When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions
By Sue Monk Kidd
More than simply relaying Kidd’s personal journey through the mid-life experience, this engaging piece of non-fiction work takes a closer look at the art of waiting. Rather than avoiding or rushing life experiences Kidd suggests entering and experiencing changes as we are faced with them, even and especially when it is uncomfortable or painful to do so.
Kidd draws on myriad biblical parables and familiar childhood fairy tales and fables to illustrate her well-placed points. Additionally, she builds on philosophies developed by the likes of Jung, Erickson, Campbell and Eckhart and the theology of Merton, St. Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen. The book’s overarching metaphor is that of the metamorphosis of the butterfly, particularly the cocoon stage. More than any other symbol, the cocoon best illustrates the act of waiting while changing, all the while suspended in darkness – a position that requires neither foresight nor action.
In the first of four parts, Entering the Question, Kidd defines midlife as a transitional period between morning, when we develop our relationships with the outer world through ego, and afternoon, when we investigate the inner world. The midlife experience is likened to a time of reinvention and reflection. But regardless of the relative discomfort these realizations may bring, Kidd invites us to view this developmental stage not as a time of burnout, but as a summoning to enter a spiritually deeper life; a difficult choice given our compulsion to keep up with society’s accelerated pace.
In Passage of Separation, the book’s second, and perhaps most important section, Kidd introduces the idea of “diapause,” a concept she discovered while researching metamorphosis of butterflies. She learned that “…caterpillars don’t yield themselves to the cocoon at the same rate. When the moment to spin the chrysalis arrives, some of them actually resist and cling to their larval life. They put off entering the cocoon until the following spring, postponing their transformation for a year or more. This state of clinging has a name; it’s called the “diapause.” There’s a natural diapause in the human journey of transformation, too – a time when we hold onto the self we know. It seems that at the precise moment of greatest possibility, a desperate clinging rises up in us. We make a valiant attempt to “save” our old life.
Section three, Transformation, explores the question, “How do we fashion an environment in which we become stripped and stilled, in which the ego patterns of a lifetime begin to move away from the center and our innermost spiritual life is [rebuilt]?” Kidd suggests we look to God by looking within and “weaving an environment of prayer.”
The fourth and concluding section, Passage of Emergence marks the moment when the newly metamorphosed butterfly emerges from its cocoon; when the cocooned soul begins to attempt flight with new wings. Kidd advises that because this is a time of adjustment, continued patience with ourselves during this stage is crucial.
Midlife is a waiting process and features three distinct phases: separation, transformation, and emergence. The life of the soul evolves and grows as we move through these three cycles and, as Kidd points out so eloquently, life is full of cocoons. “We die and are reborn again and again. By repeatedly entering the spiral of separation, transformation, and emergence, we’re brought closer each time to wholeness and the True Self.”
Because of varying perceptions on life, no book can entirely capture a midlife experience or provide a definitive guide to any developmental stage of life. Yet I found in Kidd’s writing a kindred soul and found it holds if not answers, at least comfort in contemplating questions regarding the meaning of life. Certainly Kidd’s midlife experience is filtered by some distance and the objectiveness that arrives with writing about such an experience and I suspect that there are at least a few ugly scenes that have been polished or left out of her book entirely, giving some passages a feeling of romanticism. More than a just a helpful guide, Kidd’s book is a worthy companion.