Posts Tagged ‘midlife’

Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 3

April 8, 2013

By the time we’re in midlife, if we’re lucky, we’re so exhausted with maintaining the persona that we want to find our way back home. And back home is to that body we thought was dead, but isn’t.

I’m not simply speaking about all of this from the standpoint of observer. This is not just intellectualization. I have experience with it from the inside out. I had my own version of a dysfunctional childhood. I was a good student because, at least in part, “being smart” was a very helpful persona component. I created such a good persona that my own family didn’t know just how bad my first marriage was until I left it—ten and a half years into it. My persona attracted friends and male companions. My personal defenses against abuse, abandonment, poverty, fear of incompetence, and the suspicion that I would be found seriously lacking if I wasn’t perfect contributed to my achieving some useful things, like a couple of swell degrees and some business success. But they also made me a little brittle and a little less than consistently fun to be with for friends, lovers, and those supervised by me. Among other things, I could be moody, insecure, and a demanding boss.

I began my journey home—my journey back to myself—at an age when some people are still running down the road away from the dead body. Still, it took years to get as far away from myself as I was, and it has taken years to make my way back to myself. I’ve often speculated that we spend the first half of our lives becoming dysfunctional and, if we’re paying attention, we spend the second half of our lives undoing that dysfunction.

The admonition to not leave the old road for a new one is, as I have come to understand it, a wise bit of guidance to find your way back to yourself by facing, clearing, and healing everything within that is dysfunctional and inauthentic. That means stripping the persona down, dismantling the inappropriate boundaries, and rediscovering who you are at your core.

But what would leaving the old road for a new one be like? It would be an attempt to recreate yourself (often at midlife) by dismissing the ways in which you have made yourself up to this point—more or less trying to sail right over them—and simply trying to walk a more functional path without a backward glance at the path you spent all those years traveling down.

It’s temping, to be sure, and it’s what we think about when we speak of “starting fresh” or “starting over.” But according to my friend Jorge Luis Delgado, Peruvian chacaruna (“bridge person”—essentially, shaman), the Inca view the future as behind them, not in front of them. Why? For at least a couple of reasons, actually. First, we humans have eyes that face forward. We can see what is in front of us, but not what is behind us. And since we cannot see the future, it can be considered behind us. But perhaps more important, the future will be our past if we become enmeshed in our past, disdain our past, or otherwise refuse to accept and deal with it. And that is why we should not leave the old road for a new one.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

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Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 2

March 20, 2013

Life gives us plenty of reasons to flee. Mostly, we flee from ourselves. Almost everyone has one version or another of a dysfunctional childhood. If they don’t, they make up for lost time as young adults. It isn’t just that we flee an understanding of our own capacity for evil, or small-mindedness, or our baser instincts. Our lives chip away at us and by the time we’re adults, most of us have devised some pretty effective strategies for protecting ourselves and managing our way through life. We put boundaries in place—a functional and necessary thing, but some of the boundaries are not simply between “I and thou,” they are between “me and me.” That is, we work hard to create a persona and we often forget that the persona is not the real thing. It is not us.

We don’t just work hard at creating the persona, we work hard at maintaining it. There is a certain amount of presenting ourselves in the best possible way that comes with that, a certain amount of being just a bit less than honest with others—and with ourselves. We build lifestyles to support our personas. We build defenses—against being abused again, against being abandoned again, against being taken for granted again, and most important, against being “found out.” If we’re not careful, we don’t just defend against perceived threat, we become all too ready to attack, often in subtle ways we don’t even recognize.

But one of the most sacred—not to mention useful—things about being human is that who we really are is always still in there. As Buckaroo Banzai and many others have said, no matter where you go, there you are. The “you” in “there you are” isn’t just the persona. Who you are may be buried beneath the persona, but it’s there. You carry it with you on the journey.

In many ways, we are all like that shopkeeper. We all flee the dead body on the threshold. That dead body is, after all, us. Except that it is not really dead. God knows, it may feel like who we started out as when we slid down the chute into this life is long gone by the time we’re twenty or thirty, but it’s still alive and well within. It may feel dead and we may even wish it were dead because owning up to the human part of being a human being is not something most of us are thrilled to do. We’re afraid the body will be found. That is, we’re afraid we’ll be discovered for being exactly who we are. So we flee.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 1

March 12, 2013

Some stories stay with you for a long time, having their way with you, becoming integrated within you as you become more integrated within yourself. “Solomon’s Advice” has been one such story for me.

I first read this story in David Whyte’s wonderful book The Heart Aroused. He’d heard it from Angeles Arien, who got it from Allan B. Chinen’s book, Once Upon a Midlife, who may have gotten it from Italo Calvino. The story can, in fact, be found in Calvino’s book Italian Folktales. Clearly, this story has made the rounds.

I’ll let you track down the full story for yourself and give you a very abbreviated version because it is one part of the story that has been opening within me for a time. As the story goes, there is a shopkeeper with a wife and sons. One morning he finds a dead body lying across the threshold of his shop. Afraid he will be accused of the murder, he flees.

Yes. He abandons his family and flees.

Miles from home, he takes work as servant to a wise man by the name of Solomon and works for this man for many years. Ultimately, he decides to return home. Solomon gives him three pieces of advice before he leaves. He charges his faithful servant handily for the advice, too. The first piece of advice is this: Don’t leave the old road for a new one. As annoyed as the servant is about paying for such a simpleminded piece of advice, he does use it. And he saves his own life in the process.

Chinen has an opinion about what this bit of advice means within the context of midlife. So does Whyte. I wasn’t quite satisfied with either—though that might simply be my lack of scholarly attendance to what they had to say. But the notion stayed with me for many years. What did it really mean to not leave the old road for a new one?

Yes, yes. Plenty of people have midlife crises and go off in new directions to their detriment. I didn’t think that part of the story was a symbolic admonition to stick with tradition, or the known, or what society thinks we should do. And anyway, many other people in midlife leave the old road and blaze new trails to their betterment. There was something more there.

Then, in that early morning state of intuitive understanding we all sometimes have before we’re fully awake, a sense of its relevancy to me dropped right into my consciousness, more or less fully formed. It was simple. It fit so completely with the work I do as a shaman. It made sense within the context of my own life. And this is how I came to understand it.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall