Sunday, October 31, 2010

The "Mess" of Midlife

I read something recently that novelist David Mitchell wrote regarding the midlife crisis:

"The heart gets more interesting than structure. I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife, we’re stuck with each other for a while. And suddenly there’s an understanding that this is what life is — it’s actually the mess, it’s the mud, it’s the tangle. It’s not the clean, hygienic… fireworks. It’s the little invisible novels that get written between two people every day of their lives. It’s the subtle power shifts. It’s the love, it’s the less-noble sentiments that make every single day either good or bad or not so good or wonderful or moving through all these things at the speed of West Cork weather. This is interesting stuff. Why go out there in search of extraterrestrial life when it’s already here?"

I love that last line - "Why go out there... when it's already here?" One of the ways to go astray at midlife is in exactly this manner... to go in search out there for something that is already here. Mr. Mitchell suggests that life is found right in the midst of the mess, mud, and tangle. I could not agree more. In my practice I often hear variations on the theme "I am a mess", or "this is a mess". The implication is that things should be more "in order" or that uncomfortable feelings should not be so out of hand. But really, if we are going to be alive at all, there is no good alternative to simply recognizing the place and value of our mess, regardless of the particular form it may take. If we could just accept that this is the way life unfolds we could at least relax and not expect that we are going to get anywhere of true value on a narrow, straight,orderly, and mess free path. That will also help protect us from going searching for something out there when it may be that what we are really searching for is right under our noses - already here - in the mess of our actual experience.

© Copyright David Aspenson

Friday, October 29, 2010

Midlife Survival Skills

I said yesterday that one of the essential survival skills for the MLC was... "the ability to keep a commitment to both your self and a commitment to those you are in relationship with - even if, or especially when, those needs seem in deep conflict with each other". One of the things that can happen at the midlife juncture is the emergence of what feels like an essential conflict. The perceived conflict is between some important need of the Self and the duties, obligations, and commitments of your life. I was talking with a man recently who had a desire to be very materially successful in his business. At the same time, he firmly believed it was not possible to do that and still honor his commitment to his family. Not surprisingly, he had not yet let himself succeed in his business as to do so would, in his mind, violate his deep commitment to his family. Of course, it would be easy for him to find data to support his belief in this unavoidable conflict. Perhaps his own father sacrificed his place in the family to 'get ahead'. But my client's mission was to discover how to bring down the wall created in his own mind between the needs of self and the needs of the important others in his life. When he holds on to both, and believes it is possible, he will find a way to honor his ambition and his family life.

© Copyright David Aspenson

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Midlife Survival Skills

I have heard it said that if we feel stuck in an any arena of life, it suggests a skill deficit. In other words, if there is something we want to accomplish or overcome and we can't quite get there, it means there are skills we have yet to learn. I like this positive perspective as it so much more productive than imagining we are stuck due to external circumstances or some personal deficit about which we can do nothing.

So what are the skills needed for successfully navigating the notorious midlife crisis? I think they include:

1) The ability to deal with our inner conflicts and competing motivations directly and consciously.

2) The ability to keep a commitment to both your self and a commitment to those you are in relationship with - even if, or especially when, those needs seem in deep conflict with each other.

3) The willingness and ability to entertain all of your private dreams and fantasies WITHOUT prematurely acting upon them as concrete and literal new life directions.

4) The ability to cultivate a certain lightness and appreciation for the absurdities of life.

5) A commitment to working your life out, in some basic way, on your own terms and a willingness to take complete responsibility for your choices and their consequences. e.g. the skill of blaming no one or no thing else for your life just as it is.

6) The skill of tending to your own fire.

These are some of the skills that I believe are required to mine the true potential value of a crisis that comes at midlife and to avoid some of the major pitfalls along the way.

© Copyright David Aspenson

Monday, October 25, 2010

Perturbation at Midlife, Part III

In Part II of the Perturbation of Midlife I said: "For humans however, it seems the process requires some conscious understanding, choice and skill". We were looking at the natural process of destabilization and reorganization as it applies to the developmental issues of midlife. Let's look more closely at 'conscious understanding'. What does that mean in this context? As human beings we can have a wide range of feeling, perception, motivation and conditioned behavior or habits that operate outside of our conscious awareness and control. In fact, we all do. Getting a conscious 'clue' about ourselves and what are really up to is a life long project. The midlife crisis can be a critical time that brings many things into focus of which we were previously unaware. For example, my fear of being alone came to find me at midlife. Meeting such a deep feeling that I had previously kept mostly buried was a challenge. But it was also impossible to be where I wanted to be when that fear was running so much of my 'show' in relationships. Often when working with my own clients at this juncture, they so badly want to be able get their inner life back into the box where it lived previously. But when the box cracks open, there really is no turning back.

© Copyright David Aspenson

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Perturbation at Midlife, Part II

The definition of the verb perturb is to "...throw into great disorder; to derange". The Perturbation of Midlife can be a time where life, as you have know it, is deranged and thrown into great disorder. That disorder can be external, taking the form of major disruptions in the world of relationships and work. You are contemplating leaving a long term relationship, or your partner is contemplating leaving you. Or perhaps you have taken a major economic blow in your career and have no idea what the future might hold. Or conversely, the old order may all still be in place in the external world, but you feel an inner unraveling. It feels as if business as usual is, or is about to be, threatened in a very significant way. The third possibility is that the "derangement" might be full blown and both are true.. you feel an inner unraveling - AND there is already major disruptions in some or all of your major roles in life.

The point of this thread is that the perturbation of midlife is a naturally occurring phenomena. If properly understand and navigated, it can be a positive force which reorders us to a new level of higher functioning - a clearer sense that we are on our own path. We are more here in some significant way. In nature the process happens -well naturally. An acorn does not have a midlife crisis and say: "This acorn thing is not working out for me. I feel I am destined for something much bigger and greater"; or "I really would like to run off one of those seedlings that can float on the air". It simply surrenders to the pressure of the elements, its acorn self becomes completely disassembled and deranged, and a new form , the mighty oak, emerges. For humans however, it seems the process requires some conscious understanding, choice and skill. Otherwise the pressure comes - we experience the chaos - but the new re-organization to a new and higher level does not really take place.

© Copyright David Aspenson

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Perturbation at midlife

One of my teachers * draws heavily upon the work of Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. He applies Prigogine's understanding of unstable systems in the natural world as way to describe the process by which humans grow and change. The basic idea seems to be that nature on all levels is continually disassembling under pressure, but is also subsequently reassembling into a new order. For example, what we know as coal , under great pressure, moves through chaos and reorders as an entirely new form we know as diamond. The pressure itself is know as 'perturbation'. Well midlife can be very perturbing can't it? Maybe it is also a naturally occurring process of chaos,pressure,and reordering. How then do we survive the pressure?
(*Blair Singer, business and organizational consultant)

© Copyright David Aspenson