You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
- from the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
For most of my adult life I’ve felt like a detached head bobbing around on the hot air of my thoughts. I never considered my body to be the real me. I thought our bodies were merely our transportation on earth, the cumbersome things that housed the divine sparks of who we really were. Bodies are bloody inconvenient. They need fuel. They age. They can’t be trusted. Like most women in the western world I still wished parts of my body were bigger or smaller but the truth is I valued my thoughts and feelings so much more than anything that was happening below my neck. I lived in my head, full stop.
Thankfully, things have been changing since I got back to London. 2013 began with the realisation that the previous year had taken its toll and the black dog had come to stay. Determined to get the support I needed to heal I went back on antidepressants — which are not for everyone but with my history with depression they are lifesavers —, joined a gym, and found a new therapist. The tablets brought me back up to normal (whatever the hell that is), the exercise taught me to appreciate the mechanics of my body, and my sessions with Wendy have helped me continue unravelling my self, a process I find so incredibly rewarding.
When I got to the beginning of this year, I was in a pretty good place. I’d taken a break from dating to focus solely on my work for a while, and was doing okay emotionally, all things considered. It was while in this pulled together place I found the next piece of the puzzle. Flicking through The Lotus and the Lily one morning, I read:
“You are an embodied soul. That means what your soul experiences, your body experiences.”
Underlining it with my orange pen, I read it again. There was a bell ringing in my head. I copied the quote into my journal, and then carried on writing:
I spend so much time fretting about being a soul “trapped” in a body, when, actually, my soul permeates every part of my body. I am an embodied soul. My soul and my body are not separate! If I consider that every single cell in my body contains my soul — that it’s not just perched in my head or my heart, or floating around outside of me — but actually IN me, inside every part of me, it makes me look at my body differently. It’s not “just the car I drive around in.”
Maybe this sounds obvious to you, but, friends, it was the first time I really got it (cue the irony) deep in my bones. From the tips of my toes and the in-growing hairs on my shins, to the wobbly flesh on my hips and the freckles on my nose, every single part of me contains my soul. After a lifetime of dismissing my body that was the day the dam broke and my head and body got stitched back together. I honestly don’t know why it had never occurred to me before.
It’s important to note here that going to the gym didn’t magically get easier after this realisation — as if! — but I’ve definitely been experiencing my body in a much more holistic way. I’m taking more time over it: getting a leg wax instead of shaving, slathering on more lotion, drinking more smoothies, and eating far more consciously. I’ve been wearing dresses instead of jeans and painting my toe nails brighter colours. I find I’m more forgiving of my body and moving through the world with more awareness than usual. Where I’d usually be so quick to complain I’m finding more tenderness and gratitude. More patience for my fallible human form.
Most interesting of all, my meditation practice has been evolving, taking me from being in my head to naturally wanting to inhabit more of my body. I find the easiest way to get centred is to feel into the different parts of my body and then visualise breathing colour into each chakra in turn. Whether or not you believe these energy points actually exist, the idea of them helps me get inside my body fast. As an over-thinky person it helps to have something to focus my thoughts on, and visualising colour and energy is surprisingly effective.
I recorded a version of my body grounding meditation for Day One of The Sacred Alone, which you can try by clicking on the audio below. It’s a great way to get back into the moment without needing any bells or whistles. You just sit down, close your eyes and feel into each part of your body. I do this most mornings before I let my meditation take me where it wants to go.
I’m happy to report that my body and I feel like a team these days. I still have mornings when I look in the mirror exasperated at the changes in my face, but on the whole I’m inhabiting all parts of my being and learning to see my self as a whole: body, mind and spirit intertwined. At some point I may even stop referring to “my body” as separate and simply call it me.
Only took me 41 years to get here ;-)
The mid-summer session of The Sacred Alone starts on Monday! This gentle 14 day course definitely feels like the new direction for me and my work. It’s an invitation to take 20 minutes each day to connect to the quiet knowing space in your heart, the place that offers refuge, wisdom and calm. Registration is happening over here — come join us! x
“I absolutely loved the course. I think that is because of YOU as a person first and foremost. The content is secondary. As usual your gentle, loving, fun self shone through. I thought there was a perfect amount of journalling… enough prompts to get me writing but not too much that I felt I had to answer or do. I ended up really valuing the journalling. I didn’t actually write a lot but the content that came out of me was very meaningful. I LOVED your meditations…your voice is lovely. I love having the Facebook aspect of the course and can’t imagine the course without this piece. I so enjoy connecting and sharing with others. In summary the course rocked, you rock and I can’t wait to take another course with you. You are an inspiring, down-to-earth, lovely being. Thank you for being who you are!” ~ Stephanie (check out her blog posts here + here)
When I talk to anyone about my nephew I know my eyes sparkle. I imagine I sound like a teenage girl mooning over her pop star crush — he’s SO funny! He’s SO clever! Ohmygoodness, he did this thing the other day that was SO hilarious! <Insert dreamy sigh> He’s just amazing….. And he is really is. I can provide documented evidence of how Noah is possibly a MENSA-level genius and already displaying the comedic ability of a young Ben Stiller. And that’s before we get to the fact that he’s the Cutest Kid in the Universe.
I know I am biased when it comes to my nephew. I know that all of us who love little ones are biased — it’s part of the deal. We see the magic in them through the lens of our unconditional love. I have moments when I look at Noah and have actual physical aching in my chest. Having the privilege of watching him growing up — and, even better, being an active part of his world — is the greatest gift I have ever been given. It’s been the absolute making of me — I can’t really remember my life before him. It all feels so grey in comparison (okay, so biased aunties also tend to be a bit melodramatic).
Whenever I am with Noah I am 100% present. We play, we dress up, I wipe his bum, we jump on the bed. I do my best to help his mum out and try to be the most hands-on auntie I can be. I’m too busy dealing with my exploding heart to think about my own stuff. But when I get home, back to my quiet life in the city, I feel it hard. Mostly it’s me missing Noah, but woven through is a little ache that’s been growing lately. Knowing this great love I have for my nephew, who feels like a part of me in the way my sister does, I wonder what it would be like to have a child of my own. Created with love and born from my body. To be a mama, with all the sleepless selfless responsibility that involves.
While no one has actually said this to my face, I know there is this crazy idea out in the world that unless you have children of your own you don’t really know what selfless love is. Or maybe it’s unless you’re a mother you don’t know what real love is. Or is it that women who choose not to have children are selfish? Whatever it is, it makes me feel like shit and it’s patently untrue, as any auntie, uncle, grandparent, godparent and carer can attest. I didn’t do the feeds in the middle of the night and I know I don’t carry the responsibility that my sister and brother-in-law do (though I carry the worry with them 100%), but I love Noah as if he were my own child. It feels bigger than just “family” — I feel like I am his second mummy. I don’t know how else to explain it.
I’m at this very delicate point in my life where I have to face the fact that my fertility is declining and the likelihood of me having a family of my own is becoming remote. This was brought home to me last week as I sat in the office of the doctor who’ll be surgically removing my fibroids. He mentioned my age three times in our 20-minute appointment. It was unpleasantly sobering.
I honestly don’t know what the next few years will bring for me romantically or reproductively. There is still the possibility of my own child, and yes I know adoption is an option — the sperm donor route, however, is not for me — and perhaps my future beloved will have children of his own I will grow to love. But just as I wish to find the best most brilliant uncle for Noah, I still hope to make a cousin for him. And typing that makes my eyes prickle with tears, so I know that is the absolute truth.
I don’t have a neat ending for this post. It is what it is. This is my life, my right now, and just as I know circumstances can change in the (missing) beat of a heart, I also trust that this is the path I am supposed to be walking. It’s not comfortable but it is real.
Noah turned four earlier this month and asked for a Frozen party, so we all pulled together and made it happen. It was MEGA.
And bowling for the first time the day before:
“Aging is not ‘lost youth,’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength. It’s a different stage of life, and if you are going to pretend it’s youth, you are going to miss it. You are going to miss the surprises, the possibilities, and the evolution that we are just beginning to know about because there are no role models, no guideposts, and no signs.”~ Betty Friedan
Turning thirty felt like a big deal, and it was — it was my first big age milestone. My first real taste of getting older and all that brings with it. Of course, forty smashed all of that to pieces, and I have no doubt that 50 will do the same to 40. But this is where I am. I have been alive for 41 years as of today, and I wanted to share what it’s like to be here — the good stuff, because heaven knows I could share a week-long series of posts about the less good stuff.
The fact is, I love being older. I love this feeling of wholeness that’s deepening with every new year. I feel rooted in who I am, and while I still get tossed around on hormonal tidal waves, at my core I know myself. I know what I’m capable of. I know my worth.
After 30+ years of feeling like a girl, my forties see me stepping into being a woman. I feel decidedly womanly, and what a deliciously juicy feeling that is. The changes in my body and face are not particularly welcome (understatement) — would I like to erase 10 years off my face when I look in the mirror? Yes, some days I really would. But would I actually want to be 30 again? No way, no how, absolutely not. My forties are proving to be the making of me. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
I deeply appreciate knowing I can survive things. And it’s not just because I experienced such a life changing bereavement in the way I did. I simply have more years behind me — I have proof that time does carry on. That heartbreaks will be survived. That bad memories will fade. That forgiveness can be found.
I love the empowerment I feel in this season of my life. I care less about what other people think of me and will walk down the street like I own it. I’ll also hide in my bedroom on the days I need to, but the beauty of getting older is not having to ask anyone’s permission to do what you need. I don’t know who that permission giver was, mind you, but these days that spectre has all but evaporated. I’m my own biggest cheerleader because after 41 years it finally hits you that no one else is going to do it for you. By looking out for me I show myself love and kindness, and when I operate from that place I have so much more love and kindness for everyone else.
I’ve no doubt 41 might have looked and felt different had I had kids or a partner, but as I have neither I can only report back from the trenches as a single independent woman. I face the (un)certainty of being an older mother, and who knows what that adventure will bring. If it happens — and it’s one of my most heartfelt wishes — I do know that I’ll be a better mother now, at this point in my life, than I ever would have been in my twenties. Not that 20-somethings make bad mums, obviously — just that 20-something Susannah would have done.
So even though there are those rare days I’d give anything to have had my life turn out differently, 99.9% of the time I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m loving being a woman in my 40s, so glad to no longer be that sweet insecure girl I once was, so grateful to have my health and my family, so ready to keep evolving and growing in this life that’s all mine. And hell, if my 40s are this good, I think my 50s and beyond are going to fucking ROCK.
Lately I’ve been a bit obsessed with my Ageing Awesomely Pinterest board, and find I’m hungry to hear more stories of how getting older is a glorious thing (as opposed to the usual media portrayal of ageing as the biggest bummer ever.) So I reached out to some of my online sisters for their take on the (delicious) truth about getting older – I’ll be adding links to their posts below as they get published.
So make yourself a hot drink and go read these posts because there is some seriously extraordinary magic being shared today… holy wow!
Denise Andrade-Kroon | Marisa Anne | Sherold Barr | Flora Bowley | Randi Buckley | Pixie Campbell | Bella Cirovic | Tracey Clark | Julie Daley | Ronna Detrick | Danielle Dowling | Elizabeth Duvivier | Ali Edwards | Marianne Elliot | Tanya Geisler | Jo Hanlon-Moores | Andrea Jenkins | Liz Lamoreux | Liv Lane | Jennifer Louden | Hannah Marcotti | Justine Musk | Amy Oscar | Sas Petherick | Jamie Ridler | Andrea Scher | Susan Tuttle | Karen Walrond | Chris Zydel
Friends, I would love to know what you like about getting older. No matter what age you are, what’s deliciously true for you right now?
Updated to add: We gathered all the posts together and made an ebook! You can download it RIGHT HERE xo
I wasn’t going to write about my new tattoo, but as it’s the most interesting thing that’s happened so far this year — other than the miracle sunset — here I am, writing about it. But it’s not really about the tattoo (though if you’re thinking of getting one, I’ll include some tips at the end). No, it’s about the fact that we are so much more than skin and bone.
Let me explain.
In 1995 I got a blue lily tattooed on my arm. It was my second tattoo, and my most visible, and I was thrilled with it. I remember everything about that day, as you tend to do when something life/body altering happens. Fast forward to now. I have lived with the blue lily for nearly 20 years and it’s become a bit faded and past its sell-by date. Over the years I’d toyed with the idea of getting it removed or covered up, but hadn’t done anything about it until this Christmas, when I discovered a tattooist whose work I loved was guesting at a studio in London for two weeks. I made the call, booked the appointments and that was that. It took seven and half hours — plus plenty of good conversation, laughs and a few teeth-gritting moments — to complete my new tattoo. The blue lily has been transformed ready for the next 20 years.
All my tattoos are meaningful to me, and I didn’t get any of them done on a whim. I know tattoos are not for everyone, but how great it is that we get to choose how we adorn our own bodies? Personally I like a bit of permanent adornment. Once an art student always an art student, I guess. While I’ll never go to the extremes some tattoo fanatics go to, for me they are decoration and meaning etched into my skin — spells worn proudly on my epidermis.
So with all that said, it was quite a surprise to wake up the day after feeling wobbly and emotional. I was about to get my period, so I knew exactly what was fuelling the drama, but it wasn’t until I’d unwrapped my arm, washed off the inky gunk, put on my face and dried my hair that I could look in the mirror and check I was still me. And I was, obviously. But after nearly 20 years of looking one way, I now looked different, and it’s taken a few days to adjust to the (intended and paid for) change.
As I cycled through the what-have-I-dones and panic that first morning, I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. And it was then that I remembered that I am not my body. That I am — that we all are — so much bigger than the molecules that’ve clustered together to create these body shapes. We’re here on earth for a while, and then we’re not. Our bodies will turn to dust and be gone. And it was the simple remembrance of the impermanence of being alive that put everything back into perspective for me.
I do believe in life after death. Enough weird things have happened in the last nine years for me to know, without a doubt, that there is something afterwards. And this feels like the year I might have to talk about that a bit more… we’ll see. For now, I’m left with freshly marked skin on a body that’s lasted forty years so far, and if it survives another forty I’ll arrive at that grand old age with swirls, feathers and flowers on my arm. And as I sink into the acceptance of the changes — and they go so much deeper than a frivolous tattoo — I’m oddly grateful for this connection to the future.
You see that granny over there rocking the cool outfit and decorated skin? That’ll be me one day.
So if all of that hasn’t put you off getting inked, here are my tips for happy tattoo-getting:
1. If your new ink will take longer than an hour, take lots of food and drink with you and be sure to eat a meal before you leave the house. Think healthy carb-y protein goodness, nuts and chocolate. Plus water and your favourite energy drink (I swear by Lucozade). Your body will need the energy and sustenance.
2. Deep breaths through the most painful bits — and there are always a few — really helps, as does smiling (seriously!)
3. Always tip your tattooist.
4. He or she will advise you on how to let your new ink heal so listen carefully – they know what works best for their style. Products that work well for me are Bepanthen for the early days (thanks to my ink sister for that tip), Dr Bronner’s soap for washing, and L’Occitane’s Shea butter lotion for the itchy-peeling stage. When everything’s healed use Vitamin E oil to nourish your skin and allieviate some of the shine.
5. And a last one for the ladies: try to time your appointment with the second-ish week of your cycle. Getting tattooed the day before your period starts is not much fun, trust me ;)