Renewing body, mind, and spirit at the
Copper Feather Institute
By Kaarin Lowell
From Radiance Summer 1992
A statuesque six feet tall, Patrice Caldwell has the bearing and
presence of a queen. She stands by the window of her Phoenix office, framed by majestic
city skyscrapers in the distance.
As coordinator of contributions at Arizona Public Service Company,
Arizona's largest electric utility company, Caldwell says she is concerned with the
"social responsibility corporations have, not only to their employees but in their
obligation to make a contribution to the community." Caldwell oversees corporate
philanthropy, identifying opportunities for APS to become involved in projects sponsored
by nonprofit organizations. With the aid of just one administrative assistant, Caldwell
gives out about $1.5 million a year statewide.
"My job gives me a richness I love," she says, exuding sincere
enthusiasm for her work. "I operate in many different arenas in the community,
working with the poor, the rich, and everyone in between. When I deal with people in
power, I feel my size communicates equality and capability." Caldwell sounds so sure
of herself, it seems she must always have been this extraordinarily comfortable with her
body. In part she credits her positive upbringing in a family of large, tall people,
where, she says, she learned to "dress well and stand tall." But the mature
confidence and happiness with her life that Caldwell enjoys today, in her early forties,
got a major boost, she says, from her experience at the retreat for professional women in
midlife held at the Copper Feather Institute for Midlife Enhancement .
She was thirty-eight years old at the time. Caldwell felt she was an
"okay person, but life wasn't really wonderful." A colleague at APS convinced
Caldwell to try the retreat. She went, but with great hesitation. She told herself that at
least she would enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings of Enchantment Resort, nestled in
a small canyon between soaring obelisks or red rock and haunting Indian ruins in Sedona,
"When I first walked into a meeting room and saw a bunch of thin
women sitting in a circle on the floor, my flight instinct immediately rose to the
surface. But I sat down. During the next two hours something important happened.
"As we introduced ourselves and told about our lives and
crossroads, it was immediately clear that these were extraordinary womenbanking
executives, a university chair, the executive director of an environmental agency, a
gallery owner. There were women who influenced legislation, served on task forces, and
rewrote the direction of their communities, women who grabbed life with both hands and
shaped it. The room was alive with their energy and vitality. Soon the sizes of our
bodiesthey were all different and none, even the skinny ones, were perfectbecame
irrelevant. I realized I wanted to be there, and I looked forward to the rest of the
weekend." The rest of the weekend included discussions on woman's vitality in body,
mind, and spirit; balancing life roles; dealing with conflict; grief and loss; and midlife
sexuality. Participants learned the latest information on osteoporosis and hormonal
replacement therapy. And they explored their bodies through yoga and visualization
Caldwell summarizes her experience. "The Copper Feather staff
allowed us to be real with each other. They made it easy for all of us to be there, with
our different moods, life situations, sizes, and needs. I came to realize that pieces of
memind, body, spiritwere really disjointed. The work I did at the retreat helped me put
these different parts of myself into focus and integrate them better into my life."
In addition to learning physiological facts about being female at midlife, Caldwell says
she "found there is something bigger, something more, a spirituality, in each of our
lives that can help us and guide us. I find it now by becoming quiet, turning inside. At
the retreat I learned techniques to help me connect to this part of myself." Equally
important, she says, she gained a fuller perspective on her work and family life. She had
a satisfying job, a happy marriage of ten years, and two stepchildren. Her reflections at
Copper Feather brought her more in touch not only with her power for change but with the
blessings in her life. "I realized that we make our lives as good as we want them to
be. I felt revived. And part of that feeling was to realize how fortunate I am to have
these wonderful people-my husband and his two children-in my life, and to be an active
part of their lives." The Copper Feather Institute was founded in 1989 by Lana
Holstein, M.D., who served as chief of staff at Flagstaff Medical Center, and Alinda Page,
president of TransActions, Inc., a company that helps organizations and individuals with
creative decision making. Its goal is helping women to see midlife as a time of renewal
rather than of crisis and stagnation. As the institute's brochure states, "When you
reach fifty-one-the average year of the last menstrual flow-you still have half of your
adult life to live! (The years from fifty to eighty are equal in time to those you have
already spent as an adult from twenty to fifty.)." The institute, which is
underwritten by the Flagstaff Medical Center, promises to help women assess their
strengths and create new visions for their futures.
It has as a further goal the accumulation of medical, social, and
psychological information, which is gathered through profiles and medical assessments of
retreat participants. This was initiated because of Holstein's frustration with the
limited date on midlife. "Until very recently the medical community has ignored the
health concerns related to this phase of women's lives. My patients were asking health
questions about areas in which little research had been done. In addition, they had
questions about less tangible, more personal issues. We needed to integrate answers to all
the mid-life questionsfrom medical problems to relationships, from spirituality to
sexuality to setting goals for the second halves of our adult lives." Such
information and encouragement might be especially important for women of size. "The
large woman needs to make a commitment to her own contentment and happiness,"
explains Holstein. "Women frequently make decisions about what's acceptable based on
body image instead of what's in the center of themselves. We can have personal
gratification, humor, love, and the strong support we need for self-acceptance. When you
accept yourself, you liberate energy that has been tied up in worrying about your body or
some other issue. You free that energy to go forth in new directions." One way that
Copper Feather encourages women to make a positive connection with their bodies is through
yoga classes and visualization exercises.
Patrice Caldwell describes what was one of her most powerful moments at
the retreat. "It was during a visualization exercise in which we imagined walking on
a beach toward a wading pool. We could take our bodies with us or leave them behind and
create some other body. I visualized myself walking along the beach in a robe, arriving at
the pool, and dropping the robe. I was naked, alone with my real body, and I was
absolutely fine and very happy. "I realized how focused I had been on physical
appearance. I realized that my physical self is part of me, but that I am so much more.
Now I look at myself physically in terms of health and mobility. I want to be flexible and
be healthythat is the significance of my body." With each retreat, Holstein and Page
are struck by the insight, vitality, and wisdom that participants like Caldwell have to
bring to society. "We wanted to see the full expression of that vitality and enhance
the contribution that can be made by this segment of our population," says Holstein.
"That was our vision. Copper Feather is the reality." And women like Patrice
Caldwell are living proof that midlife reevaluation in a setting such as Copper Feather,
with the professional and peer support it provides, contributes greatly to the optimism
with which women can begin the second half of our lives.
"Now I know that what is important is the who that I amkind,
compassionate, understanding, creative, knowledgeable," says Caldwell. "I am a
person of substance."
© For information on the Copper Feather Institute for Midlife
Enhancement, write to 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or call 602-773-2559.
KAARIN LOWELL is vice president of Event Marketing International and
is a regular contributor to women's publications.
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