Mindful U Podcast 101. Jen Berlingo: Midlife Emergence

Today’s episode of our podcast is available at Mindful U, AppleSpotify, and Fireside now! 

Naropa Alumnx, Jen Berlingo, MA, LPC, ATR shares about the tipping point in her career from corporate world to a master’s in transpersonal counseling and art therapy and how that allowed her real passions to lead her life. She shares her journey of coming out as queer in midlife and what it looked like to alchemize her midlife transition into a Midlife Emergence and orient towards true authentic living—all detailed in her new book Midlife Emergence: Free Your Inner Fire.

This episode dives into her time at Naropa, how her career has shifted and transformed since then, and the work that she’s passionate about now: helping others to free their inner fire and move through the many transitions that can occur in midlife with grace and authenticity. 

To learn more about her work you can visit these resources:

Full Transcript Below:

Full Transcript

Jen Berlingo 

Midlife Emergence



David Devine Hello and welcome to Mindful You at Naropa, a podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I’m your host, David Devine, and it’s a pleasure to welcome you joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions. Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Mindful U podcast. Today I have a Naropa alum in the studio with me, Jen Berlingo. Jen earned her master’s degree in the Naropa Transpersonal Counseling Psychology and Art Therapy program. She is also a licensed professional counselor, a nationally registered art therapist, and also a Reiki master. Alongside all of these skills, she has written a book that’s out called Midlife Emergence, which has reached number one in several Amazon’s categories. And so we welcome her to the podcast. Taking time out of her busy schedule today. So thank you for sharing this space with us. How are you doing? 

Jen Berlingo I’m doing well, Thank you for having me. 

David Devine So it’s always a fun experience for me to interview a Naropa alumni since we are both graduates of a pretty unique school and also experience. But to get started, could you tell us a bit more about your journey before coming to Naropa, and also what inspired you to enroll in the Transpersonal Psychology program? And also, what was your journey like during Naropa? Sure. Well, that’s kind of like a lot of questions, but I’m usually curious about the experience, how it’s helped you formed and become who you are now. 

Jen Berlingo Totally. Yeah. It was funny as I went into undergraduate when I was young, I always was like, I want to work with art and people. And, you know, my 18 year old brain was like, How do you make money doing that? I majored in communications. I studied broadcasting, and then after undergraduate I had jobs in broadcasting and media buying and web development. And then eventually it was like dot com boom time. I moved to New York City. I got a job in ad tech, which was financially lucrative, but totally had veered way off of my passion path. And I eventually quit the whole corporate world thing and ended up taking art classes and some psychology classes like just in New York City and started seeing art therapy pop up everywhere around me. Just seemed like signs were happening and I applied to a few art therapy programs, came out to Boulder to interview for Naropa and felt like it was home in a way. Yeah. And then 911 happened and I was ready to move out of New York City and got accepted in Naropa, you know, just following that and then moved out here a little early before my program started in 2002. So it’s been quite a while since I’ve been there. A graduate in 2005. But what attracted me to that school is just the unique opportunity to, first of all, have a counseling program as well as art therapy. There were only about 30 accredited art therapy programs in the country at the time, and most of them just taught toward the ATR, which is the art therapy registration, But Naropa also with that third year blended and worked in the LPC like requirements to become a licensed counselor as well as the whole mindfulness piece that was brought in that, you know, being a Buddhist oriented university really unique and it really spoke to me and my own spiritual path at the time. So yeah, that’s how I ended up in that program and I loved it. And I’m still best friends with a lot of the people from my cohort. Yeah. 

David Devine So did did you take Transpersonal and the art therapy program in conjunction with each other? 

Jen Berlingo No, the art therapy was concentration under transpersonal counseling psychology at the time. So it was sort of like art therapy, concentrated courses as well as the counseling courses. So I did both. 

David Devine What’s your art practice? What do you do? Because it seems like someone who follows an art therapy program is someone who has something they like in art already? Yes. So did you have an art practice before you started that? 

Jen Berlingo I’ve always been an artist, but not like trained artist, you know, like I’ve just dabbled with all different kinds of media, which is actually really wonderful for becoming an art therapist because the medium that you choose and the moment to introduce to a client or to invite them into really will have something to do with, you know, what they are working through. So it’s nice to have like an array of things to be able to offer. Myself these days mostly I like working with alcohol, ink and liquid watercolors, just like abstract art. 

David Devine Interesting. Okay. Is there like certain types of therapies that you would use? Certain. Like painting works for people trying to get over a relationship? I don’t know. Or, you know, sculpting works for trying to get over a trauma in your head. Is there certain types of arts that tend to lean towards certain types of therapies? 

Jen Berlingo Yes, definitely. That’s like what the three year program is pretty much about. So it’s hard to summarize, but it’s also like you don’t want to flood someone with like really loose media when they’re feeling already flooded or use really structured media if they’re feeling tight. And you know, there are a lot of different things to consider and it’s really person to person. There’s no like formula. It just teaches one to like feel into that with the client. 

David Devine So in your experience and knowledge, what is it about the art that makes it therapeutic? 

Jen Berlingo Wow. I feel like the art is a safe playground and rehearsal ground for relationship for what is happening like underneath. And it gets to the unconscious material in a very similar way that dreams might where it can come out in a safe sort of way as a third entity in the room. There’s like therapist client and then the art. And so you can be working with and projecting onto the art rather than the therapist being projected onto and talking about this. And it’s like a safe container that kind of holds a lot of the emotions that come out of the client when they create something and then they can look at it objectively across the room and work with it. So yeah, it’s like, that’s really fun. 

David Devine That’s cool. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. Okay. 

David Devine So, you know, you graduated with a master’s degree in therapy, then moved into, you know, some other alternative stuff like Reiki. I also saw you do this Oracle cards and so, you know, astrological reading stuff. And one thing I love to ask Naropa alums is how is the Naropa experience in the background helped you inform your work and your future movements? You know, because Naropa’s contemplative education institution, so our experience is kind of unique and different and you know, we’re focused on like how we feel. And I don’t feel like in math class like, how you feel about two plus two or whatever. You know, no one really cares. You know, it’s like the answers this not I’m feeling off today. So I’m curious, how has the, you know, the Naropa and the master’s degree program helped you live your life as a career pursuing adult? 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, good question. I actually studied Reiki in tandem with like while I was in graduate school. So it didn’t that part didn’t come after, but I was always wanting, while I was in graduate school, I knew I wanted to go into private practice and work for myself, and I’ve always had sort of an entrepreneurial spirit even before that. And so it felt natural to like after graduating, I started a private practice working with adults, mostly adult women, using art therapy and weaving in the energy work and the Reiki and talk therapy. And then fast forward, you know, almost 20 years when the pandemic hit, I pivoted to a coaching model to be able to reach more clients beyond where the state where I’m licensed in Colorado. And because the way that I offer myself lends itself more naturally to a coaching approach, especially with the midlife work that I’m doing, it felt like a really natural time to pivot to coaching model, but you can’t really it’s kind of nice to have the therapy background, you know, with that. But the Naropa, the uniqueness of it with like the mindfulness piece and the focus on the transpersonal and the spiritual, and that’s always helped me to come up with creative like interventions in art and in spirituality and, you know, and really deep like self inquiry work that we were doing in the program and that I invite clients into. That’s part of what I still do in my coaching and what I write about in my book as well. 

David Devine So you mentioned therapy and coaching and I was sort of thinking like, what is the difference? Because it sounded like you had a therapy practice and then you said you just decided to move it to counseling. 

Jen Berlingo To now coaching. 

David Devine To coaching, right. How is coaching in therapy different? And also how are they the same? And like why the shift? 

Jen Berlingo I think it really depends on who you’re working with or what you’re working with. I think well, as a therapist, I was working a lot with women in midlife and also with a lot of people who are training to become therapists and who were already therapists. And so most of my clients were also therapists at the time and really just working with with their, like self-care and vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, things like that. 

David Devine Compassion fatigue. 

Jen Berlingo Yes. As well as like moving through midlife stuff. All of that coming up at the same time. But in therapy, a lot of times it’s really like excavating, you know, childhood stuff and going deep into like trauma work and like I’m trained in Hakomi and different ways of getting at that. So I’m trauma informed, which helps with coaching. And so it’s like, I know right now everyone can just say their coach and hang a shingle out pretty much. But I feel like for me it feels nice to have the therapy background coming into coaching where I’m working with clients more. I mean, yes, their childhood stuff comes into it, especially in working with different interjects or messages that they’re trying to overturn from their childhood now that they’re becoming more empowered and midlife and being like an adult person who doesn’t need to subscribe to old modes or ways of being. So we are doing some looking back, but a lot of it is around like having agency and looking toward what you want to become and turning toward what lights them up and turning them toward really like the flame inside of them. The Inner Fire, which is my subtitle of my book free your inner fire. 

David Devine I just saw that. Yeah. 

David Devine I mean, we want to work towards the things that are good and not towards the things that are not and it’s kind of wild how childhood traumas, they stick around if we don’t deal with it, that shadow is thick. So it’s really beautiful that you have the ability to be a therapist, a coach and a counselor, because that shows you. You’re able to hold like a space that can have like a lot of experience. So if something comes up in a coaching session, you have your transpersonal psychology and your art therapy to help you out with navigating those sensitive spaces. 

Jen Berlingo Right. Yeah. I feel like I’m weaving a lot of the different tools that I’ve gathered along the way together, but they’re so ingrained in me at this point too, that it feels like natural. Just it doesn’t actually feel like I’m switching from one to the other. It’s just like all part of what I’m offering. 

David Devine Yeah, Here you are. 

Jen Berlingo Here I am. Exactly. 

David Devine Well, that’s it’s like a unique opportunity to probably, like, work with you as a coach because you have that. 

Jen Berlingo Oh, yeah. Thanks. Yeah. 

David Devine All right, so you sort of mentioned it, but we’re going to go into your book. Recently, you wrote a book called Midlife Emergence, which from that title is a play off the term midlife crisis. I love the idea of changing the word crisis to emergence because I think words have power. So I’d rather name it to something that’s more beneficial to my future. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. 

David Devine So giving it a softer meaning than being something that isn’t fun to deal with, you know? So there’s a sense of authority and ownership to the process of finding yourself in a new place in life. And I’m wondering how did this idea of emergence instead of crisis come to be and how do you see it integrating into other people’s lives? 

Jen Berlingo So in psychology, midlife is like defined as the period between ages 40 to 65. And so the stereotypical midlife crisis and all the literature I found on it historically centers like the male experience. And I really wanted to write my book and I wanted to write from my own perspective as a woman in midlife because it is part memoir. My book is also it’s called a teaching memoir, really, because it’s part memoir and part personal growth book in that I offer different prompts for the reader and different ways for them to dive deeply into their own self inquiry throughout the book. Like peppered through my story. Yeah, I’m working, you know, with women in midlife and being one myself, I found that, like, midlife doesn’t have to be a crisis or an emergency. So I changed that to emergence because. God. Yeah, right. Come on. I mean, it can feel that way. It’s hard, but emergence is defined as a process of coming into view or becoming exposed after being previously concealed. And that was like super akin to my experience of moving into this passage or this portal of my forties, sort of the doorway between the first act and the second act of life. And I feel like that’s the opportunity and the invitation for us to really move into being our more authentic selves after we’ve had or when we’re starting to amass the courage to challenge or change some of the social and cultural and familial conditioning that we might have played into in the first act of life. And so this like decade of the forties for me and a lot of the people I work with is like this liminal space or like a waiting room, you know, between them where you’re you can consciously and mindfully architect how you want the second act of life to be. So it’s actually an empowered stance rather than the crisis. 

David Devine We are at a point in our lives because like I just turned 41, you know, I look like a baby, but I’m I’m like, emerging. Yeah, as you could say. And so I feel as though the authority is there. Like, I have authority. I’m an adult. I get to make my own decisions. And like, sometimes it’s hard and I don’t want to and other times its is like, let’s do it. Like, let’s make these decisions and create my life. So it’s really beautiful to hear that type of content. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, 41 was exactly the age where my story begins. Well, not my whole story, but in my book, when things started really quaking underground for me and I realized I needed to turn inward and listen to what was being asked from inside and like what the longing was that wasn’t being met. So that was a really big year for me. 

David Devine You did mention something about the male perspective of the midlife crisis, and I’m sure you did a lot of like midlife crisis or emergence research. And I’m wondering what was that experience like for you when you’re coming across it and you’re just noticing the lens of a man? 

Jen Berlingo I think some of the historical research is definitely more male centric, but then I did find a lot of like when you’re putting together a book proposal, you find comparative literature like different authors have written about similar things and even, you know, finding those and being like, okay, this is a female perspective, this one and I can relate a little more, but a lot of it felt bleak in some way and didn’t offer that emergence aspect of it. It was more. 

David Devine Presenting content like, This is what happens but not like how do you move through? 

Jen Berlingo And how do you move through, right? I felt like there was a piece missing there. And I mean, the male thing we just hear like the red sports car and the affair and like all of those like colloquial things that we hear around midlife crisis and what that word or that phrase midlife crisis brings up an image in our minds that’s sort of what we end up picturing and I didn’t want to.. That isn’t my experience at all. 

Don’t want the red car? 

Not really, no. I got a white Honda CRV when I turned 40. So not, you know midlife crisis car, I guess, midlife emergence car. Yeah. So I think it just didn’t resonate for me or what I was hearing from clients. There was a lot of stuff still uncovered, you know, that wasn’t being talked about in the researcher and my book isn’t really heavily research oriented. It’s memoir, like I said but I do allude t, there’s definitely a lot of didactic stuff in terms of psychology, like talking about attachment styles and different things. 

David Devine I do hear that you have an authority of content because of your educational bring up, so you definitely done your homework. 

Jen Berlingo I really have, yeah. 

David Devine But then you also talk about from your experience and having the Naropa lens, noticing that a lot of the content you’re looking at is like, Oh, well, this doesn’t resonate with a woman perspective. So you kind of find a role and you’re like, I’m going to go pursue that. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. 

David Devine So one thing I’m wondering is if it feels like a midlife crisis or emergence is because we are at a point in our lives where everything seems to become more important or real. You know, it’s like we have kids, we have mortgages, maybe not me, but we have money. You know, we’re like we’re at an age where we’re probably like making the most money we’ve ever made and all this other stuff and things like relationships with self, with our future and our work. And we are sort of at the pinnacle of like adult age, I guess. So being responsible involves a lot of different things in life to juggle, and it also provides a look at what is real and how we want to show up. So I’m curious like, how do you see that? Why do you think we have a midlife emergence or crisis? Why can’t we just be 40? 

Jen Berlingo Right? 

David Devine Yeah, you know, like we’re seeing that. Oh, like we’re over the hill. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, right. 

David Devine We’re like, looking down now. I don’t know. 

Jen Berlingo I mean, perhaps. There is definitely, or at least for me I can speak for myself, there was a sense of urgency to it. So Erick Erickson, a developmental psychologist from like the fifties, said that midlife like there’s a challenge in each developmental stage and the one for midlife is stagnation versus generativity. And so that’s a period where we’re reevaluating our life’s purpose and  being sure we’re making the type of impact and the type of legacy that we want to leave. And so that sort of hits you, you know, as you’re aging. And of course, like it soothes the nervous system to feel safe and stable and secure and choose like the stagnation, that familiarity and that like choosing that can kind of end up stagnating for people. And even though that’s nice to rest in, there’s this seduction of like more mystery and a yearning for something that’s growth producing and a desire to take more risks. Like I was interviewing, interviewed more than 100 women when I was putting together my book, and all of them said that they are more seduced by the idea of risk taking than by safety at this point in life. So and most of my clients come in saying, like, is this all there is? Like I want more and then feel guilty about wanting more because women have been taught to feel grateful for what we have to be polite to be. You know, like the especially the upbringing and my generation and Generation X for women particularly just being taught to be desired, not to desire. To be wanted, not to want. And so when you’re coming into this from a an idea or a perspective of like, I actually want something and I feel ashamed even for wanting more than what I’ve been given or been told to be grateful for. 

David Devine What an interesting feeling to have. To feel ashamed to want something you probably deserve. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, it’s true. 

David Devine It’s interesting being conditioned in such a way. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, it’s so common and it’s so deeply ingrained that a lot of people hear that in their own voice. But then when they really unpack it, it’s like, Oh, that’s the voice of my parents or the church or the, you know, and really like going through where those influences came into their life. So like you said, like it can be very daunting though, to make big shifts at this stage of life because we have careers and mortgages and kids and maybe taking care of aging parents or all of the responsibilities at this stage of life make it hard to shift out of the stagnation or the familiarity and into something more generative, because it could mean really rocking the boat and really blowing up a life that you’ve really, you know, carefully constructed. 

David Devine I also wonder too if it’s like you’ve been playing a role for so long with being a mom and that being, you know, work employee or something like that, and you’re just like. Well, what do I want? 

Jen Berlingo Right? 

David Devine Yeah, it’s my turn. 

Jen Berlingo It’s time to really claim it. Yeah, right. Step up and like, claim what you’re here to do. And a lot of the people I work with art and that sort of thing career wise too. Like, okay, I’ve been underneath, you know, like a structure at work or whatever, and now they’re like, I want to be the boss, or I want to do this other thing and it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’ll be as, you know, lucrative. 

David Devine I hear you saying, though, there’s an emergence happening . 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, there’s an emergence happening and it’s uncomfortable. 

David Devine And we’re adult enough to realize that if we work for it and we strive, we could reach our goals. Even though we’re at a later age in our life. So we can we have some things that we can definitely do. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah and it’s hard. I mean, pioneering and carving a new path for it is hard. So if you’re going to buck the status quo or the system and try to do something different, I mean, that work isn’t we don’t really have a lot of cheerleaders or role models for doing that sort of thing. Like when people see us kind of going off the path, it’s like, Oh shit, you know, stay in your lane. But I’m really hoping that my book and the coaching work I do can be a support of that and can be like a cheerleader along those lines. Like it’s okay to actually claim what you want and construct the next half of life as you want it to be. This is the only one we get. 

David Devine Stay in your lane but also realize you’re the one who made the lane. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, right. 

David Devine So you can make another one and then you can go in that one and you’re still in your lane. 

Jen Berlingo Totally yeah. 

David Devine So when it comes to a midlife crisis or emergence, it seems as though there could be these common or predictable challenges that arise in these types of spaces. Could you speak upon the common things that you come across in midlife moments? And also, what are some not so known or talked about midlife moments that could surprise us? We you know, we talked about kids we talked about work, having aging parents or something like that, because you do coaching and counseling and therapy. Have you come across some things that surprised you?And or what are the things that you commonly come across, like predictable midlife moments? 

Jen Berlingo I mean, it’s obviously different for each person, like the material that comes up for them in midlife, but most of my clients are like myself: recovering “good girls” or former people pleasers. 

David Devine Recovering good girls? 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, recovering good girls. They’ve done all the right things. You know, they’ve met all the expectations to create the life that they should want, but then they’re still feeling unsatisfied. And then, you know, like I said, making changes can feel like really high stakes because of all of those responsibilities that are in place, in those relationships and roles. So I guess I just see a commonality there of like being tempted to stay in our safe, sleepy, stagnant habit because it’s too difficult to face a voice inside of us that desires something more. But there are common things that I really do with clients that meet them where they are, like really turning the ear inward and listening for the inner longing. Like I said that I sort of had to do when I came into my forties identifying the early conditioning that might be thwarting them or holding them back from actually going after what it is that they desire. Struggling with making that truth that they uncover visible in the world. And then like from that really struggling with, I guess, navigating the impact that has on the people around them when they when someone starts to make a transition, obviously their loved ones and people around them feel the ripples out from that. And that can be great. You can be a stand or a model for a way of being in the world, which for me it was a really important thing for my kid to see. Okay, this is my truth and I’m going to speak it, claim it, live it, because I would want that for them as well. But then also some of the ripples. 

David Devine What a beautiful role model you are. 

Jen Berlingo Oh, thank you. But also the ripples can be, you know, fielding projections that people have on you or not meeting expectations or having them hold you to who used to be. You know, like I’ve always known you to be this person, but now you’re, you know, doing whatever you know. Are you having a midlife crisis? 

David Devine I’m emerging. Leave me alone. 

Jen Berlingo Right. Totally. And I guess the surprise, not totally sure how to answer that, because it’s because this is so unique to each person and so different what the material they’re bringing might be. Nothing really surprises me about it any more. It’s just like, okay, this is the flavor for you. This is the flavor that, you know, is coming up for you in mid-life and that might be different from the client I had an hour ago. 

David Devine Yeah. And I can almost see it like, here’s all the things that can exist. But with this person, it’s that one, this one. And then the next person comes in they got a little bit of that, little bit of this, heavily leaning in that. 

Jen Berlingo Some overlap sometimes not. Yeah. 

David Devine So one thing I was thinking about was you’re talking about like, what is a good girl syndrome?Whatever. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. 

David Devine I don’t know you’re talking about, but I’m I’m a boy, so I don’t know about that too much. 

Jen Berlingo You’re now a recovering good girl? 

David Devine I am a good boy though. Like I can’t steal it hurts my heart. My heart means a lot to me. So I don’t like to do things that are out of line. You know, I want to be honorable in all moments. But I’m curious, like when you said that you talked about like good girl status or whatever and then I’m like, well, who who made that right? And I’m like, probably a man did. Probably, a man was like, Oh, no, you have to be a good girl. 

Jen Berlingo Well, yeah, it definitely comes down from the patriarchy and just keeping women historically, you know, more quiet, subservient, grateful, like I said, which tends to squash a lot of dreams and desires. Yeah I mean, we can trace that back all the way, but it’s still in our blood and in our DNA and in our upbringing, in our homes. 

Like our cultures. 

Yeah. And I look at, you know, and I talk about, like, my relationship to my mom and my book and how I was raised to be a good girl. It’s like, oh, even baby’s like, oh, she’s such a good baby she doesn’t even cry. You know? It’s like, well, crying is the expression. And that’s the way a baby speaks and says their needs out loud. And that didn’t come from my mom. Her mom did the same, right? It’s like there’s no blame place. It’s just like what has been perpetuated throughout culture and I think right now we’re at a really we have a really unique opportunity and time to evolve past that and to create something different for future generations and for ourselves. 

David Devine And then you also said something about like the inner ear. So trying to listen to your truth. Yeah. Has been maybe suppressed for a bit. But then also then there’s the like once you find it and you condition yourself out of those not. Being able to do what you want, but then you start pursuing that. What do you find is easier: listening to that message and turning the ear on the inside or once the ear is there and you know what the message is following it. 

Jen Berlingo The second part tends to be the more challenging part, right? Like for me and clients, I mean, I think that yeah, sometimes it’s like I’ll give clients and this is actually in the end of chapter one of my book, like journaling exercise of what aren’t you saying still? What aren’t you writing still? Write that. Even if you have to write it in invisible ink or burn it later or whatever. 

David Devine So revealing. 

Jen Berlingo Right it is. It’s like, what are you not saying? And that’s what’s longing to be unearthed at this part of life. Like whatever you’ve suppressed is going to come back and like, blow up sort of at this point of life. Or you can choose I mean, we have agency to keep it, keep it suppressed. 

David Devine But that never goes well, though. 

Jen Berlingo It really doesn’t. You know it comes back around or you get sick or, you know, all sorts of things happen. 

David Devine Quarter life end of life crisis, something like that. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, there are a lot of them if you look at the astrology stuff. But yeah, so I think that once we know the truth that needs to come out, there’s a way of going about it where it doesn’t feel like you’re blowing up your life. It’s like more choosing maybe one safe person to express it to, or even just to start writing about it first, just getting it out. Express. Literally pressed out of the self so that it has a place to go and live and then, you know, telling one other person or a community of people that can hold you in it and help you kind of become what it is that you’re speaking. 

David Devine Sounds scary and fun at the same time. Like what’s going to happen? 

Jen Berlingo Super thrilling. Yeah. 

David Devine All right. So now knowing a bit more about, like, what a midlife emergence is, could you tell us about your midlife emergence that sparked the idea of this book and also inspired you to pursue coaching within this field? 

Jen Berlingo Yes. 

David Devine So like what what happened to you? 

Jen Berlingo Oh, yeah. So my book starts out, like I said, when I’m 41 and I feel this, I’m driving over I lived in the Bay Area at the time and I was driving over to the coast to Half Moon Bay after dropping my kid off at summer camp. And I didn’t even bring shoes that day, which is not characteristic of me. I’m just like barefoot, right? I’m like, I need to go to the ocean and I need to, like, get to the edge of something big. And I was just feeling this build up in me. And so I had on Ani DiFranco and then her song, So What came on, and I have the beginning of those lyrics actually in the book, and it just hit totally different that day and it was like I could feel something bubbling up in me hot magma, like, you know. I was like, this needs to come out and happen and what it was is me admitting to myself that I really did want to be in a romantic relationship with a woman, which I had always known I was queer. 

David Devine Took you that long though or just the good girl status stuff?

Jen Berlingo Yeah, it’s compulsory heterosexuality really, like the assumption that everyone is straight until proven otherwise. And growing up in the time and place that I did, I didn’t have any models for queer relationships, and I knew that I was attracted to women and girls when I was younger. You know, it’s like but I still dated boys and, you know, dated men, eventually married a man. 

David Devine But it was it was there and, you didn’t explore that? Or that or was it just like a thought? Have you kissed a woman when you were in high school or something? 

Jen Berlingo I actually my first kiss was with a girl and I was young and then I never counted it as a first kiss. I just was like And that didn’t happen. Moving on. Yeah. And then when I was like, I don’t know, was I 13 or something? Then I kissed a boy for the first time and that dude became my boyfriend for five years because everyone’s like, What boy do you like? You know, that kind of thing. Yeah, I went along with that whole compulsory thing. Like a lot of the people I work with as well who are coming out later in life, I don’t consider myself someone coming out later in life because I was out to myself that I just didn’t know what to call it or that there was even a life path for it. I had no model for that. So on this day, I, you know, I’m almost well, we were married. 

David Devine Ani does that by the way. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. Ani’s the best, really, I’ve been listening to her music since forever, but yeah. I just I had a playlist on, and that’s the song that came up, and it was kind of like an oracle, like, Oh, here’s this. And I’m listening to it and I realized that, yeah, at that point I guess I’d been married 14 years and to my best friend, amazing guy. 

David Devine This wasn’t the boy you kissed first. 

Jen Berlingo No, it was not I did not marry the first kiss boy. My mom was very scared of me doing that, actually. She’s like, you need to date some other people. And I did. And I married one of them. And one of the first conversations he and I ever had as friends, even before we started dating, was that I was attracted to women and was looking for a girlfriend when I moved to New York City and I ended up dating him. But yeah, it was known and he knew that and but anyway. That day, 41ish it was just so up for me like that urgency of am I ever going to explore the side of myself in this lifetime? And what happens if not? And really just feeling like something there needed to shift. I didn’t know what or how that would happen. But that night, you know, I talked with Craig my then husband about that and things unfolded from there. So, I mean, I could tell you my whole plot of my book, or my story. But basically yeah we’re divorced now and we’re best friends and he lives down the street from me here and we co-parent our teenager. But yeah, I think wanting to write the book, you ask like what inspired that? That was like the beginning of my story. But I, I guess, yeah, I’ve had over 20 years experience, you know, coaching, I mean, yeah, coaching and doing therapy with clients in life transition. But when I went through that myself is when I started to write about my own experience. I’d always been like a journal ever, but never like putting it out into the world. 

David Devine Yeah, not going deep with the magma inside you? 

Jen Berlingo Well I was doing it myself, but I wasn’t sharing it widely and being visible in it, I guess. So I started to post like little pieces of it on my Instagram, like this project that was happening called 100 Day Project on Instagram at the time and little pieces, and I called it 100 Days of Midlife Emergence, and people started commenting and writing to me and saying, Oh my God, I so relate to this, this should be a book. And that was happening this was early 2020, right before the pandemic. And then I was like, yeah, maybe this is the book. And so I started putting all of that together and it eventually became my book, which I wanted to write to help, you know, women through their own midlife passages and to really speak to the unexpressed and beautiful part of each person that is longing to be set free, but that they may be feeling shame for, like the epigraph in the beginning of my book is a quote by Lizzy Russinko that says, “The story you’re ashamed to tell is the one that will set you free.” 

David Devine I just read that too. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. Yeah. Isn’t that good? That’s totally what it felt like, like starting to write my book. 

David Devine How scary is that, though? So you’re kind of leading up to my next question. So your book speaks about a deep truth and also some raw feelings, and how does it feel to put yourself out there like that and describe your process with this emergence? You know, did you feel concerned about sharing or nervous or, you know, you were just saying the 100 Days of Emergence that people started writing you, so you kind of turned the faucet on just a little bit. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, I put my toe in the water. 

David Devine You’re not just like: bleh. Right? Throwing yourself out there fully because it is a pretty big process and also it kind of makes you nervous. So to like, let it out slow and then you’re being validated and another people are like, Wow, I really love this content. You should write a book. I don’t know did you have any hang ups, how did you feel?

Jen Berlingo Oh my God, of course I did. I was terrified of it in some ways. It was nice to put a toe in the water and like test it out. And I didn’t know at the time it was going to be the book, but it was great to get that feedback and just hear from so many people who were like, me too. I feel like I could have written this or hearing from other people whether they were coming out later in life or they were changing careers or whatever content might be up for them. But just that idea of overturning the socialization that they had swallowed the first part of life and seeing how it could be set free and be impacted. So I was like, okay, I do want to get this out there and it’s bigger than me. So I’ll use my story and I’ll actually write from the, people use the term “messy middle” all the time, I think it’s overused, but like this raw, when you’re in transition, the part that’s just the chaotic mess before. 

David Devine That’s like where the DJ mix happens. Like two songs playing there they’re mixing key. 

Jen Berlingo Well, that’s the exciting part. So I wrote from that place. I didn’t write my book after it was all like, said and done and neatly packaged with a bow. It still isn’t so it actually it won’t be. And that’s the fun part. So yeah, I wrote from that like raw, vulnerable, honest place. And that part wasn’t even the hardest part was the anticipation of the book being published and coming out into the world and sharing it with the people I loved, which I did share with my parents and, you know, my ex-husband and my girlfriend and some of my friends before it got published. But once it was all already like locked and I couldn’t really edit. And that was hard. I lost a lot of sleep, you know, just really trying to think about doing it responsibly, I guess, like really stating my truth from my perspective. But also when you’re writing a memoir, you’re writing about the people closest to you as well because they’re in your life. So yeah, making sure that I could do that, you know, responsibly and own what it is that my story is and that and not tell their stories for them. 

David Devine Yeah, I could see that being a little nerve wracking. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah it is. 

David Devine Kind of scary. So it sounded like you had some form of midlife coaching. Were you coaching before the book idea came or did you start coaching for the midlife stuff after the book came because you had more experience and it was the persue that you wanted to do? 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, it sort of started at the same time as me beginning to write the book. Like once I started formatting things into the book, the pandemic hit, everything kind of went online and I decided to coach, you know, people all over like I have clients or in other countries or in other states. And because it’s coaching, that’s okay, because I don’t use my therapy license for it. 

David Devine Because therapy is license based. 

Jen Berlingo Exactly. Yeah. And so while I was writing, I was starting to coach people and develop like group coaching programs that I’ve run a few times. Yeah. So it was sort of in tandem and that was nice to be able to, especially with the groups like be talking about this in groups of women and then kind of testing out the content and seeing like what should be in the book and what shouldn’t. 

David Devine I see. You have like a little class to go to and try some stuff out. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. 

David Devine So when someone comes to you for coaching and guidance within their midlife issues or, you know, emergence, I’m curious, once you are able to figure out what’s causing the difficulty, which it seems like we talked about the inner ear, what are some of the techniques or practices you would suggest to the patient so they can grow and learn from? And are there practices you offer that are unique to each situation or are they, you know, fairly the same? You sort of mentioned journaling. I guess there’s some future thinking of not being conditioned thoughts or trying to get out of your own way. What are some of the practices that you offer to your clients? 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, they’re all tailored to the person and what they’re bringing. Yeah, the coaching practices, like, of course the specifics will be unique to everyone, but the types of things that I do with people have to do with the writing and journaling prompts some art making prompts, like teaching them different art techniques, art interventions that they can do on their own, or we can do on zoom together sometimes. But usually it’s like the home play between sessions. I call it “homeplay” instead of homework. 

David Devine Oh, I like that. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. It’s more like, yeah, more fun. 

David Devine Words are meaningful. 

Jen Berlingo They are. It’s important to choose the right one. But yes, so also creating and interacting with a mid-life alter, so I teach them about how to do that and then bringing different things to it each week and conducting their own personal rituals or ceremony. Those can look different depending on what is up for them, but kind of guiding them through that process going on. You know, wanders in nature and their neighborhood to look for signs of things, or to gather objects where they might make a talisman from it later or yeah, that’s that could be like an art creation, right? There’s also a guided visualization at the end of my book, which in the book there’s a link provided. But if you have the audio book, the visualization is on there. And that is a prompt that I love to do with people either in the beginning or the end, depending on where they are. And you know, when they come to me about looking at the future self and having a visualization of themselves 20 years into the future and then using her as like a muse for what you’re growing into. So yeah, there’s a bunch of juicy stuff in there and it really depends on what someone’s bringing. 

David Devine I would almost assume that doing the inner ear work is probably the hardest, but once you figure out the direction in the future you do want. It almost feels a little bit easier because, you know, you’re like, Oh, I actually want to well, I actually want to become a drummer. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, right. 

David Devine And it’s like, well, guess what? You get a drum set, you start practicing and learn. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. 

David Devine But it’s probably hard to realize, like, I have had this desire in me to do this thing and I don’t know really what to do. But once you figure out what the desire is, then the direction becomes a little bit more clear. Do you find that to be true? 

Jen Berlingo It does. I think that some people come and they know exactly what you know is missing or what it is that they’re longing for. Or some people are like, there’s just this ennui, boredom, you know, either that or a stagnation or frustration or anger or resentment. You know, people come with something and say, I don’t even know what it is I want, but something’s got to happen. Like, help me hear what that is and so for some people, one side is easier and for some people the other, you know. 

David Devine You’re like, I know I want something. What that is, I don’t know. 

Jen Berlingo Let’s figure that out. 

David Devine So we’re going to have to figure that out together. 

Right. So you have in your book, you have a focus on the queer aspect of shifting your life. It seems as though you were fairly open with the idea of being queer at a young age. You know, you were aware that you had some interests, but it was never really a pursuit for you, but were essentially living in a traditional life with your husband. You know, you had a kid, you had a husband, you probably bought a house, you know, you did the things. You had the good girl status. You checked all the boxes. 

Jen Berlingo I did. 

David Devine So what was it like to be in a situation where you’re living in a labeled as traditional life but was essentially following what was foundational to you? How did that shift happen of like traditional to foundational to you? 

Jen Berlingo Totally. That was what my emergence has been about in a lot of ways. I mean, obviously all the categories sort of get rocked once one does. But I write about this, you know, in my book, my story of that, and I actually just wrote a piece last week for my substack. I have like a Substack, which is called PRISM, where I have weekly writings. And last week I published one called The Irritation and the Immunity of Invisibility, which was about queer femme invisibility like and compulsory heterosexuality. Like I said, the Adrian Rich popularized it in the 80s, but assuming everyone is straight. Yeah, until they say otherwise. Right. And I know that there’s so much privilege in being a femme presenting person and being in a straight passing relationship. But it was eventually so toxic for me, even physically and emotionally, definitely spiritually for me not to be seen in the fullness of my sexuality that I knew that had to change in some way. So queer femme invisibility is a term for like, you know, when someone is feminine, presenting and queer, a lot of times they get assumed straight. You know, if I say my partner, people say, Oh, what does he do? I have a girlfriend, you know, But it’s like having to come out over and over again because of societal assumptions. Yeah, our culture really conflates, you know, the way we perform or present our gender and who are sleeping with with what our sexuality is. Whereas sexuality really is something internal. I was absolutely as queer, you know, being in my marriage before with my husband as I am right now. Yeah. 

David Devine Being married didn’t un-queer you. 

Jen Berlingo No, right. So yeah, and I’m currently a part of a few different online communities with like thousands of women in them who are coming out later in life or in marriages and are questioning their sexuality. And those are the type of people a lot of the type of people that I end up coaching. But they’re exploring this question of comphet, which is an abbreviated way to, say, compulsory heterosexuality and just how prevalent that’s been. So that’s one aspect of my own midlife emergence story, and definitely not everyone’s and not everyone that I work with, but I do see that quite a bit, I think, because some people relate to that part of my journey. 

David Devine Okay. And yeah, it seems like you’re coaching has the female queer aspect lens on it. And what I’m curious is what is some advice you can give these women who are having this emergence of realizing like they can’t turn the queer down in them. They’re just like, Oh dang, like I really want to explore this. But I’ve, you know, in your experience, lived a traditional life and you’re kind of like at this point where it’s like, I have to break all these things to like, pursue the thing I’ve always wanted to, you know, it feels like that’s scary.  

Jen Berlingo Its so Scary. 

David Devine Like, you could be losing something you actually do love. You know, if you don’t do right. But it sounds like you and your your husband worked it out in a way that you kind of, like have this fruitful, beautiful relationship that’s beyond marriage. 

David Devine Yeah, I think that I learned through this that, yeah, love looks like freedom. And he and I, even in our wedding vows, were, you know, careful to say that we wanted to help each other be the most free version of ourselves that we could be. And I think that in upholding those vows is why we got divorced. 

David Devine Wow. That’s interesting. 

Jen Berlingo Our relationship and our love, I think, is beyond like, whatever that, you know that cultural marriage structure is. And so that’s just the way that I want to have integrity around who I am being and even if it like lets down others initially or feels disappointing, I hear this from clients a lot too, like afraid that they’re going to disappoint others. It’s like better to do that than to disappoint yourself. Because if you’re being in your own integrity and being yourself and living your truth, that will be in the service of everyone around you. It’s in the service of my ex-husband that this came up for me as well, because it frees him to, you know, find something that might be deeper for him in some ways or yeah. It frees everyone up. Like I know Glennon Doyle says, like, there’s no such thing as one way liberation and it really feels like that. It’s like if I’m freeing myself to be my most true version of me, that frees everyone around me up to be the most true version of themselves as well. 

David Devine What’s interesting is I’m thinking about this. You might be disappointing someone’s conditioning. Because if you’re if you’re following your truth and they’re in your life and they love you, like what are they going to say? Right? Like, how dare you be happy and excited about your life in the future. But I think what happens is you challenge their conditions, societal norms, and once you get past that, they can look at you and be like, I’m really happy you’re pursuing your full potential and what you truly want to do, because then because they see your light shine a bit more. 

Jen Berlingo Right. Exactly. 

David Devine Like, ooh, okay. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And it can still be heartbreaking. It’s not it doesn’t take away the grief or the loss of it for me either, You know, at the same time that I was feeling more free and was feeling elated to actually be stepping more fully into these parts of myself that I hadn’t inhabited. I was also deeply grieving, you know, and still am. I’m still doing both in the same moment. Sometimes it’s like both and feeling all the feels all at once and just letting myself. 

David Devine There’s a lot of feels out there too. 

Jen Berlingo There are. 

David Devine We are like feeling beings, you know, We’re kind of built to do this. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. If we let ourselves. Yeah. 

David Devine By being skillful with how we feel and also being skillful with how we show up after the feeling. Because I like to say we are not our feelings, but we are how we deal with them and the quality of the feeling. We want to have, you know, consciously being able to feel those feels and not just like I’m angry, growling and tear the wall down. It’s like, calm down. Be angry. You’re allowed to be. But like, you can’t physically destroy things because of that. 

Jen Berlingo Right. Really just owning what is yours and not imposing it on on other people. And, you know, obviously not in a violent way or ways like that. 

David Devine So as I was researching you, I noticed there is a side of you that I kind of want to talk a little bit more about. I know you work with astrological charts and Oracle cards, and you also sell some Oracle cards on your website. And how does that play into relating and implementing these ideas into your development of the midlife emergence and like knowing some characteristics of the self? Because I know astrologically, I think I’m a Virgo, so I keep my stuff like, you know, like I fold my clothes. I just got a steamer. I steam my clothes every morning now I’m addicted. It’s stupid. It’s like 

Jen Berlingo You need to come over. I do not. 

David Devine I will steam your whole wardrobe. I’m getting really good at it. I’m kind of, like, neurotic, and I do these things. But, like, astrologically speaking, it makes sense as a Virgo. And so I’m just wondering, like, how does this play into your coaching and in the aspects of your life, like how do you use the signs of the astronomy? Or the signs of like the universe or the planets shifting and also the Oracle cards in your coaching and in your life? 

Jen Berlingo Yeah. I’m not an astrologer. I’ve worked with astrology. I learned about it when I was in middle school, and I have consulted with the same astrologer, Erik Meyers, since I graduated from Naropa in 2005 every year on my birthday and I’ve learned so much from him. I write about him quite a bit in my book. He’s fantastic. But what I did learn from him is that there’s a thread of astrology around this midlife shift, and it’s called the Uranus opposition. And it basically I’ll just summarize it quickly is like the planet Uranus, which is about rebellion and truth, and it’ll blow things up that are repressed is exactly opposite where it was the moment you were born when you on your 42nd birthday. And so it will challenge you. Astrologically it’s like, yeah, it’ll bring up for you the things that you haven’t yet done and that you’ve held back. And so when I had my 42nd birthday reading, when a lot of the stuff was up for me and I told him what was happening. He’s like, Oh, you’re right on time. This is the Uranus opposition. That’s what astrologers named the midlife crisis and our own speak. And he explain that to me. And it really validated for me what I was going through. And I think to answer your question, like the idea of, you know, astrology and Oracle cards and the Enneagram, which is something I also weave into my work, they’re all useful to some clients that in the way of like validating their experience, helping with self-compassion and helping with connecting more deeply to themselves, to others, and to spirituality and the transpersonal and what’s happening in like the larger container beyond, you know, ourselves. So I use those only when it’s interesting to the client or in their language. Some clients come in wanting to, you know, talk about stuff in that vein. Some it’d be completely outside of their realm of experience or what they’re interested in. Yeah. So I just meet them where they are with it. But these are just tools that I use. Like Oracle cards I mean, all of these are things, a lot of it I’ve been doing since I was like 11, just sort of casually like studying this stuff. The chakra system I started studying that and so it felt natural to study Reiki in my twenties, you know. So I just I’m a weaver, I guess, and like, I just bring these things and and weave them together however it fits for the person I’m speaking with. But I think really validation and just having it mirror some of your experience back to you in a different way can feel really growth producing and good and I don’t know, supportive. 

David Devine And it seems as though you have a lot of skills that complement each other and your lexicon of being able to say you have a client who’s not so astrologically inclined. You can still use those principles and ideas to convey more of a therapeutic lens upon that type of conversation. So that’s what seems really cool and you got your Reiki, you have your Oracle cards, you have your astrological reading stuff, and then you have, you know, your art therapy well versed. Yeah, and they all complement each other, you know, So it’s like the puzzle fits together. 

Jen Berlingo And I don’t use all of them all the time. It’s really just seamlessly like sometimes a little piece will come in here or there, you know, but really focused on what would be more in service to the person reading the moment. 

Jen Berlingo Awesome. Well, t hat is our podcast and I so appreciate you coming down and speaking with us today. It’s always fun to talk to alums just like reconnect and hearing their experiences. But before we go, would you like to just tell our audience about like your book and where they can get it, and also shout out your website or your social media where they can find you, maybe like if they’re interested in some coaching. 

Jen Berlingo Totally. Yeah. Yeah. My website is the hub where you can find all of my offerings, which is just my name: jenBerlingo.com. My book Midlife Emergence: Free Your Inner Fire is available in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Anywhere that you want to buy books online or support your independent bookstore and you can ask them to order it and they can if they don’t already have it. I offer a 1-on-1 midlife coaching and I also offer several guided self-paced online programs that you can find on my website. And right now I’m actually forming a new circle for early 2024 for a midlife emergence group guidance program. It’s this group coaching program that I’ve run in the past, and it’s so exciting to watch people just unfold and unfurl and, you know, new ways. 

David Devine Emerge upon each other. 

Jen Berlingo Totally. But it’s in this like circle of support with others who get it, who get what they’re going through, even if the contents different. It’s like this beautiful gosh, it’s like it’s such an honor to actually facilitated and watch what unfolds in this group. So a new one is forming right now. So if you want to apply to be part of that, that is also on my website. Oh yeah. And I just began a deeply personal creative endeavor like I was talking about earlier, my substack called Prisms. You can find me on there and I write on there every week with different topics about midlife, queerness, spirituality, art, connection, and I curate different creative things for the readers, like things that I’m reading and listening to and craving and paying attention to. 

David Devine So energetic. I love it. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, social media wise, I hang out on Instagram more than any other, and that’s just my name as well. 

David Devine Yeah we’re adults we don’t do the TikTok. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, my teenager is on TikTok and I embarrass them, you know, with my TikTok. So I’m there, but I’m not good at it, I’ll warn you. But Instagram is @JenBerlingo. And you can find all of this on jenberlingo.com and it can also take you to my Etsy site where I do custom portraits and oracle cards. 

David Devine Cool. Wait, you do custom Oracle cards? 

Jen Berlingo No. Custom soul essence portraits, I call them. They’re alcohol ink, kind of abstracts, soul images that I do for people. 

David Devine I want to see some of that. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, check it out its on my Etsy. 

David Devine All right. Well, thank you so much for speaking with us today. 

Jen Berlingo Yeah, thanks David. 

David Devine It’s such a beautiful conversation. 

Jen Berlingo You too. Thank you so much. 

David Devine On behalf of the Naropa community, thank you for listening to Mindful U, the official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.