Part I: Introduction - The Two Phases of Life
“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning.”
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
The Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology
As human beings, we have to travel through two phases of life. In the first half, we learn to survive in the world based on what others expect of us, and so, most of us “sleepwalk” through life, prisoners of our subconscious conditioning or pre-programming. In the second half, we break through this conditioning, “awaken,” and learn to see the world anew with wisdom. We regain our personal authority and autonomy and begin to live a creative life of our own making.
The transition between the two halves is neither automatic nor age-related meaning, just because we are in the first half of life doesn’t mean that we will automatically enter our second half journey. The crossover point also has nothing to do with our age—it’s not chronological, nor does it depend on how much knowledge we have accumulated. Many young people are already in the second half of their lives, while many older adults are still stuck in the first half and haven’t had the opportunity to “awaken” and explore their second half journeys yet.
One of the key indications that we are still in the first half of life is whatever we do, and however busy we keep ourselves, we just can’t seem to quiet or get rid of the feeling of discontent, loneliness, emptiness, or something missing—a creeping restlessness, that has been with us throughout most of our lives.
Many people have pointed to the movie, The Intern, where Robert De Niro’s character becomes an intern at 70 to the founder of a fashion website played by Anne Hathaway, as a great example of inter-generational connectivity—and it is. More importantly (and most people miss this), the movie calls attention to this feeling of emptiness and what we usually do to placate the anxiety.
It is at the beginning of the movie when Robert De Niro’s character says, “time on my hands, retirement, a relentless search to be creative, nowhere-to-be-thing hit me like a ton of bricks. The key was to keep moving. Get up, get out of the house and be somewhere…anywhere. Believe me; I tried everything. I know there is a hole in my life, and I need to fill it soon. I need challenge, excitement.”
Another few years of “challenge, excitement or a relentless search to be creative” for De Niro’s character or, for that matter, anyone else who feels this underlying anxiety, will not fill this “hole.” The emptiness he speaks of cannot be filled by being busy. Deep inside us, in our very bones, we know we are more than the life we are leading. It is the superficiality of everything we are doing in life that is causing this discontentment…this restlessness.
Many people wrongly assume that this feeling of emptiness comes with old age. In reality, we have been lonely for most of our lives (irrespective of who one is). As actor William Shatner told Tom Power from CBC Radio’s Q in a recent interview just before his 90th birthday, “Is there someone or something when we get old that voids the loneliness that we all feel? To me, loneliness has been a factor ever since I was conscious and going to school in Montreal and being alone. Loneliness is a huge factor in my life… getting older is terrifying.”
In our younger days, we were able to sweep this feeling under the rug and not think about it by keeping ourselves busy with our education, work, and other responsibilities. As we age, we slow down and have difficulty being busy all the time—that is when most of us come face to face with this feeling of loneliness. And, yes, it can be terrifying. The reason is, we have forgotten who we are, and this forgetting is the cause of the basic anxiety we carry around with us. What I call the anxiety gap, the gap between who we think we are (our ego consciousness) and who we are (our true or authentic self), creates tension and the feeling of discontentment and the underlying anxiety we all experience.
The Anxiety Gap
The Anxiety Gap is the gap between who we think we are and who we actually are.
The level of anxiety we feel is directly related to how far away from the centre, our inner essence, we have drifted. Then we observe the world through the wall of conditioning and the distorted reality we have created through our perception of what is. This moving away from the centre is the foundation on which stress or suffering of the first half of life is built. The only solution is self-transformation, not an incremental change or a change in our external circumstances, as many people assume. It is the transformation of our consciousness, a reconnection with our authentic self—an awakening, and that is the story of the second half of life.
The following post is Part I in a four-part series that touches on The Secret of Aging with Grace and Wisdom. For more information on what you can expect for this series, take a look below.
Part II: How We Life Today – The First Half of Life will be available next week and will explore how we live today and the three forces that guide us: Instincts, Conditioning and Creativity.