James Hollis, a Jungian Analyst, is one of my favorite authors. He writes about finding meaning in life, particularly the second half of life. His latest book Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey is eloquently thorough on this topic and actually applicable to any phase of life.
He reminds us of the primary obstacles in our way to living a full life, where we feel at peace with who and what we are today, as we aspire to our fuller potential—those primary obstacles being fear and lethargy. And the lethargy is usually covering the underlying fear.
Fear of what will happen if we step out of the familiar lives so deep inside of us—that took shape way back in the early days of our life. We learned then what was acceptable behavior; which parts of our emotional selves were welcome and which parts were not; which expressions of our talents and aspirations were appreciated and cultivated; and which expressions left our loved ones uncomfortable. All that we learned was necessary, or so our psyche determined, in order to be loved and cared for by those whose role it was to do so. Our very survival depended on it.
All of this makes up an unconscious stew that lives in each of us to this day and silently guides our decisions. The unconscious especially guides the decisions that take us into unknown territory, away from our familiar selves. Our familiar selves are who we take ourselves to be and are often based on the young one who is still very much alive and well in our psyches—the one whose needs were or were not met to varying degrees; the young one dominated by others in power, rather than empowered with its own authority.
He speaks of two existential threats to our survival and well-being: overwhelm (feeling powerless in the face of authority, uncertainty, unpredictability, our ultimate death) and abandonment (being left out of the family, tribe, team), which drive us to achieve so as to assure and secure our place.
In order to not settle for a life determined by this unconscious, shadowy psychic part, it falls to us to bring awareness to, and challenge, our choices. To really look at what is informing them and understand from whence they come. Are they based on fears of what might happen to us if we live full out? Are those fears real to who we are today with all our adult capacities, or informed by some old outgrown identity that no longer serves us?
A question he suggests to hold before each decision:
“Does this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”
We have so many more tools these days than the generations before us had:
- New awareness of the value of the journey within, developing a relationship with self for wisdom, insight and understanding through meditation, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, sitting in silence and reflecting.
- New understanding of what makes us tick from professionals like James as well as a plethora of other various therapies.
- Coaches who can help us clarify what we actually want from our lives, which we often have never deeply considered, instead of our adopting what others have told us we should do, be, have. And then support in forming a plan and supporting us in cultivating the courage to challenge our unconscious, rewire and move towards our potential.
- Neuroscientists who have discovered neuroplasticity and with it our potential for rewiring our brain in ways that support our growth and development by consistently reinforcing new growth-enhancing thoughts, creating new synaptic connections.
- Ancient spiritual texts whose wisdom rings true to this day when we study the essence of it with an open heart and mind.
An examined life bears the fruit of a full, juicy existence that uses the limited years we have to the fullest, creating a meaningful life that enriches us and everyone around us.
Don’t spend your days, weeks, years stuck in the middle. Live the full life that you came here to live. Give yourself the support to move beyond what was prescribed, into the calling of your heart and live a full, examined, uniquely meaningful life.