Turning 40 was a milestone I had been aware of since I was about 20, and approached with a degree of trepidation, mainly because of all the bad press it gets! But to be honest, it was one of the best and easiest days of my life.
I enjoyed a long weekend with all of my family (Ollie came home from Uni especially) and I had a party at home with 60 of my closest friends. We drank a silly amount of Bird in Hand sparkling Pinot Noir and ate delicious canapes prepared by Creative Catering before everyone sang Happy Birthday to me and my beautiful Ellen presented me with a homemade cake.
I reflected that I had brought my first baby home from hospital on my 20th birthday and how at the time I realised that on my 40th birthday, my brand new baby would have just turned 20 himself. It seemed like a long, long way ahead in 1993!
Perhaps the most profound experience I had during my birthday celebrations was my own little epiphany that occurred during the exquisite Lomi Ke Ala Hoku (aka four hands) massage at The Andaman resort, Langkawi. (Yes, I was lucky enough to be whisked away by my husband on a whistlestop trip to Malaysia and Australia for ten days post-birthday.) Now, I love massage and I also love meditation, and in my opinion the two are natural partners. So I jumped at the chance to try the Harper’s Bazaar award-winning Bliss Ritual and looked forward to indulging in my own meditation during the treatment.
Over the past 20-odd years I have come up with a particular series of images that I like to go through in my mind as a kind of healing and reinvigorating meditation. The imagery goes like this:
I am me, sitting on a warm rock in the sunshine at my favourite childhood beach (Somerton, South Australia). The air is hot, but the sea breeze gusts along the coast carrying the sound of waves and seagulls. I dig my toes into the grainy sand-powder. I look out over the sea which makes fast, lacy waves at the water’s edge and deepens to a glittering indigo at the horizon. The tide is out and the beach is humming with happy activity. I watch children building sandcastles, rushing about with buckets of water and spades heaped with sand. Others write blink-and-you’ll-miss-it messages in the syrupy sand at the shoreline. There are strolling lovers, dog walkers straining to stay in charge, retirees swimming in floral bathing caps and toddlers testing their strength against little, fizzy wave-crests.
As I look along the coast I see a tall woman with long, dark hair walking through the shallows. She is wearing a floaty shirt and a tatty-looking hat as well as a necklace made of shells that looks like the creation of a primary schooler. I see pride and strength in her stride, but she isn’t brittle in her demeanour, she is graceful, contented and relaxed.
The woman is Future Me. Her face creases into a smile when she sees Now Me and as she comes closer I notice fine silvery threads in her hair and the irregular pigmentation of age scattered across her bare skin. When she reaches out to me I recognise the fine, crepey skin my mother once showed me on the backs of her hands… Future Me has it too. She is so homely and so familiar, but wiser, stronger, more courageous and happier than me. She is the me I want to be.
Future Me embraces Now Me in a big hug and I breathe her in. I imagine tiny lumens sparking all around us… it’s a bit of a Celestine Prophecy moment. Future Me is like a radiant amazon: robust, confident and intense, keen to share her power, willing to love unconditionally. She forgives mistakes, acknowledges triumphs and understands feelings implicitly. She says lovely things, like “I’m so proud of you”, or “you inspire me” and she always smiles into my face and reassures me that whatever I’m worrying about will turn out just fine.
Sometimes, when particular events from my past have bothered me, I take Future Me on a trip to see Past Me. She has scooped up a four-year-old Kate who was haunted by the largely-accidental death of a butterfly and curled up with a teenage Kate to lament the conquest of a particular teenage boy. She has soothed me in grief and cried in knowing, joy-filled agony when we have revisited the births of my children.
So, as you can see, I have found visiting Future Me in meditation a very powerful and positive experience. And when I booked in for the Lomi Ke Ala Hoku massage, I fully intended on a long and happy love-in with Future Me. But here’s the thing… As I lay in the beautifully simple Ocean and Sky Cabana, perched on a rainforest cliff top and overlooking the Andaman Sea, relaxing into a wonderfully indulgent massage, with the smell of the beach and the sound of the gulls lulling me back to Somerton, I found myself walking along in the shallows, wearing that floaty shirt, tatty hat and shell necklace. I was Future Me. I burst into tears. The fear and responsibility of having to be the older, wiser, stronger, happier me was overwhelming. But try though I did to conjure a new leader, an even older, more advanced Future Me, she just wouldn’t come.
The lovely masseuses didn’t flinch, despite a constant stream of hot, heavy tears sliding down the sides of my face. In a tiny voice, one of them said, “Kate, there is only now.”
And so there is.
I am certain the wise masseuse had no idea what was going through my head, and her words were intended to encourage me to enjoy the ritual without thinking about outside issues. But what a perfectly timed piece of advice it was.
There is only now, and indeed there is only Now Me. I realised I have let Future Me get in the way of Now Me. I have ignored the possibility and potential of Now for the unattainable perfection of Future. I have used her to compromise, postpone and shrink. I have given her credit for many of my accomplishments when clearly she is no more than a figment of my own imaginings! I have consigned all of Future Me’s admirable qualities to the realm of “someday” instead of having a crack at mastering them myself, today.
Dammit, I am ready to be Future Me now!
So, at the ripe old age of 40, I have decided it is time to give up my imaginary friend. I’d like to give her a kiss and a hug and say thank you for being there for me for so long, but I just can’t find her any more.
I have loved this quote from Marianne Williamson for a long time and it seems like the perfect time to remind myself, and my lovely readers and supporters of it now:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do … It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.