The Psychology and Spirituality of Midlife

For Module 1 of Erena’s Pathwork Graduate Program at Sevenoaks (Sacred Dimensions of the Pathwork, Series 2) we have been assigned six Pathwork lectures, including Pathwork Lecture 104 – Intellect and Will as Tools or Hindrances of Self-Realization. Last week I really got into this lecture 104 – wrote it up in an “expanded” version that allows me to take in short phrases and words in a more profound way. I love doing this. The words so inspire and enliven me at a core level.  Also, I developed a diagram that helps me organize the concepts and points of the lecture in a way that helps me understand the main points of the lecture. Yes, my Life Force energies are engaged! (At the end of this blog entry I have a link to what I prepared here – but first I invite you to read on)

For me this lecture nails the issue of facing the several midlife crises we seem to go through during a lifetime on this earth. Jungians speak of the first and second halves of life.  In their model, in the first half of life we build our ego and establish ourselves and our identities in our culture – family, career, religion, organizational life, financial security, and the like. It often includes individuation from the roots of our family and culture of origin as we find our own identity in the culture and families we choose for ourselves.

But at midlife – which could be any time from age 35 on (the more “successful” we have been in life, the later it seems to come, and with a larger “crash” or sense of crisis) – we look back and realize that we are not all that happy. We have achieved much of the “success” and “security” we envisioned for ourselves (consciously or unconsciously), yet we have that “is this all there is” feeling. In Jungian terms, we are entering the second half of life. Joseph Campbell described this process as climbing the ladder of success [in the first half of life] only to find that our ladder was against the wrong wall. The joy and satisfaction that we have experienced thus far in life just seems to be evaporating, and some of us begin seeking other ways to rekindle the joy we had earlier in our life. We enter midlife.

For some this can be the new car, the new spouse, or whatever. For me it was a combination. Yes it included major changes in my family, church, and career – a “leaving it all behind” move on my part, but mostly it included finding a new primary relationship and new spiritual path.

But there was a problem – and this is the normal problem we all seem to face entering midlife and addressing the issues that arise there.  I pursued this new primary relationship and this new spiritual path in an old way – using my familiar life-coping tools of intellect and will. I took my primary relationship and my spiritual path on as “projects,” much like any other project I had taken on in my life up until age 50. On these new projects, exciting as they promised to be, I would, of course, use my intellect and will, the only tools I had in my tool kit of life.

However, use of the old tools in the old way got out of control organizationally speaking. I got head-over-heals into many things, and in the end much too involved, especially in the Pathwork organizations in which I was holding considerable repsonsibility. The only difference between my supposedly “new” “enlightened” life and my old life was that now I was busy with a thousand and one things related to Pathwork and my new relationship with Pat rather than a thousand and one things related to SDRC (my career home), my wife and family, St. Paul Church (my religious home), and numerous other activities, hobbies and organizations that occupied 120% of my life up until age 50 or so.

As I took on Pathwork Lecture 104 the lecture helps me in this. It shows how I was caught in using my intellect and will in areas and in ways that my intellect and will could no longer help me move forward in life. In fact, I was using my intellect and will in ways that hindered my spiritual growth rather than in ways that my intellect and will could serve as tools for spiritual growth. According to this lecture, the idea is not to get rid of intellect and will but rather to use them in totally new ways. Intellect and will are still required, maybe even more so than in the first half of life, but not in the ways that served me my first fifty years!

If I go back to the Joseph Campbell metaphor of experiencing my ladder of success being up against the wrong wall, I would express the metaphor differently.  I would say that the true midlife crises that lead us into our second stage of life, that is, into our spiritual life, cause us to realize that our problem is not that our ladder of success has been against the wrong wall but rather that we are climbing ladders when we should be digging wells – wells that connect us to the underground stream of Universal Consciousness, the One Life!

How do we use our intellect and will in a new way, a well-digging way? This lecture says that we do it by using our intellect not to “progress” upward in life, climbing the ladder of more success in more areas of life, here spiritual areas of our life, but rather to use our intellect and will 1) to see ourselves as we really are, 2) to accept ourselves as we really are (limited by  being merely and utterly human), and 3) to understand why we are the way we are. This is using intellect and will for the purpose of self-understanding. It is using the intellect and will in a totally new way.

And what happens? While our intellect and will are busy doing these new tasks, quite surprisingly and spontaneously, behind our back it seems, transformation happens as if by itself! Our intellect is bemused in a way. The transformation that comes about does so by indirect rather than direct use of our intellect and will. This experience is new to us. Yes, we had intentions, even strong and committed intentions, to see ourselves as we really are, but we did not have specific goals or expectations to be somewhere other than where we were, goals, say, to “awaken” or to come to some “deeper consciousness” or whatever else our intellects and wills could have taken on as “spiritual” goals (an oxymoron, actually — “spiritual” “goals”). Earlier in our lives we made it a point to have a goal in mind, and, this lecture would say, that was good and required for life in the material world. But now the intentions are spiritual in nature, and as such are cloaked in Mystery. Dare I proceed into this Mystery with no goal in mind? This “no-goal” territory is new territory for the intellect and will!

BUT, on the other hand, dare I not proceed into this Mystery that Life is? The lecture points out three things that motivate us to move forward through our midlife crises and into the Mystery of some as yet unfamiliar “awakened” state: 1) We find that while we should be happy from our successes heretofore, we are not; 2) We have heard from spiritual teachers, philosophies, and other religions that there is more to life – and we want to investigate and experience that “more;” and 3) Our deepest Soul is urging us forward. This latter motivator is likely dominating our movement forward!

All of this excites me. If you think you could possibly be in a midlife crisis situation (and remember we are not usually conscious of this state – rather just somehow uneasy with life as it is in us), I invite you to spend time with this Pathwork Lecture 104 and the diagram that I prepared. Read it slowly. Let the words flow into your heart, not just your mind (open this interpretation of Pathwork Lecture 104).

Epilogue: Is it possible that organizations, even spiritual organizations, even Pathwork organizations , even our own Mid-Atlantic Pathwork organization could be going through one or more midlife crises? I find this idea exciting as well. What would it look like to use the tools of intellect and will for self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-understanding of why things are the way they are rather than to use intellect and will in the familiar ways as a means  to achieve goals and meet expectations and visions? How might we be surprised by what gets birthed out of Mystery as if by a miracle?

Shared in love, Gary