Midlife is a challenging time for many of us when we are being called (or in some cases forced) to pause and take a look at ourselves and our lives.

We begin to get a sense that life is short and we have an increasing hunger to live in alignment with our authentic selves.

Brené Brown, wrote a powerful article, about this midlife unraveling where she explained:

The truth is that the midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. By low-grade, quiet, and insidious, I mean it’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering – the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK.

Having gone through my own midlife unraveling, I found myself looking back and asking, “What happened to me?”

Richard Rohr, an American author, spiritual writer and Franciscan friar refers to this passage that commonly happens at midlife (as determined by the soul, not chronological age) as a process of order-disorder–reorder.

The initial phase of order is when we are building a life with a primary focus on the outer – What will I do for work? Will I get married? Will I have children? Although there may be times of chaos during this phase, we are primarily fulfilling our need to be mature adults and make our way in the world.

And then sometime around “midlife”, we find ourselves in the disorder phase of the journey.

As Dante’s epic poem, the Divine Comedy on the soul’s journey illuminates,

In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.

This dark wood feels different than the previous challenging times we’ve had in the order phase of our life. We literally can’t see any longer. We have no map. What seemed to work in the past, doesn’t seem to work anymore.

It’s in this disorder phase where all the “death” or unraveling happens. This death is really the release of our conditioned small self to make room for our deeper self or soul to emerge. This is a really painful and challenging place to be – especially when we don’t know how to make sense of it.  I wrote the article, What Is The Purpose Of The Dark Night Of The Soul to shed a light on it.

As the disorder phase nears the end we move into the reorder phase where we are aligning our outer world with the transformative changes that have occurred inside of us. We may find ourselves asking, Do I need more meaningful work? What needs to change in my relationships now that I’ve changed? What is my soul asking of me?

It’s helpful to view this time of transition as a process rather than a particular event, as it truly is the beginning of a new journey. This journey may be triggered by a particular event, like children leaving home, disillusionment with work, the ending of a relationship, an illness but the event itself is not the change. It’s what happens after the change that becomes the transformative journey which is ultimately the purpose of this middle passage.

What are some shifts that happen during this midlife unraveling?

A shift from the primary focus on the outer aspects of our lives to expand and integrate our inner world of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and our personality structure.

A shift from doing and taking action on things that arise from satisfying our ego’s need for perfection, achievement, and success to action that arises from our soul and the life force that is flowing through us.

A shift from being triggered by unconscious and reactive habits to being conscious and responsive as we develop the capacity to connect with our deeper self below the turbulent surface.

A shift in our relationships from fulfilling our roles to honouring and listening to our soul’s need for growth and expansion.

A shift from building a healthy personality (which is necessary for the first half) to evolving our personality to be in service of our soul’s plan for us.

A shift from overidentifying with either the masculine or feminine energy within each of us to living from a balanced and integrated way of being and contributing.

A shift in relationships that compensate for our wholeness to relationships that promote our growth, individuation and wholeness.

A shift from the first half of life where we do the journey to the second half of life where the journey does us.

A shift from primarily identifying with the world of form to getting curious about the mysteries of life and spiritual matters.

A shift from doing life with a map to doing life and creating the map as we go along.

The following are 3 things I wish I had known when the Universe decided it was my time to enter the dark woods.

  1. The low-grade anxiety and depression I was experiencing felt like soul hunger and was a clue that I wasn’t living my best life.  My soul was beckoning me to begin the journey home to my true self and to live in alignment with who I was meant to become not who I thought I was supposed to be. It’s a journey that takes us deeper, not higher and in the process, we awaken our true selves.
  2. It would have made the journey easier to navigate if I’d have known what it was about and had some tools to help me. I came to learn that practices like meditation and self-compassion are invaluable during the order-disorder-reorder phases of life. Nobody tells us that self-actualization and living in alignment with our soul’s blueprint requires courage. But it does, and tools like meditation and mindfulness help us deal with the fear that accompanies change and growth.
  3. Probably the biggest thing I needed to hear, was that I wasn’t alone. That many people are navigating this middle passage that’s calling us to deeper meaning, purpose and connection. That through this journey back home to myself I would not only survive but that I would actually begin to thrive.

In the following interview, I speak with Dr. Donna McArthur about her experience with her “midlife unraveling” and what helped her get through it:


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