by Ruth Cherry
Throughout our lives we’ve made commitments — to study while we were in school, to be faithful, loving and supportive in a primary relationship, and to carry our load at work. Many of us have also made commitments in the interior, personal realm — to heal the parts of ourselves that ached.
The commitment that is asked of us now at mid-life surpasses all those commitments. Now we plunge into the depths inside ourselves we hadn’t known existed. Certainly, we’ve not felt this level of intensity in the compelling pull to get to the bottom of all the craziness we’ve tolerated and worked around and compromised with. Now there are no more half measures and no more distractions. The pain doesn’t seem as frightening as the thought that we may die without having lived authentically and fully and passionately. What was acceptable before-a focus on surviving and prospering materially-is no longer enough.
The power of our wish to have more and to be more emboldens us to venture into those scary places inside because nothing is as scary as the thought of wasting our time on this earth, time that becomes more and more precious with each sunset and each new stiffness and each loss of an acquaintance our age to premature death. Our own death suddenly becomes imaginable in a way that has never seemed quite as real as it does now. The profundity of this whole life experience is overwhelming some days. We can’t believe the opportunity we’ve been given to be alive in this beautiful (or tragic) world and we savor each fleeting second. The importance of loving, whether it’s a friend or a pet or a farm or a project, convinces us that commitment from the depth of our being is required and nothing short will suffice.
When we finally commit to living with the minutes and the hours of our lives with presence, we enter a realm from which we don’t return. We move into a wonderland where we see the life spirit in ourselves, in others, and in the circumstances we encounter. The correlation between the outside events and inner world conflicts becomes strikingly apparent and we would not consider shrinking from the challenges to live our lives as Heroes.
A Hero lives with integrity and compassion and with a view of the world as her own family. A Hero says, How can I express the life spirit that flows through me? Each moment becomes an opportunity to experiences that spirit as well as to offer it to the world. There is a transpersonal element to living as a Hero. The concerns about do I like what just happened, am I getting mine, will I profit from this interaction, fade. With an expanded world view and an appreciation of the finiteness of any one particular life, the Hero’s concern is to contribute.
The urgency of “living large” propels us past any fears that have inhibited us in the first part of our lives. The extrovert’s fear of her inner world pales when she considers the implications of living without the experience of profoundly and deeply committing to seeing troublesome relationships all the way through, no matter what the cost to herself. The introvert’s fear of being known in the world dims when she considers leaving this life with no footprints to chronicle her time here. Whatever our challenge, the need to commit to allowing that life spirit in us to heal our wounds and fears and hurts is strong, though not irresistible at mid-life.
Always we have a choice. Life is willing to take us where we are and to work with us but we may refuse. If we decide (unconsciously) to curtail the life spirit by continuing to do what we have always done, if we increase our defenses against the inner tugs and rumblings, then Life gently backs off. We are free to conduct our days as our minds choose, encountering the world as it comes to us and making decisions from our head’s knowledge and good judgment. We can rely on past experience to live respectable lives and be law abiding citizens and fit in. But we will be choosing to close off our Hero. While not being derelict or offensive to anyone, we have not grabbed the ring. It’s our choice.
The thought of not living to the fullest of my ability and potential scares the beejeebers out of me. I don’t want to have regrets after I die. I don’t want to hang out with St. Peter and say, You know, I wish I had tried that, or I’m so sorry I didn’t stand up for my convictions, or I could have taken more risks.
Mid-life is the time for Heroes. And Heroes are those ordinary folks among us who choose to listen to the life spirit within and follow it, even when they don’t know where they are going. The Hero doesn’t concern herself with safety. She needs passion and depth and aliveness. And she realizes that this lifetime and today and this minute are her only opportunities to tell the truth and to be fully alive and to love what is in front of her.
So she does it.
Ruth Cherry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Luis Obispo, CA. Her specialty is midlife when psychological and spiritual dynamics merge. Her web site is midlifepsychology.com.