The capacity for growth depends on one’s ability to internalize and to take personal responsibility.
If we forever see our life as a problem caused by others,
a problem to be ‘solved,’
then no change will occur.
James Hollis, The Middle Passage
The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning;
only its meaning and purpose are different.
C. G . Jung
The first of the leaves are starting to change colour here in Ireland, announcing the immanent arrival of a change in the seasons. So, a short reflection on the different rhythms and periods in our lives. Nikos Kazanzakis once told of a talk he had with an old monk about the changes that happen in life. He asked him “Do you still struggle with the devil?” “Oh, no,” the old man replied, “I used to struggle with him, when I was young, but now I’ve grown old and tired and the devil has grown old and tired with me. We leave each other alone!” “So it’s easy for you now?” asked the young Kazantzakis. “Oh no,” replied the old man, “it’s worse, far worse! Now I wrestle with God!”
The Old Testament story of Jacob wrestling with God all night long is in the background here. What the monk suggests is that there are different challenges or tasks at different times in our lives, and that struggles can mean growth and are not necessarily a sign of problems. In the early part of our life the main task is to develop the ego sufficiently to leave ones parents and establish oneself in the world. There is a certain, necessary, focus on establishing a career, independence and relationship, with a paradigm of succeeding. So one can be driven by the strong forces of ambition and the need for achievement, position and a recognized role.
The task in the second part of life is quite different. The struggles can be can be other than what we had to face earlier on. The drive for success which marked the first years has achieved all it can or has not delivered the fulfillment it promises. The underlying needs of the Self begin to assert themselves. What I notice most in working with clients is that a new paradigm is needed. A deeper struggle – this time largely inside the person – takes place, often to fill in the missing pieces of the personality, neglected up to now. The challenge is to become more honest and more whole, to free what was blocked and live life most fully. We have to wrestle, sometimes with a crisis, defeat, disappointment or loss, in order to leave behind patterns or strategies that are no longer effective and will no longer bring us growth.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament …
Whoever was beaten by this angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater things.
Rilke, The Man Watching
Yesterday was a long rainy day here in Ireland and a sense of autumn approaching has settled into the days. So I will post for the next few days some reflections on maturing and deepening, and the meaning of fruitfulness in life, as opposed to just indicators of “success”.
The central paradox of our current feel-good culture is that we grow progressively more and more uncertain and less and less persuaded that our lives really mean something. Feeling good is a poor measure of a life, but living meaningfully is a good one, for then we are living a developmental rather than regressive agenda. We never get it all worked out anyway. Life is ragged, and truth is still more raggedy. The ego will do whatever it can to make itself more comfortable; but the soul is about wholeness, and this fact makes the ego even more uncomfortable. Wholeness is not about comfort, or goodness, or consensus — it means drinking this brief, unique, deeply rooted vintage to its dregs.
James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of LIfe
To ask, what is your story? is to be obliged to ask what are your stories, for we are no single narrative. What is humbling is the acknowledgment through age, repetition and the growth of consciousness that we have less autonomy in the construction of our lives than we had fantasized. In the end, the chief result of a long-term analysis is not a solution to our dilemma, for life is not a problem, but a progressive unfolding of mystery. The joyful discovery is that our lives become more interesting to us as we discern that we are part of a larger mystery. This is a proper relocation of the ego from its imperial fantasy to its unique, personal place. We become amazed witnesses of the great theater wherein we play our part, and are reminded of the progressive incarnation which occurs in even the most modest of moments.
James Hollis, Mythologems.
Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique. It is the duty of every person…to know and consider…that there has never been anyone like him in the world, for if there had been someone like him, there would have been no need for him to be in the world. Every single person is a new thing in the world and is called upon to fulfill his particularity in this world. Every person’s foremost task is the actualization of his unique, unprecedented and never-recurring potentialities, and not the repetition of something that another, be it even the greatest, has already achieved.