Each week I shared intense intimacy with my clients and guided them where others fear to tread – into the shadow. And I feel privileged to have watched them alter ingrained self-sabotaging patterns and lead more fulfilling lives. My days were filled with depth and intimacy, and I felt gratitude.
But during my 68th year of life experience, I noticed a restlessness, a stirring that I had felt several times before at the end of a cycle and the beginning of another – when I had stopped teaching meditation full-time but had no vision for a new career and felt like I stepped off a cliff; when I had stopped writing journalism but didn’t hear a new call and stepped into the dark unknown; when I had left book publishing and decided to go to grad school to become a therapist, but without financial or emotional support. Each time, I had entered liminal space because of a call from my soul. Each time, a path appeared, with allies and guides and, eventually, a fulfilling destination.
I became aware that it no longer bothered me when clients disappeared without a formal termination or closure process. Previously, I felt that I was left holding the relationship when a client stopped communicating. Now, I could let it go. Previously, I looked forward to traveling from the Santa Monica mountains into my office in town. Now, I didn’t want to do the drive. Previously, I enjoyed traveling into others’ inner worlds. Now, I wanted more time to explore my own.
It wasn’t that I cared any less about my clients; it was that my attention was moving away from the work, and my heart was opening in other ways. What was it moving toward? I was hearing the call of a divine messenger for a new orientation to time – less structure, more flow. A new orientation to responsibility – less obligation, more choice. A new orientation to service – from one-on-one therapy to teaching large groups. A new orientation to purpose – from role to soul.
After many years of practicing attuning to myself, I listened to the inner voices: “I wonder what else I could do with my time left? I wonder what I need to stop doing?” “I think I should do more. I think should do less.” “I don’t want to travel.” Then I book more trips. “I want to slow down.” Then my calendar fills up. Then, the most essential question arose: Who am I – if I’m not Dr. Connie, a therapist, the shadow expert? What would it mean to let go of my role, my brand? What has been sacrificed to maintain that role? Who am I if I am no longer the Doer? How do I overcome the resistance to letting go in this transition?
First, I stopped accepting new clients. When they emailed, I took a breath, wished them well, and referred them out.
Next, I began discussing my own departure with clients. We explored the range of their feelings and moved slowly, each in a unique way, toward completion.
A few months later, the opportunity came to give up my city office. I went for it – and let go into the unknown.
I suspected that, with the gain of freedom, there also would be loss. I would feel less needed and important for a while. I would feel less secure and more uncertain for a time. I would feel less independent with the loss of income from therapy. As my husband continues to work, it will change our partnership and the way we care for one another. And I might feel less purposeful, a bit disoriented with the uncertainty, the path ahead still hidden.
And I would lose the precious vehicle, the clinical relationship, in which to transmit all that I’ve learned from my own inner work, intellectual development, and spiritual growth to others. It has been a sacred container to radiate my level of development to others, who willingly received it.
Of course, I cherished my clients for who they were, but also for who they are for me. Aside from my husband and grandkids, who would I love with such fierceness? Who would receive my consistently positive gaze and devotion? That would be a terrible loss—and a potential gain, if I turned my loving gaze back to my family, friends, and myself.
My clients love me back in a certain way, of course, in the projection of a good parent. For some, I’m the only good mother they’ve ever had; for others, the only kind sister or wise grandmother or spiritual mentor. As I’ve carried that positive projection over the years, I’ve become accustomed to wearing it like a gown and standing in the archetype for them, rather than disclosing anything about my personal limitations. It will be a loss to give up the power and status of that projection – and a gain to cultivate more equal and reciprocal relationships. It will be a loss to give up the “brand” of shadow expert – and a gain to extend it into this whole new territory of late-life in my new book.
Retirement from clinical practice is not what it looks like. It means retiring a spiritual path to my own deepening and widening awareness. It means retiring the need to help; it means retiring the need for answers; it means retiring the need to be appreciated. It means retiring from a life that’s known and facing an unknown, liminal time. And it means retiring a practice of love that has connected me to the depths of the human soul and to the journey of the human species. It has been a privilege.