It turns out that approaching the mid-point in one’s life can be a much more meaningful crossroads than our conventional concepts about “mid-life crisis” tend to reflect.
Being 44 at this time myself, I have to admit that previously, I understood “midlife” to be composed primarily of foolish attempts, made mostly by men, to somehow appear to be more youthful and vibrant than one actually finds oneself to be. In other words, it seemed, until I began my own middle passage of descent and studied ideas surrounding this experience, that midlife moments mostly consisted in exorbitant purchases of fire engine red sports cars or flagrant affairs in which older men sought out the company of much younger women. These things happen, I suppose, yet for the most part I never realized the much more profound questions and experiences that become available to each of us as we age past the first major blooms of our lives. There is much to be gained and understood at this time of one’s life, and this is true for both men and women.
The old Greek tale about Odysseus lost and adventuring at sea following the Trojan war renders many of the themes of what depth poets and psychologists have referred to as “the middle passage”. A beloved warrior and father, this mythic figure finds himself separated from all he knows and holds dear following the abatement of the battle he played a prominent role within. His son and wife await his return at home, yet year after year he remains on his own journey, lost to them as much as to himself.
Of course, there are mythic stories that describe this energy as it occurs for women as well – one could examine the story of Inanna’s descent to the Underworld for example. Silvia Brynton-Pereira wrote a wonderful book called “Descent to the Goddess” about this tale and its meaning, as a matter of fact.
As Joseph Campbell said, myths are like public dreams (and dreams are private myths). On my own quest, and within the journeys of women and men I’ve had the privilege of sharing a view of the middle places with through my practice, dreams have become great guides along the path.
At midlife we may meet an invitation to ask many questions about ones’ (and others!) existence ‘so far’, and equally to ponder what may possibly lie ahead. For most of us, an urgency having to do with the effects and impact of life takes a central place among the myriad concerns of daily movements and responsibilities. It’s as if some deep force within rises up and says, “Is this really who you think you are and what you came here to do and be?”
Dreams during this time (as well as before and after) , raise images and scenarios that point towards much deeper and more expansive forms of meaning and purpose in our lives than what we’ve grown accustomed to. On the one hand, our nightly adventures may be seen to illustrate how our outer lives have become like shoes that are too small for our feet. On the other, the dreaming energies pose deep queries to our conscious, waking minds and hearts about who and how we are and can be on the vital and interior levels of our souls, as well as in the world.
The wise and often puzzling narratives of experience that come to us while we’re asleep have the ability to inform us of who we are – now – and who we are being asked to become. Often, if not always, on many levels, the dreams are capable of showing us ways that we may seek to continue to learn about and expand upon our previously built-up notions surrounding existence. The dreams pose situations and scenarios that pertain to our place of (supposed, imagined and likely) importance and belonging in the world, as well as the very energies that we require in order to find soul and spirit.
The honesty and accuracy which dreams use and evoke to get to the heart of the matter is not accessible to us in any other fashion; at least not with the creative and deep voice that the dreams lovingly and artfully render in our psyches while we sleep.
Working with dreams at midlife affords us unique windows onto vast panoramas of unexpected and widened possibilities about how we can truly focus on our purpose and offer our unique gifts before our days are done here. In sharing dreams with others, we open ourselves to insights that we may be overlooking while seeking to work with inner material on our own.
Many of the folks I work with find themselves at the crossroads where the first portion of their life intersects with the second half. The dreams reliably offer a wealth of insight as to how to navigate the often stormy waters of the move from the first, into the second half of life. By looking at, seeking to understnad and receiving dreams, we open ourselves to the vast wisdom of our very own deeper natures. In this way we can co-create a profound sense of guidance for and towards traveling the unknown byways of our unfolding days and nights.
For myself, one of the outcomes of working with my dreams at midlife has been to re-devote myself to a previously explored path of vocation and to commit to a lifelong offering of helping myself and others continue to learn how to learn through working with dreams.
(In the next installment on this topic, we’ll briefly explore the reshaping of personal identity as it tends to show up in midlife dreams)