Mid-Life Psychology

 

In our 20's and 30's we worked to develop competence in the world. We wanted to establish a place for ourselves and to prove our worth. We earned degrees, created and organized a home, and developed an identity around our roles. We were what we did. Our inner worlds may have been a bit fuzzy and incomprehensible but we focused on polishing our outer world facades and that was sufficient.

But now in our 40's and 50's, it's no longer enough. We have achieved some measure of success but, strangely, we're dissatisfied and we can't explain why. Nothing is wrong exactly, but nothing is quite right enough. We must have MORE and we must have it NOW. First we repaint the house. Then we buy that red sports car we've wanted for three decades. We may even quit our jobs and sail around the world. But something is gnawing at our souls and no matter what we "do" we can't assuage the restlessness.

Very slowly it dawns on us that it isn't a matter of "doing" at all. It's time to "be" in a different way and we can't willfully manufacture that. Then the enormity of this shift hits us and we realize that we're not "in control" of anything any longer. We worked so hard in the first part of our lives to be "in control"-- to push away those niggling doubts that we weren't quite up to snuff, that we harbored some despicable vulnerability, and that not only did we not want to be known in all our nakedness, we didn't even want to look at what lived inside us.

By our mid to late 40's we're way past choosing what we do or don't want. The decision is out of our hands. Life has confronted us with the truth about who we truly are in the depths of our hearts. And it's not pretty. We are not what other people see and we are not who we want to believe we are. Those demons that have been living in the shadows inside roar and demand that we acknowledge them now. We must feel the hurt from the childhood loneliness which we've pushed away with our life-of-the-party act. We can't escape the anger that still smolders. That seemingly bottomless pit of need and want waits for us and will not be covered over. Now is the time and our inner world is the place. Healing is finally possible.

When we sit with those feelings which were terrifying fifteen years ago, we notice that they are not as large as we had thought and not as long lasting and not as hardy as we are. In all these years we have developed a maturity and a strength of character that allows us to confront our demons. And when we do we see that in reality they are children--babies who need to be nurtured, toddlers who want to be encouraged, and adolescents who deserve to be heard. We have made monsters out of our childhood wants and fears by ignoring them! But now in mid-life we can allow them to heal by seeing them, listening to their wants, and holding them while they cry. We will not be destroyed by these feelings now after we have cultivated our personal reserves of maturity and patience and trust. Now we can surrender to the Life process.

Surrender is the key mid-life term. Through surrender--feeling whatever feelings come and accepting whatever situations arise--we find resolution. Our lifelong conflicts seem to melt away as we release our resistance. The crippling self doubt (and perhaps self hatred) loses its force. We are not kids any longer looking up to a bigger world. We are on top of our lives and not because of our efforts but because we have relinquished efforting.
The surrender we experience in mid-life opens us to partnership. We don't have to be religious or think of ourselves as mystical beings. This process of integration that occurs (without our conscious assent) is a basically spiritual one. We reunite with parts of ourselves we have distrusted or feared and disowned and through this integration we find peace. We realize a creativity and an aliveness that we have not before known. We see opportunities that had been hidden when we relied upon our logic and suddenly we sense a loosening of limits.

This process of integration happens only through surrender and only at mid-life. From that point on, this partnership with the larger whole, which we have established through listening to our inner worlds, guides our days. We are not alone. The oneness we experience inside is reflected by the oneness we experience with the world.

And all this magic happens during mid-life.

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