Clarity came as I was having lunch with a friend. We were talking about how our innate wisdom as children has a way of getting knocked out of us as we grow up. My friend is younger, and male, but we were on the same page with this one. He told his story and I nodded, thinking about the well-meaning but false messages that organized religion had put into my innocent mind when I was small. Many people grow up in churches that nurture their spirits and lead them to the wonderful truth about themselves. Mine did not and that was the hand I was dealt.

But it didn’t stop there. Our culture’s “shoulds” have a way of falling like toxic rain. It fell on me and those around me as we walked, stumbled and sometimes ran wildly through adolescence. It came from every direction. It came in buckets from magazines. At some point I looked at a boy and decided that I wouldn’t be complete without one. It happens to girls every day.

It is so natural, of course, to want to explore this other human being. But when did I get the idea that there was no “me” outside of the “we?” When did I accept the notion that making someone else feel whole was my only ticket to wholeness and that acceptance and validation about my looks (by those who were no more happy or whole than I) were the very key to my survival? It was around this time, in my teens, when these myths took hold. I began to measure my worth by the amount of meat and fat on my bones, the length of my hair, how my skin looked, whether I had split ends and whether I was “cute” enough to snag a mate. I had to have a boyfriend. Anyone would do, really, so long as I was not alone. From ages 14 to my late 40s, I spent most of my time being someone’s girlfriend or wife. I tried hard to be what they wanted me to be because I couldn’t imagine surviving alone. How can you walk with one leg?

It all sounds so primitive. And in a way, it is. Madison Avenue isn’t completely to blame. If our cave-dwelling ancestors hadn’t sized up physical attributes and been determined to pair off and mate our species would not have made it. But I can chuckle about that now. That “mate-worthy” part of us is not the part of us created in God’s image and it seems silly to glorify it. The species will survive — or not — and it is not my primary concern. I know we are immortal spiritual beings just visiting this place, impossibly beautiful spirits fumbling around in flawed body suits. I get that now, so deep in my soul, that I can actually laugh at fashion magazines. They look like Halloween costume catalogues, at times cartoonish, at other times just empty. As if we all secretly know the truth about this game we are playing.

So at some point in the conversation with my friend Stephen, I looked at my current existence and said with clarity, “I am in a place of undoing.” I said it as an expression of quiet joy. As I heard the words come from me, I heard the peace in my voice and realized how lucky I am to be 53 years old and generally content. No mid-life crisis for this woman, although the ups and downs of life are as much a  part of my path as anyone else’s. I am full with something that won’t grow old — ever. It’s the grateful awakening of my spirit.

As our lunch plates were taken away, I explained to him that I realize now what I’ve actually been up to these past few years. I am undoing the false messages and the knots in my identity. They were born as I tried to please the “should makers” of our culture, the vampires of creative energy. As the chains loosen, that innate joy that was so much a part of my original make-up as a child is again filling me up. Becoming “undone” can be a very good thing. It can be a work of art.

And as I look around, I see that many friends also are becoming “undone.” I spent that same evening with a female friend. We toasted the one-year anniversary of her unexpected break-up with a long-time partner. I looked at her face, so peaceful and full of light and my heart felt happy that she has not only survived the year but has rekindled her love for herself. She now has a beauty with which no makeup or Madison Avenue costume can ever hope to compete. It is the beauty of someone who is free.

Cathleen Hulbert

Cathleen Hulbert

Cathleen Hulbert, MSW, LCSW, is a free-lance journalist and clinical social worker who spent six years living in New York City where she earned her graduate degree from Columbia University School of Social Work and worked in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. During that time, unexpected teachers began to emerge who would set the stage for the writing of  the novel, “The First Lamp — A Story of Cosmic Illumination,” a time-travel tale about original innocence. For more information about the book go to She later traveled to Hawaii to answer the call of Kalah and to embrace the healing power of Aloha. She returned with a renewed dedication to sea turtle conservation, a burning love for the Hawaiian culture and a deeper respect for the needs of Mother Earth. She now lives in Roswell, Georgia, where she works in the healthcare field and continues to write. In November 2008 Cathleen was a co-recipient of the National Hemophilia Foundation's "Distinction in Communication Award" for helping teens with chronic bleeding disorders create their own camp newspapers. Her current project is a sequel to "The First Lamp."