How many of us loose our way in midlife?
Could it be that at this time we feel the tension between the false self we developed to navigate the difficult territory of family and world, in places where our true self was never seen, much less affirmed and the true self within us which so needs to grow, express, flourish and flower for our souls to feel real, vital, alive, energised?
Today I have been crying with resonant tears while reading a chapter in the beautiful book by Jungian psychotherapist, James Hollis, Swamplands of the Soul. This chapter is titled Grief, Loss and Betrayal. He devotes this chapter to the true story of a therapy patient, Devin who was groomed to be the family caretaker and had entered a marriage and a career in which he became imprisoned due to the fact neither he nor his wife were living from the true self but were caught up in two traumatised and damaging family systems.
The midlife journey for Devin involved confronting the fact that he had never really learned to live from or connect to his own deepest true self but from an adapted false self in which he met the needs of others. At midlife he encountered the loss of many things and found himself engaged in a deep depression which was due in a large part to hidden deep grief for loss of connection with the true self within him that needed to live outside of old conditioning.
In one sentence which really resonated, Hollis writes when commenting on a dream Devin has which shows he is emerging from his prison
Devin is able to see what he had not previously seen consciously, that he no longer belong(ed) in that sorry world, making other’s lives work, saving them from themselves.
As someone who has identified with a caretaker role in my own family the story of Devin resonates painful within me leading me to a deeper recognition and some questions.
How much sadness I carried and expressed was not actually my sadness, but was instead the deep sadness of others that I felt I had some task to bring to consciousness, bear witness to, hold in a family where true feelings were buried?
How much more feeling did I have the capacity to feel due to being highly empathetic?
When and why was that capacity for empathy and my attachment to sadness more of an imprisoning curse than a blessing?
Is there a way through which involves deep recognition of such a role, such recognition leading to freedom?
As I look back I am aware that at times my entrapment in that role of family saviour became deathly or was at odds with the need to feel and engage with life, vibrancy, hope, purpose, power, joy, freedom and potential.
That the sadness of others in my family is real, there is no doubt, that the losses and sadnesses I have suffered too are very real. However the emerging feeling I have is that I no longer want to live in this place of endless death and sadness.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of a close friend’s mother. It was a traditional burial with a ceremony at the cemetery where we walked behind the hearse to the graveside and watched the coffin lowered in. I have not been to one of these ceremonies since my father’s death thirty years ago much of that day is murky and buried under years of forgetting and yet I shed tears in memory.
As the coffin was being lowered into the ground I had the thought, that I had, at least symbolically, buried myself deep in the dark at certain point in my life and faced a time of entombment or dark night passage where forces of the dark were all around me.
I buried myself at the old coast house my father built at the onset of my midlife passage as my marriage went into the flames and I could not make the break to happiness out from under the enormous burden of tragedy and sadness that had dogged my late teens and early twenties. It was the beginning of a long dark night, such as Dante talks of in his book The Inferno.
Another writer on the midlife passage, Murray Stein speaks of how at midlife we go through a time of death of burying the corpse of an earlier self which must die in order that we can be reborn for the second part of the journey. Grief is a huge part of this journey but it is a grief that is the necessary compost for the regeneration of new energy which will be liberated in and through our capacity to bear it and through bearing it allow it to work its alchemy on old parts of us that must die off, just as the snake sheds old skin.
We need not deny that we are lost, for a time, that we have lost our vision of our guiding star. We can find the way back to the self that seemed lost if we have the courage to hold ourselves at the centre of the flames that burn to ashes what is no longer helpful to who and what we truly are.
As these recognitions and feelings worked through me today I sat and wrote the following poem.
It is getting late, it is getting late
I can feel the night
Approaching from afar
As I look down
At my ageing hands
Wrapped around a glass
While reading of a soul
Who is lost as I am
An image comes to me
Of a boat tossed
By stormy seas
Searching in vain
For a guiding star
Obscured by clouds
Caught up in the maelstrom
Of my family
I am grieving
For the self
That could not yet
Be fully born
And yet inside me
I feel the twisting and turning
Of the burgeoning life force
That burns with a fury
Born of lack longing desire
Anger sadness tears
Hope love and fear
I see the small child in me
Dancing within the prison walls
Walls held in place
By old ways of being
And of seeking love
That no longer work
Are keeping me caged
I scare myself
With the rage I feel
And yet within it
Is the freedom fire
Of the soul’s liberation
That must be set
To the right task
Of burning up
That which is false
And has outlived its usefulness
This distant intimation of night
Is a warning
And an awakening both
To find through journeying deep
The brightly burning
Which will guide
This lost soul home.
3 thoughts on “The midlife journey : finding our soul’s bright star”
An insightful, very self-aware exploration of your past, present and future. I love the rise and fall of emotion in your writing. You are on such a journey!
A great post. 🙂
Thank you so much Lynette. Really appreciate your comment. ♡♥
Reblogged this on Emerging From The Dark Night and commented:
A post I wrote early on in my blogger journey about the crisis of midlife that I was undergoing and an effort I made to articulate it.