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Midlife Without Crisis
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, Arizona.

"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 exercises.

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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