It’s Never Too Late!
THRIVING in the Second Half of Life
By Virginia Bell
We are all unique individuals with our own singular path; yet on this journey called life, each and every one of us will come to certain crossroads or cycles, and although our paths may differ, the timing of these cycles is the same. These generational cycles are the great turning points in life. At every juncture we face challenges, lessons, even losses; in this we have no choice. Our freedom lies in how we respond: consciously or unconsciously; awake or asleep; with love or with fear. The planet that rules each cycle is our guide. It holds the key to navigating the cycle successfully and releasing the potential that lies within. Ultimately, it’s the journey of becoming whole.
Midlife: Breakdowns and Breakthroughs (Ages 35-45)
“Somewhere between 35 and 45, if we let ourselves, most of us will have a full-out authenticity crisis”—Gail Sheehy
It may start from the inside; a deep rumbling that seems to say, “Is that all there is?” Or it may come from the outside in the form of a crisis, such as a death in the family, a health challenge, the loss of a job or relationship. Either way, we end up feeling as if a hurricane has blasted through our lives and torn it wide open. Although it may feel “sudden” and “appear” to come from the outside, if we’re honest, we’ll realize it has been brewing for a while and at some level we’ve become stale and are playing small. Suddenly faced with our own mortality, we are forced to examine who we are and what we want. One thing’s for sure: life as we know it will not remain the same, and, if we handle it correctly, neither will we. Welcome to Midlife.
Our late twenties and early thirties are defined by tough-love Saturn and the dreaded Saturn Return. Saturn isn’t bad (no planet is), but Saturn is a no-frills kind of guy. He’s the Dr. Phil of the planets. He forces us to grow up and get real. Saturn is associated with reality, responsibility, seriousness, setbacks, discipline, authority, and maturity. At twenty-nine, Saturn comes back to its birth position: it’s time to stop drifting and begin doing; we sober up—sometimes literally. There’s something in us that is ready to make a serious commitment and do whatever it takes to succeed: a career, an advanced degree, a relationship, a family. No doubt it will involve hard work, challenges, and sacrifices; that’s simply how Saturn operates. In a way, it’s like going into the army or rehab. We’re humbled, tested, and pushed to our limits. In the process, we gain experience, stature, credentials, and, most of all, maturity; there may even be financial rewards and recognition. On our own and no longer tied to our family, we seem to have it all figured out. That is until about thirty-six or thirty-seven.
“Midlife is when you reach the top of the ladder and find that it was against the wrong wall.”—Joseph Campbell
Midlife Crisis, Identity Crisis, or, Gail Sheehy’s term, Deadline Decade, is life’s most dramatic turning point. It is a complex period orchestrated by several planets and spread over a decade (from thirty-six to forty-five), but it peaks between forty and forty-two when maverick Uranus reaches its halfway mark. Called the Great Awakener, Uranus was discovered in 1781 around the time of the American Revolution, French Revolution, and Industrial Revolution, which tells us a lot about its character. It is associated with freedom, rebellion, discoveries, and breakthroughs of all kinds; it is creative, scientific, technical, and political. Uranus takes eighty-four years to return to the position it occupied at birth. Around age forty-two, it has completed half of its journey and opposes its natal position. An old life is over and a new one is about to begin.
“What do you want for your thirty-ninth birthday?” “A Cat Scan.”—(City Slickers)
Around forty we begin to question everything we’ve been doing; we’re restless, eager, and hungry for something we can’t even name. Whatever we’ve put on the back burner during our Saturn years, while we were building our career or raising a family, begins to call to us—sometimes quite loudly. It is the classic Midlife Crisis. Men (and women) often leave their partners and take up with someone younger or suddenly feel the need to follow some long forgotten dream. Ted Turner left his media empire and set sail on his yacht Courageous, ultimately winning the American Cup. Many women experience an urgent need to have a child; Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, and recently Mariah Carey all got pregnant around forty or forty-one. Other women decide to go back to school or return to the workplace. For all of us, there is a powerful desire to break free of some situation and find more meaning in our lives.
In his late thirties, Carl Jung broke with Sigmund Freud and had his own midlife crisis, which lead to a major breakthrough. His Uranus opposition (at age forty-one) gave birth to his most important contribution—the discovery of the archetypes. “It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and first swamped me. It was the prima material for a lifetime’s work.” Under this transit, Georgia O’Keefe discovered New Mexico, fell in love with it, and began spending a part of every year there. Bill Wilson finally achieved sobriety and co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous.
It’s as if Uranus gives us permission to speak our truth, reveal who we are, and frees whatever is buried or kept secret; we change our life; we change our brand, and sometimes even our sexual identity. In 1994 (during her Uranus opposition), Oprah took a big chance; she revamped her television format and moved from being another tabloid TV talk show to one that inspired and uplifted. At forty-one, Brad Pitt left his storybook marriage to Jennifer Aniston. Recently, he gave an interview and spoke about that period, saying he was longing for more meaning in his life. He began a relationship with Angelina Jolie, started a family, and became involved in humanitarian work. Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly as a lesbian. Tyler Perry gave his groundbreaking interview on Oprah in which he bravely revealed the details of his childhood sexual abuse. Chaz Bono underwent female-to-male gender transition.
“Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”
The stakes are high since how we navigate this period will determine the second half of life. Get it wrong and we act out some adolescent fantasy and run the risk of throwing away a marriage or career or else do absolutely nothing and resign ourselves to a life that’s no longer relevant. Get it right and we discover what brings us alive and go out on a limb to make it happen. It’s important to remember that it’s not so much about running away from something as going towards it; we break out of a rut, follow our dream, and we’re rejuvenated in the process. If we make the right choice, then ultimately we aren’t different from who we were; we’re more authentic, more actualized. Or as they used to say in est (Erhard Seminars Training) in the seventies, “I used to be different; now I’m the same.”
The Chiron Return: The Youth of Old Age (Ages 49-51)
“Forty is the old age of youth. Fifty is the youth of old age.”—Victor Hugo
Between ages forty-nine and fifty-one, Chiron (a minor planet associated with the myth of the Wounded Healer) returns to its natal or birth position and we embark on a new paradigm as we officially take leave of our youth. It is a time to make peace with ourselves, come to terms with our failures, and forgive ourselves for what we haven’t accomplished. Some old dreams have to be sacrificed, yet like an exquisite evening gown that can no longer be worn, the material may be used to make something new.
In mythology, Chiron was born a centaur: half-man, half-horse, both mortal and divine. Rejected by both parents, he retreated to a cave where he raised himself. There he was mentored by Apollo and, as a result, became a gifted teacher and healer. His students were the sons of great men and gods such as Jason, Hercules, and Achilles. He taught them to be the heroes they were meant to be. The Chiron Return teaches us to be a hero; not who or what we thought we were, but who we truly are.
“The Chiron Return poses the question: What am I going to do with the
last part of my life?”
At our Chiron Return, we have the power to change our story, and it is not unusual for our life to take off in a new direction. The period leading up to the Chiron Return, in our late forties, is significant, as ideas, plans, and projects are seeded at this time. Often a teacher or mentor appears to act as a bridge or catalyst from one life to another. In her late forties, Jackie Kennedy Onassis surprised the world by taking a job as an editor at Viking Press. The vehicle for that move was Letitia Baldrige, who had been her social secretary in the White House. She suggested she consider publishing and encouraged her to contact Tom Guinzburg of Viking Press. Supermodel Lauren Hutton felt worn out in her late forties, spending much of her time in self-exile. Then photographer Steve Meisel featured her in the now famous Barneys New York ad (not made up to look like her younger self but the woman she was), and she became the poster girl for women over fifty.
Sometimes a loss or failure can be the catalyst for that new life. Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was rejected by the publisher. A young assistant found it and convinced her boss to reconsider. At fifty-one, Julia Child finally published her famous book, left France, and returned to the States, where she launched her brilliant television career. Hilary Clinton survived a very public scandal to become a United States Senator for New York at fifty-one.
Our body can act as a catalyst by sending messages to us in the form of symptoms. Unlike other cycles, the Chiron Return is accompanied by real biological changes, as it coincides with the median age of menopause in women. It’s not unusual for health issues to surface at this time, for both men and woman. This is not a prediction; it’s just one of the ways Chiron can manifest. In 2010, Dr. Oz (then fifty) was diagnosed with polyps during a routine colonoscopy. He used this as an opportunity to encourage others to get tested. According to Chinese medicine, we are born with a certain amount of chi, or energy. It stays constant until around age forty-eight or forty-nine, then we need to refine our habits. It may be necessary to eliminate wheat or dairy, get more sleep, change our exercise routine, or take certain vitamins. If we’re in good health, it could involve small adjustments; on the other hand, if we have not been paying attention to our health, then this is the perfect time to get serious about it.
Our angels love enthusiasm,
The Chiron Return takes us back to our deepest wounds and gives us an opportunity to heal them. Often painful memories and traumas from the past begin to surface. This is an excellent time to enter therapy or embark on a spiritual practice. In mythology, Chiron was known for his compassion, and the most powerful thing we can do at this time is to let go of the tyranny of perfection and the habit of comparing our insides to others’ botoxed, airbrushed outsides. We do that by loving ourselves for who we are and not for what we do or have. Not ordinary self-love; radical self-love, radical self-forgiveness, and radical self-acceptance. By making peace with the past, we are liberated to live more freely and fully in the years to come. That is the great gift of the Chiron Return.
“After 50, most of the bullshit is gone.”
The wonderful thing about the fifties is that we’re old enough to have acquired experience, skills, and some wisdom but still young enough to do just about anything; okay, maybe not become an Olympic ice skater or professional surfer, but there is still so much ahead of us. There is no other period in our lives when we have both a wealth of experience and a significant amount of time to create something of value.
“Fifty-two. Standing up here right on top of the middle of it has to be the happiest time. I mean, it’s the only time you get a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view—see in all directions. Wow! What a view!”
--Edward Albee (Three Tall Women)
The Second Saturn Return: Becoming the Elder (Age 59)
“Wisdom is one of the few things in
human life that does not diminish
with age.” —Ram Dass
At age fifty-nine, there is another shift as we enter the phase of the elder. Once again, taskmaster Saturn is our guide as we come to our second Saturn Return. At twenty-nine, at the end of our first Saturn cycle, we are challenged to move from youth to maturity. At our second Saturn Return, at fifty nine, we move from maturity to elderhood. At the first Saturn Return, the ego runs the show; it is more about what we want to get. The second Saturn Return is about what we want to give. What kind of legacy do we want to leave? What kind of elder do we want to become? What do we have to offer the community? It is no longer necessary to “make our mark in the world” and push ahead. That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to be ambitious, active, and successful, but, hopefully, this new phase will be infused with the wisdom and maturity we have gained along the way. At this point in our lives, we are motivated more by a desire for meaning than simply an urge to satisfy ambition.
Comedian Billy Crystal is a good example. He shot to fame at his first Saturn Return; during his second Saturn Return, he wrote and starred in a successful one-man show on Broadway entitled 100 Sundays. This moving tribute to his father was a far cry from his earlier comedic work and bore the hallmark of a high Saturn, the wise elder. Frank McCourt is someone who began a brand-new career at his second Saturn Return. Retired from teaching, he met the woman who would become his second wife. She encouraged him to finally put the stories he had been telling for years in bars and taverns down on paper. The result was his book Angela’s Ashes, which he wrote at age sixty-four. Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for her film The Hurt Locker. The work that comes to us at this age is not the work of a young person. Billy Crystal’s one-man show, Frank McCourt’s book, or Kathryn Bigelow’s film didn’t just require writing, acting, or directing talent; wisdom, depth, pain, loss, and a lot of hard-earned life experience were also necessary ingredients.
In 2010, when she appeared on Oprah and discussed the book (Prime Time) she was working on, she offered her vision for aging. It certainly sounded as if she was talking about Saturn when she said, “From thirty to fifty-nine is our second act. Our third act begins at fifty-nine; that’s when it all comes together.” She went on to say that it gets better as we get older. I agree, although the transition does not come automatically; not everyone who reaches fifty-nine becomes a wise and compassionate elder. As astrologer Steven Forrest says, “Elder is an archetype; there’s another archetype available; it’s called an old fool.” Get it right and we share our wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Get it wrong and we become trapped in the past, repeating the same old stories and familiar complaints.
How do we get it right? Saturn is often depicted as Father Time, and during our second Saturn Return, it’s important to make peace with him. We do that by accepting who we are and not trying to be the ingénue or young stud. There is nothing more beautiful or inspiring than people who are at ease with themselves and their age. Think about Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Gloria Steinem, Diane von Furstenberg, Sting, Sophia Loren, and Jeff Bridges. In many ways, they seem more interesting and appealing now than when they were younger.
“There is a fountain of youth; it is in your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap into this source, you will transcend age.” —Sophia Loren
The Closing Uranus Square: (Ages 62-63)
“Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more, and some days I feel I have wings.”—Mary Oliver
Following the Saturn Return is an aspect that is colorful, energizing, and even a bit feisty. Between the ages of sixty-two and sixty-three, eccentric Uranus is in the home stretch. It has traveled three quarters from where it began and has another quarter to go. Around age eighty-four, Uranus returns to the sign and place it occupied at birth. At that time, it will have contacted every planet in the birth-chart and, ideally, at eighty-four, we become fully individualized, as Carl Jung might say—that is, if we have been living authentically. If we haven’t been living authentically, then this is the time to correct that.
“The Showgirl Must Go On”
In June of 2008, Bette Midler appeared on Oprah to talk about her new show, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” that was about to open in Las Vegas. The Divine Miss M committed to performing five nights a week for the next two years: ambitious for any age, let alone at sixty-two! In the beginning, she alternated with Cher (also sixty-two). Bette, Cher, and this fabulous show make a great metaphor for the closing Uranus square. Not everyone at sixty-two has the stamina or talent to sing and dance like a showgirl, but we can all invent or reinvent our own third act and perform it will all the spunk and bravado of a star! And if we need more inspiration, all we have to do is listen to Dolly Parton (also in her sixties) singing her hit song, “Better Get To Livin.”
How do we do that? It involves Uranus, so we’ve got to break some rules, make some trouble, and take some chances. I’m not talking about rebelling for the sake of rebelling, but if there is something we want to do, be, or have, now’s the time to act on it. The choices we make at the closing Uranus square will determine what kind of old person we become at eighty-four when Uranus comes full circle. Who do we want to be at eighty-four? Hopefully, someone well marinated from a full, rich, and juicy life; someone who is wise, compassionate, and spirited; the kind of person who can look back at their life with satisfaction and no regrets. Now is the time to take some risks and make the necessary changes.
Our Later Years
Carl Jung wrote Memories, Dreams, Reflections at his Uranus Return. Joseph Campbell was interviewed by Bill Moyers for the series that became The Power of Myth. Georgia O’Keefe had a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. Today, Jimmy Carter (at eighty-seven) is still hard at work, and Louise Hay (at eighty-five) is motivating a whole new generation through her books, lectures, and the Internet. These great individuals are inspiring because they remind us of what is possible in our later years. But aging is serious, and the Uranus Return and Neptune opposition in our mid-eighties are accompanied by real physical and mental challenges. It is not a failure to slow down and embrace the aging process. In fact, it is wisdom. Although most of us are not famous people with public roles, we can still flourish, only it is going to look and feel different. At this stage, we naturally begin to withdraw from the mundane world to explore life’s deeper dimensions; what helps is to cultivate mindfulness, practice acceptance, and develop a relationship with the numinous. Coming to terms with aging can free us to find new and gentler ways to be in the world.
In her beautiful poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” We think of someone asking this at the beginning of their journey. But we can ask it at each crossroad and every new phase. In fact, we should never stop asking it, for life is constantly changing and renewing itself and who we are is forever unfolding.
Virginia Bell is a full-time astrologer and writer based in New York City. She loves combining astrology and writing and has written astrology columns for many magazines and websites, including US Weekly, TV Guide, Fashion Mini, Tennis Week, and Refinery 29. She currently writes a column for Watch! (the CBS magazine) and blog for the Huffington Post. Her website is www.virginiabellastrology.com, her blog is www.youarenevertoolate.com, and her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2012 Virginia Bell