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Mid-Life Balance Self Help Advice

Written by Keri Brenner

Self-help guru Shakti Gawain says its time to include yourself in the balancing act between career and family.

No, this isn't a New Age karaoke bar. What we have here is a mother of transformation in a beige hotel meeting room singing The King's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"

At 51, after 25 years of intense writing and teaching in the wake of her signature self-help book, Creative Visualization, and its sequel, Living in the Light, Shakti Gawain says she has earned the right to cover Elvis.

It's her midlife gift to herself, to nurture and express the hidden, she calls them "disowned" parts of her personality. Those are the parts she denied to become the author who has sold more than 3 million copies of her books in 30 languages worldwide and who splits her home life between the idyllic Mill Valley, Calif., and Kauai, Hawaii.

"For me, the [midlife] balancing has to do with creating space for myself for my own personal life, my own personal needs, and exploring some other creative parts of me, in this case, the musician, and in particular, the singer.

It's a part that was really disowned, she adds. "I didn't feel confident in that area at all."

That was before months of singing lessons, working with a teacher who helps not just with opening up vocal chords, but with the emotional and psychological blocks many people have to expressing their inner Celine Dions.

The climactic Elvis moment comes at a workshop in April where Gawain croons in front of a group of several dozen other Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray wannabes.

How about you? If you've spent your 20s and 30s, and even 40s, seeking the gifts of a career or family path while sacrificing other parts of yourself, now may be the time to look for those disowned selves.

If so, Gawain suggests a technique called "voice dialogue." Developed by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone of Mendocino, Calif., it allows your disowned selves to speak, even changing chairs to give them a separate identity from your dominant selves.

Gawain credits the process, which she explores in her intensive workshops and in her newest book, an updated edition of her 1993 tome, The Path of Transformation, for her marriage to Jim Burns, her ideal partner, at the age of 41.

By her own account, Gawain's private life from her late 20s to late 30s was way out of balance with her heady, worldwide success in the personal growth arena.

"I was very successful in my work, and loving my work, but I also wanted to be in relationship," she says. Instead, she was attracting men who, for example, were often geographically distant and therefore unavailable. Or emotionally distant. Or both.

"I was actually in relationships, but I wanted to find my right partner. I was completely frustrated about that. That really wasn't happening for me for a long time, and I didn't understand why."

Gawain, then around 38, met Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, creators of "voice dialogue," also called the psychology of selves. With the Stones, Gawain began to explore her buried voices inside.

She realized that, despite her ongoing assertion that she really wanted a successful intimate relationship, her life was creating perfectly what she herself was unknowingly programming.

"What I learned with voice dialogue was that there was a part of me that wanted a relationship, and that's the part I was conscious of," she says. "But there were other parts of me that didn't want it, and I wasn't conscious of those, and they were preventing it from happening."

Through the process, Gawain became aware of those unconscious or disowned selves; the one who feared abandonment, the one who didn't want to risk, the one who was afraid of losing herself to a partner's needs.

She spent months giving voice to those selves. She didn't reject them; nor did she reject her conscious voices that insisted she wanted a partner. "It wasn't black and white; life isn't really like that. There are conflicts, contradictions and paradoxes in all of us," Gawain says.

Learning that, finally, Gawain acknowledged all of the selves, allowing herself to expand and "hold them all" without trying to fix things or running away.

"When that happened, I went, `Oh my gosh, I think I'm ready now,'" Gawain recalls.

Three weeks later, Jim Burns came into Gawain's life, through a series of unusual circumstances that none other than the universal matchmaker in the sky could have engineered. They later married.

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