myself. I wanted splendor and beauty in my life-—things that later motivated me to become a fashion designer. As a teenager i suffered much frustration being surrounded by schoolmates who mostly came from wealthy backgrounds and had everything beautiful that money could buy, while i had to be creative to bridge the financial gap between them and me. I came from a family with 5 kids living on one retirement income. My parents shopped at the cheaper stores to make ends meet. The clash between my family’s financial limitations and the material circumstances i was surrounded with at school was difficult for me. It was not only the reason for my frustration, it was also the cause of shame. I did everything i could to hide my family’s meager means and to pretend that i was like the rest. I worked hard tutoring younger kids to earn the pocket money i needed to afford hanging out in cafés with my classmates and living the bohemian life they did. I began to sew my own outfits to save money and still be fashionable.

In these years, appearance mattered a lot to me. Plus, always having to be the understanding one who has to share and make room for her needier younger siblings, left me frustrated. I craved attention. My mother’s model of self-sacrifice in the name of family did not suit me. I wanted a different life for myself. I defined myself and what i aspired to in opposition to my mother. I wanted splendor, attention, and bohemian carefreeness.

Yet, when i look back today, i notice how much of my mother is in me. Yes, beauty is still one of my core values and i still care how well my top goes with the rest of my outfit. But, i realize that many of the things my mother did for me i now do for others. During my formative school years, when i learned to step into my power and to change my frustrating reality, my mom was the one who sustained me, cheered me on, and celebrated my achievements with me. She supported me and held my hand, while letting me take on responsibilities and walk my own path–which i realize now are some aspects of my work as a coach.

I give myself credit for the good work i do. And i know that i would not be doing any of it, if it hadn’t been for my mother and her strong ethical values. I now know that the financial limitations i experienced early on, and the juxtaposition of my lifestyle with the lifestyles of my classmates was a blessing in disguise. I learned that favorable exterior circumstances make life easier but are not necessarily soul-nurturing. And, as much as it would shock my younger self, now i don’t need to hold up the appearance of being ms. perfect anymore. I did that for much of my life. I now know that i am worthy with or without lipstick, and that my worth is not measured by how well i am put together. Now i appreciate my mother more than ever, and i am proud of the things i have in common with her.

I’d love to hear if you see your mother in yourself too. Or did you have another strong role model? What did your role models look like when you were a teenager? Who did you want to become and why? How has that formed the person you are today?

© Eva Ruland, May 2015

Embracing the inevitable — Accepting aging

26 Jun

When i was a teenager i thought of myself as old. By the time i got close to thirty i didn’t want to have anything to do with being old. Being old then seemed to mean being settled in. I was not ready to settle. My thirties brought lots of adventures, the biggest of them being my move from Berlin to San Francisco. I became a student again and i was filled with youthful energy, the energy of exploration and possibility. At 42, when i married a man who is 7 years younger than i am, i felt in my prime. When he met me first, a year prior, he thought that it was amazing how i could pass for 28, unless i had spent the night on a red-eye flight. That was flattering. At 43, i had a major car accident. I lost my short-term memory, chunks of my mid-term memory, and my sense of equilibrium and physical balance. I could not walk down stairs without holding on to a railing and carefully testing how much i had to lower my foot before stepping. Even though 4 weeks earlier i still had been a youthful 42 year old, now i felt like 84. I am sure you have no trouble believing that these changes were a major shock to me. From then on i had ample opportunity to look at what defines who i am and how my age and aging play into my sense of self.

You have probably heard people say that there is a blessing in everything. In the case of my accident, i could not see the blessing for a rather long time. Now i know that it taught me the value of intuition, broadened my sense of self beyond the brilliance of my mind, and gave me a practical lesson in accepting what is. In a way, my accident prepared me to accept the fact of aging. And, just as i was pro-active after my accident and invested energy in re-training my brain and nervous system, now i am pro-active in training my brain and my body to stay fit, hopefully for a long while. I hope to maintain as many capacities as possible for a long time to come. As to my skin, i continue to take care of it and admit to a good deal of vanity. Yet, i know better than to compare myself with others, particularly those who are a decade or more younger than i am—which many of the wives and girl-friends of my husband’s buddies are. This is my life, not a competition—yet another hard earned insight at which i arrived only over time.

Dare to be yourself.

Dare to be yourself.

Aging is a challenge that most of us are not prepared for. Not only is it not a subject that is taught in schools. Culturally, aging is treated as if it is something to be ashamed of and that we better hide. I say it’s high time to change that. And the best place to start this revolution is with myself. How do i view my own aging? As something i deny and plaster over, or as something i embrace and play with? I have decided to go for option 2. When you see me, you’ll notice that i began to consciously show some gray, the badge of aging. I do it my way and juxtapose it with a bright red. That’s where the play comes in. To my surprise i have gotten many complements for it, particularly from young people. I am growing old, i show it, and i am beautiful. What would it take for you to participate in this new movement of embracing yourself fully, including your age, and say, “I am growing old, i show it, and i am beautiful”?

If you find this article inspiring, please pass it on to others. And if you would like to embrace yourself more fully, i’d be happy to have a conversation about how i can best help you with that. When you look at it as an adventure in self-discovery where you get to set many of the rules, midlife + up can have its own appeal. Let’s savor it!

News! On January 12, 2015 i will start a special workshop addressing midlife issues through reflection, personal writing, coaching tools and art. It’s called Not Young, Not Old, What Now?  Intro To Midlife Alchemy For Women. Come and explore, take stock, and develop a new perspective on where you are at in life. Interested? Read more at http://evaruland.com/MidlifeAlchemy/index.html

We will meet on Monday evenings.
Hope to see you there!

© Eva Ruland, June 2014