I celebrate twenty years of life since breast cancer this fall. These twenty years of healing my own disrupted relationship with my body and accompanying others on similar paths has taught me that wisdom is born amidst both expected and unexpected changes.

Wisdom comes through accidents, like my dislocated shoulder earlier this year. And it comes through diseases, like the cancer that took my right breast twenty years ago. Yet most bodily changes are part of nature’s rhythm, just like the changing of the seasons.

Celebrating the Seasons of Life

Our female bodies go through necessary bio-psycho-spiritual cycles that birth and sustain life. Our younger bodies abound in hormonally-driven changes that add fullness to our physiques, draw us to relationships, enable us to bear children and activate our nurturing capacities. The reduction of those same hormones in our midlife bodies redirects our energy to guarding and guiding the future generations in ways we could not if we were busy with our own children.

The world tells me to fear these changes and employ fat-fighting or anti-aging methods to stave off anything that doesn’t conform to current beauty ideals. I am told in a thousand different ads to be afraid of my body. But my midlife wisdom tells me that no matter how much I work out, eat well, and do all the things Dr. Oz says will keep me young and healthy, my body is not what it was ten or twenty years ago.

I’m not the same woman I was in those years, thank God. At thirty I was busy trying to save the world, or at least some of you, through my good works as a therapist and church worker–and in therapy twice a week trying to heal my inner turmoil. At forty I was busy writing a book, leading workshops, building a successful private practice–and blaming and resenting my husband for not being the man I wanted him to be. My body was more toned in earlier seasons and the skin on my neck didn’t droop, but if decreased muscle mass and sagging skin is the price of compassion, wisdom and joy, so be it.

Each time I face a change in my body, I get to choose how I will respond. Will I fear change or will I welcome change with compassion and curiosity? Will I fight change or will I work with change, learning and growing with the seasons of my physical life in the same way I go with the movement from summer to fall?

Today, I choose to respond to change with the soulful discernment of a wizened fifty year old, not ego driven reactivity of my younger self. Many of my “good choices” to eat well and exercise regularly during my first thirty years were more about controlling my weight than good health. My breast cancer diagnosis at thirty, along with years of clinical work with eating disorder patients, shifted the focus of my fear from fat to disease, but I was still motivated more by fear than love.

Over time, compassion and love for my patients softened me. My own harsh views of my body were changed as I walked alongside girls and women whose lives were being destroyed due to their fears of bodily change. Through seeing myself in their stories I realized that fear is never a good motivation for self-care. It may make our bodies stronger, leaner and even healthier, but it sucks the life out of our souls.

Essential wisdom emerges when we respond to change with compassionate attention. The monthly upheaval of menses, the challenges of pregnancy, motherhood, (or non-motherhood when others are mothering) and menopause, invite us to reflect on our lives. Along with these cyclical change, injuries and illnesses also become opportunities to pause and listen more intently than we do during ordinary seasons of life.

– What wants to be born in me through this change?

– What needs to die in order to make space for the new?

– What is the hidden treasure in this dark place?

– What do I sense, feel, need and want right now?

Part of my current self- conversation concerns honoring my limits. My midlife body isn’t the same as my young adult body. My weight and general fitness level have remained steady throughout my adulthood, but hormonal changes, wear and tear from years of an active lifestyle and natural aging processes need to be respected as I consider my mid-life pursuits.

Today I choose to take time to listen to what my body really needs. Earlier this month I “graduated” from my physical therapy for my shoulder, but am still regaining strength. Next week I meet with a personal trainer to investigate the possibility of group strength training classes. Recently I began including stretches of jogging into my walks.

I choose to be present, vulnerable, and open to what each day, each moment brings in each season. I choose to listen for the wisdom that comes in ways I don’t ask for and wouldn’t expect.

Change is inevitable. Wisdom is a choice. What wisdom wants to emerge in this season of your life? Will you choose to listen?