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Jaki Scarcello, 59, had an intuition that her fifties was a significantly different time in her life, but she didn’t feel as if she had the tools or knowledge of how to deal with this transition. So she interviewed women between the ages of 45 to 102, whom she describes as having “sparkling eyes,” in five different countries, and captured what she learned from them in her book, Fifty& Fabulous! The Best Years of a Woman’s Life.
Below is an edited version of the conversation we had with Jaki about her book and her upcoming workshop at Elmwood Spa on October 7, 2010.
What differentiated these women with the “sparkling eyes?”
What really differentiated these women was that they accepted the events that came into their lives, not whether all the events that came into their lives were positive. These were women who embrace aging rather than being concerned about this stage of life.
What qualities did these women exhibit in their fifties and beyond?
These women had a stronger sense of confidence; some of them had found this later in life. They also had less concern of what other people thought of them and a comfort in their own skin. They were active in their family and their community and they generally had not noticed menopause.
Not notice menopause?
Menopause can involve a certain amount of discomfort in terms of hot flashes, night sweats, potential weight gain and other symptoms, many of which can be alleviated and some cannot. But that’s the pain of it, the suffering happens when you attach to it a whole lot of dread of what it means: It means I’m old. It means I’m over. It means I’m going to be second class from now on or whatever gets attached to it. These women didn’t do that, they just continued onto this stage of life and looked forward to whatever it brought. Many of them found it brought an incredible zest and energy at this stage and that’s something that Margaret Mead talked about. She called it post-menopausal zest, so it’s a flare of energy that happened around that time of life for women.
What is the goal of your workshop?
We create an enormous timeline with the metaphor of the harvest as the field of life. I suggest that as you turn 50, you can reap that field, you can do a harvest and see what you have become and then use what you learned, which is increased self-knowledge to nourish the rest of your life. My goal is to have women refreshed and to step forward in the rest of their life understanding that this is a wonderful new stage that’s just beginning
What are the women who take the workshop looking for?
I think they are looking to understand the sense of confusion that happens at this stage of life. Some women start to experience a sense of invisibility as they age: ‘my voice isn’t heard in the workplace, it’s not heard in society, I’m getting overlooked.’ What I understand now is that if you spend the rest of your life looking for external validation of how you look, you’re going to be miserable. So what happens as you age is you start to find the internal evaluation of who you are and what you are and it’s so much more enriching and it’s always available to you. They’re also looking for a sense of direction with the kinds of decisions that have to be remade for this next stage of life: What do I want to do, where I want to live, maybe who I want to live with, how do I want to live. The other thing they come for is the sheer pleasure of sharing this stage of life with other women.
You’ve chosen to hold the workshop at Elmwood Spa. How do you see how the spa as supporting the work you’re doing?
I think the spa fits in really, really well because it offers the sorts of things that women will enjoy. There’s a new kind of sensuality that happens after 50 too, and a new relationship to your own body. A lot of the things that you offer at the spa relate to that like the wraps and the massages. This comfort in your skin that happens is celebrated, but it’s for the purpose of celebrating what you are now, not for looking back and trying to turn the clock back. Aging is a natural function, it’s not something that’s illegal or sinful, so you’re having a facial so that you feel happy about how you look so your skin looks vibrant and alive and that makes you feel better when you go out.
Your event is targeted toward women. Do men experience this stage of development in their fifties?
I’m not sure if they become aware of it at 50, or if it’s later. I think perhaps the attributes might look a little bit different, but I think it’s also available to them. I just don’t know exactly what it looks like yet, and I won’t know that till after I interview them.
Any final words of wisdom?
One of the major characteristics of aging is acceptance. You come to accept first yourself, and what you are and what you’ve done and what you’ve been and then you come to accept others. That is such a beneficial thing for our society, if we could reduce some of the judgment and intolerance that we have for others. But it begins with reducing the judgment and intolerance we have for ourselves. It really happens naturally with age which I think is tremendously exciting.
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