Each and every one of us will come to certain crossroads or cycles in our life and although we are all unique and our individual paths may differ, the timing of these cycles is the same. They are the great turning points in life. In psychology these life cycles represent the various stages of development through which we all pass. In astrology these cycles follow along the same trajectory; the Saturn Return at twenty-nine, the Midlife Crisis which peaks at forty-two, the Chiron Return at fifty, the Second Saturn Return at fifty-nine, etc. The planet that rules each cycle is our guide; it holds the key to navigating the cycle successfully and releasing the potential that lies within. Strung together they tell the story of our life.
Our late twenties and early thirties are defined by tough-love Saturn and the famous Saturn Return. At twenty-nine Saturn, the planet of reality and responsibility returns to its natal or birth position and we're ready to grow up, get real and make a serious commitment. In the process we gain experience, stature, and most of all maturity; there may even financial rewards and recognition. On our own and no longer tied to our family we seem to have it all figured out. That is until about our mid-to late thirties.
Midlife is a complex period orchestrated by several planets and spread over a decade (from thirty-five to forty-five) but peaks at forty-two when that maverick Uranus, the planet or rebellion and freedom, reaches its half way mark. Whatever we're put on the back burner during our Saturn years while we were building our career or raising a family begins to call to us; sometimes quite loudly. It is the classic Midlife Crisis; men (and women) often leave their partners or suddenly feel the need to follow some long forgotten dream. Many women experience an urgent need to have a child. Others decide to go back to school or return to the work place. For all of us there is a powerful desire to break free of some situation and find more meaning in our lives.
"Forty is the old age of youth. Fifty is the youth of old age." -- Victor Hugo
That brings us to the Chiron Return around age fifty. Chiron is a minor planet that was discovered in 1977. Associated with the archetype of the Wounded Healer, Chiron takes between forty-nine and fifty-one years to return to its original position. This significant passage marks the end of our heroic youth as we begin to enter the realm of the elder. It is time to make peace with ourselves, come to terms with our failures, and forgive ourselves for what we haven't accomplished. Some old dreams have to be sacrificed yet like an exquisite evening gown that can no longer be worn; the material may be used to make something new.
In mythology Chiron was born a centaur; half man, half horse; both mortal and divine. Rejected by both parents, he retreated to a cave where he raised himself. There he was mentored by Apollo and as a result became a gifted teacher and healer. His students were the sons of the great men and gods such as Jason, Hercules, and Achilles; he taught them to be the heroes they were meant to be. The Chiron Return teaches us to be the hero or heroine in our own life; not who or what we thought we were but who we truly are.
"The Chiron Return poses the question: What am I going to do with the last part of my life?" - Melanie Reinhart
At our Chiron Return we have the power to change our story and it is not unusual for our life to take off in a new direction. The period leading up to the Chiron Return, in our late forties, is significant as ideas, plans, and projects are seeded at this time. Located between the orbit of Saturn and Uranus, Chiron is frequently described as a bridge. Often a teacher or mentor appears at this time to act as a bridge or catalyst from one life to another. In her late forties Jackie Kennedy Onassis surprised the world by taking a job as an editor at Viking Press. The catalyst for that move was Letitia Baldrige who had been her social secretary in the White House; she suggested that Jackie consider working in publishing and encouraged her to contact her friend Thomas Guinzburg, who was head of Viking Press. That was the beginning of a long and satisfying career as a highly respected editor with over 100 titles to her credit.
Super model Lauren Hutton's career was at a standstill in her late forties and it was reported that she felt worn out, spending much of her time in self-exile. Then photographer Steve Meisel featured her in the now famous Barneys New York ad, not all glammed up to look like her younger self but the woman she was. As a result she not only revived her career, she became the poster woman for women over 50.
Sometimes a loss or failure can be the catalyst for a new life. After the death of her great love and the loss of her beloved plantation in Kenya, Karen von Blixen (known by her pen name Isak Dinesen) returned to her native Denmark where she began writing. She wrote her first book at forty-nine; her second one, Out of Africa, was published when she was fifty-two and established her reputation as an author. Julia Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was rejected by its publisher; Judith Jones, then a young editor at Knopf, discovered it and convinced her boss to take it on. Julia Child was forty-nine when she finally published her famous book. She left France, and returned to the States where nine months later she launched her brilliant television career. Hilary Clinton survived a very public scandal to become State Senator of New York at fifty-one.
Our bodies can act as a catalyst by sending messages to us in the form of symptoms. Unlike other cycles, the Chiron Return is accompanied by real biological changes as it coincides with the median age of menopause in women. It's not unusual for health issues to surface at this time, for both men and woman. This is not a prediction; it is just one of the ways Chiron can manifest. Last year Dr. Oz (then age fifty) was diagnosed with polyps during a routine colonoscopy; he used this as an opportunity to encourage others to get tested. According to Chinese medicine we are born with a certain amount of chi or energy; it stays constant until around age forty-eight or forty-nine, then we need to refine our habits. If we're in good health it can involve small adjustments like eliminating wheat or dairy, adding certain vitamins or getting more sleep. On the other hand, if we haven't been paying attention to our health then this it is time to get serious about it.
"After 50 most of the bullshit is gone." -- Isabelle Allende
The Chiron Return takes us back to our deepest wounds and gives us an opportunity to heal them. Whatever we are still holding onto from the past (painful memories, traumas, resentments) often surface and this is an excellent time to enter therapy or embark on a spiritual practice. In mythology Chiron was known for his compassion and the most powerful thing we can do at this time is to let go of the tyranny of perfection and the habit of comparing our insides to others botoxed, airbrushed outsides. We do that by loving ourselves for who we are and not for what we do or have. Not ordinary self love; radical self love, radical self forgiveness and radical self acceptance. By making peace with the past we are liberated to live more freely and fully in the years to come. That is both the challenge and the gift of the Chiron Return.
"Fifty-two. Standing up here right on top of the middle of it has to be the happiest time. I mean, it's the only time you get a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view -- see in all directions. Wow! What a view!" Edward Albee (Three Tall Women)
The best thing about the fifties is that we're old enough to have acquired experience, skills, and even some wisdom but still young enough to do almost anything. Okay, maybe not become an Olympic ice skater or professional surfer but there is so much that is possible. In fact, there is no other period in our lives when we have both a wealth of experience and still a significant amount of time and energy to create something of value. The success (both personal and professional) that comes to us in our fifties is not the triumphs of our younger selves driven by ambition and ego. What we create in our fifties is marinated with our wounds, our loses, and failures as well as the good sense and grace we have gained along the way and perhaps because of that it is so much richer, soulful, and ultimately more rewarding.