Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life
From the Feburary 2009 Intuitive-Connections Online Magazine
By James Hollis, PH.D
Commentary by Lorrie Kazan
Does your soul seek a larger life than the one you are currently living?
In Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally Really Grow Up, James Hollis expertly depicts, defines and ultimately illuminates the process we live as souls.
Life is always asking us questions, he says. Here are some of the questions he poses at the outset:
1. What has brought you to this place in your journey? This moment in your life?
2. Whose life have you been living?
3. Why, even when things are going well, do things feel not quite right?
4. Why does so much seem a disappointment, a betrayal, a bankruptcy of expectations?
5. Why do you believe you have to hide so much, from others, from yourself?
6. Why does life seem a script written elsewhere, and you barely consulted, if at all?
7. Why have you come to this book, or why has it come to you now?
8. Why does the idea of your soul trouble you, and feel familiar as a long-lost companion?
9. Why is the life you are living too small for the soul’s desire?
10. Why is now the time, if ever it is to happen, for you to answer the summons of the soul,
the invitation to the second, larger life?
If these questions seem pertinent, then odds are you are already engaged in this process.
Psyche, the Greek word for soul, is at the heart of psychology, psychiatry, even psychopharmacology. Yet, Hollis believes that modern psychotherapy often overlooks the soul. Its goal becomes more about helping clients fit in rather than deeply discover who they are and why they are here.
Renowned psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, said, “We all walk around in shoes too small for us.”
In other words, we tend to live lives proscribed for us, based on others’ expectations and fears rather than searching and diving into the disarray and disillusionment the might be required to find one’s true path.
By the time we reach age 35, which Jung would have called midlife, we’re ready to enter into another paradigm. We’ve established our place in the outer world, and now the pull comes from within.
The second half of life offers us – possibly compels us – to worry less about fitting in with the status quo and more about grappling with the yearnings of the soul.
“Soul is the word we use to intimate that deepest intuitive relationship we have had with ourselves from our earliest moments of reflection to the present,” Hollis says.
Soul is also our longing for meaning. In fact, he believes that we have an innate need to feel that we are living a “divinely generated story.”
While he admits the contribution of behaviorists and cognitive therapy techniques, he does not believe that they are a substitute for the deeper conversation that must be encouraged between the conscious and unconscious mind.
He sees the aforementioned techniques as ways of leveling the playing field and fears that if one can be medicated out of their symptoms, they may in fact, avoid the necessary process of a deeper journey.
“Suffering is the first clue that something [within] is soliciting our attention.”
Suffering may look like depression, anxiety, discontent, even betrayal. For Hollis, as with Jungians in general, these symptoms are a summons to “stand in the presence of our own mystery, and become more fully responsible for who we are in this journey we call our life.”
The terror is that it “often asks us to surrender the ego’s agenda of security and emotional reinforcement, in favor of humbling service to the soul’s intent.”
If we ignore this call for introspection and spiritual exploration, we may become physically ill, or perhaps find ourselves flooring the accelerator of a new sports car as we drive past the home where our about-to-be discarded partner resides.
In other words, we can land knee-deep in a midlife crisis, acting out the fantasy of the unlived life. The assumption can be that it’s our youthful façade that brings us meaning.
Read any listing of baby boomer singles ads and you’ll find 50-70-year -olds whose activities would rival someone training for the Olympics. They ride, hike, surf, run, golf. “People say I don’t look my age,” they’ll proudly tell you.
Well, who wants to look old? Here in Los Angeles, especially, old age is eradicated with a scalpel’s precision. We dote on youth and project our desires outside of our selves.
However, depth psychology tells us that the second half of life is the time to question what the psyche wants.
By midlife, most people have done their best to conform to social and societal expectations. Ideally, we’re mature enough to evaluate our place in the world and our desires for the future.
“Virtually all of us lack a deep sense of permission to lead our own lives,” he says. “We learned very early that the world exacted conditions that, if not met, could result in punishment or abandonment.”
We can drown out a deeper, spiritual call by indulging in the outer forms of a midlife crisis…younger spouse, faster cars. Yet there’s still a sense of something missing, some dissatisfaction. Or there’s a betrayal. The betrayal of the body or whatever place that’s been clung to the most.
Hollis says it’s where we’ve placed our greatest projections. Projection is an unconscious process that allows us to overlay our past circumstances onto the present moment.
We do this in order to orient ourselves, and at the same time, this overlay inevitably distorts. Externalizing our inner experiences, often primal issues, allows us to readdress the past. If left unconscious, it doesn’t necessarily give us any freedom in the present.
Hollis asserts that there are two components in every relationship: projection and transference.
We tend to repeat patterns. For instance, the abused child may feel drawn to an abusive partner. Or choose someone perceived as the exact opposite of the early abuser.
Jung said, “No one can see their own backside.” But our lives can and do mirror situations we have not yet mastered. The opportunity is to wake up, take responsibility and become conscious.
Not only are we drawn to people who may embody characteristics that relate to our primal relationships, but we also transfer our history onto them, as they do with us.
Haven’t you ever wondered what drew two unlikely people to each other? Or what attracted you to a situation that in hindsight seems so obviously fraught with disaster?
Projection can work like this: For instance, you see someone across a crowded room, your eyes meet. It’s love at first sight. Three years later you can’t stand the sight of them and you gratefully sign divorce papers.
What changed? What went wrong? Analyst Marie-Louise von Franz says that in relationships we initially enter a phase she calls “love flu.”
You’ve been in it, or you’ve watched your friends suddenly disappear into a relationship with what Hollis calls, “the magical other.”
“You complete me,” Tom Cruise tells Renee Zellweger’s character in Jerry Maguire.
“You had me at hello,” Renee Zellweger’s Dorothy says to reassure him.
He came back, and that was enough. She wasn’t alone.
Hollis says that from childhood we are given a vision of ourselves as small and dependent in a forceful and overbearing world.
In order to create safety, quell anxiety, be loved, we learn to please and accommodate; the practice is begun with Mom and Dad.
Yet, as we age, as we become who we were meant to be, we may find that we don’t agree with all Mom and Dad’s values. We won’t know our true feelings until we actually look within and risk seeing.
Our “task is to ask what the psyche [which Hollis uses interchangeably with soul] wants, not what the parents want, not what the parent complexes want.” We must risk giving ourselves a larger journey.
He speaks of Job’s realization that being compliant did not obligate God to treat him well. He mentions further that betrayal really breaches our hope that the world might be manageable and predictable, and therefore, safe.
Hollis affirms that “Courage is always demanded of those who wish to live a life with some integrity.” Anxiety management is the label he applies to much of our guilt-driven or compliant behavior.
In a perfect world, the family would support the growth and freedom of each of its members and not be used to serve the narcissistic needs of the parents or any other member.
This would certainly give us a foundation that would help support us in the second half of life when there is a true need to live from inner verification rather than employing submissive behavior constructed to adjust to a neurotic culture.
“The soul has no interest in social adaptation,” Hollis affirms.
In the second half of life we experience the overthrow of the ego’s understanding of the world. It’s both the good and bad news to think that “Nothing from the outside can spare the periodic encounters with confusion, disorientation, boredom, depression, disappointment….”
These difficult states are intended to move us toward healing and wholeness. If we are willing to work through it, our suffering can bring wisdom, depth, dignity and ultimately spiritual enlargement.
Clearly the premise is that increased understanding of oneself leads to a richer life, one led consciously rather than by rote.
“Only through making the meaning of that suffering and its agenda for spiritual enlargement conscious can we ever emerge from [Dante’s] dark wood.”
That “dark wood” is our midlife journey through confusion, disappointment, the effects of age. As the myths of old have assured us, the only way out is through. We descend into the darkness of the unknown so that ultimately we may ascend into the light.
We can say that in the second half of life we’re ready. We’ve learned from history, from life experience, and we have a deeper sense of our own emotional resilience.
If we don’t have the courage to do it now, then when? When will the time be better or our perceptions more acute? And as Jung cautioned, What we refuse to examine will come back to us as fate.
Lorrie Kazan was chosen as one of the top psychics in a worldwide audition
for the Edgar Cayce Foundation. Access her free newsletters and articles at www.ilovemypsychic.com