aging and transformation : mid-life crisis : learning to be
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
There is a shift which occurs in life, a transition from the 'heading-out' stage, to the 'return' stage. I say that we begin the heading-out part of our separate journeys the moment we are born, as each of us sends ourselves out into the world of experience and challenge, building up a repertoire of acquaintances, characters, and other spirits which we meet along the way; and then we begin to 'return' when we stop venturing out into the world for learning and stimulus, and instead turn inward so as to process and debrief ourselves on what we found in the heading-out period. The latter stage is one of sorting and sifting through all the characters and experiences which we have assimilated into our souls during the former stage, bringing some of these aspects to the fore, while subordinating and rejecting others, as each of us attempts to find the perfect assortment and combination necessary to be whole, all the while slowly sailing back to the source of our origin, thus completing our life's journey.
I assume most people enter into the return phase around mid-life, which is why a crisis occurs for many at this time- because the soul is beginning to look the other way, towards home, and is tired of all the struggles and foreign adventures in the manifest. This shakes a person up who has come to identify themselves as the one who is heading-out, and who may have forgotten the place from whence they set off.
It seems to me that I turned around pretty early in life, at about twenty-seven years of age, for whatever reason I am not sure. I know that life in society and the goals it projects began to grow pale within me, and then went out completely, and all I was left with was a floundering ship, seemingly piloted by an invisible helmsman on an incredibly circuitous course home. I could say, in fact, that my whole life has been nothing but a journey home, only I had no idea where that might be, I merely knew that I had not found it amongst men.
In fact, trying to find a place in the world where I would belong was like trying to eat through my rectum, and shit through my mouth. And though the world had invented suppositories and emetics, these placebos led only to self-sodomy or ineffective purge.
When I ate of the world, I neither ingested, nor digested, I bled. I bled from the bosh and distractions of the day. My belly was full of society's poisons, and yet a great hunger still swallowed me whole.
The more the world disappointed me, or perhaps the more I disappointed the world, the more I retreated into myself. I sort of fell backwards for lack of trying to stand in the slight breeze.
People say that I became old too soon, that I surrendered too early, but that is the view of those accepting a world in which men tear each other to pieces for scraps. I simply stopped caring, and turned away.
By the time I was thirty years old and living in India, I felt like an eighty-five year old man, sitting on his porch, staring off to nowhere, having lost all aspirations to take part in the world.
I guess I fell away from it all too easily, lost my grip or something. What happened, I suppose, is that I could see how everything made by mankind was corruptible, that it was all in a state of chronic crumbling, and it was only through mankind's frantic efforts that things appeared to be well-ordered and in a state of homeostasis, but if you took away society's exhaustive labors for even a single day, the whole unsupported edifice would begin to tumble. And, as I saw it, nothing humans had produced was worth serving nor maintaining, and I was not willing to assist in the demented efforts to uplift and keep replacing the cards as they continued to fall from the house. I preferred to see it crumble. I preferred destruction. I preferred to see the orderly and yet intensely precarious structure fall into ruin, and see then what my fellow humans really were made of.
The shift, though, was an arduous one for me, as I slowly tacked and turned in the quiescent doldrums. At times I thought perhaps that I was missing something important- some vision, or passion, or trait which would have attached me to life and brought more excitement and vigor into my daily affairs. And yet, in a way, it was my distaste for the constructs of mankind that was itself the seed of a more integral, worldly interest. I say worldly, because with nothing created by mankind left to fall back upon, I was quickly alerted to the only things that remained- the earth, and the heavens. And so, in the act of distilling out the dross from the ore, so to speak, I was left with naught but the ingredients necessary to complete the alchemical stew: The earth, the heavens, and …me.
As such, during the shift, I instinctively fell into a moratorium from all concept and care. I lived on no truths for a time, mentally starving the world out of me; I fasted from 'what is', and was nourished on the wholesome fat of ignorance. I devoured the hunger in me, hungering without respite, until that hunger gnawed itself away. I was not satisfied, but I no longer hungered, for I had disentangled the heart from its losses, the mind from its news, and had unwound my somebodiness into no one.
Oh, many times after the shift began I longed again for life, for even a false meaning to return me to the tangible confusion I left for the intangible confusion I now could not leave; how I wished again to taste the world. But I was already gone. I did not stay. I left that place, unfollowing the path without direction, for I had said goodbye, and turned and walked away from everything. Everything. And when I looked back, searching for the 'me' that I had been, there was nothing left except a life that was no longer mine, passing away before my eyes; I was drowning in mystery. I had looked too far, and finally had no image of myself nor of being.
It was a bizarre, unthinkable, disturbing place that I had gotten to, but I didn't go back, for I realized quickly that the only thing I longingly gravitated toward was the innocent wondering of our unknowable Creator; to sit and stare at nothing and infinity, that was all I wanted. The freedom to slow down, to stop, to exalt; I loved life too much to be busy.
And so I realized that loneliness was the only power I had over the world, and to be lost was the closest thing I could find to freedom, for everything else was a trap, because in the end, there was no solution except to tough it out. To sit with it, to feel it, to accept it, and to throw up my arms once again in agony, resignation, and hallelujah.
It was only in such ghostly solitude, only when I was alone, only when I was lonely, conceptually lonely, that I could dispute the dubious finitude that was myself. It was there, as the mystery engulfed itself in a breathless utopia of intimate strangeness that the tickling communion of grace would trickle down through my innocent nothingness. The methodology was easy- I simply forgot what I was told to remember.
And this …this was the death I came to die. For truly it is a death to lose all need for the world; to do nothing, to think nothing, to be nothing. Yet a single moment of honest apathy is worth a thousand years of reckless striving.
Thus, as if the verdant and bloody field of Kurukshetra itself were laid out beneath me, I fought the world without fighting and did battle without battling, simply by holding firmly onto apathy- my aegis ...my shield against the tolerable. Which is to say: a miraculous privilege happened to me one day‑ boredom; I had tasted life, and found it bitter.
And so I came eventually to the point where I had narrowed my focus away from the world; I had closed my eyes and yet kept moving until the only thing I could sense was myself stumbling blindly. And though all around me was a boisterous crowd, excited and chattering, and heading the other way, I did not run to view what caused exuberance in the masses. I kept on going towards where I happily ...had no idea.
I did not so much as even look in the direction of the bold, glorious norm, but struck out instead within myself, and haunted down lost passageways, makeshift as if all my own. As if to solemnly stare through infinity, onto this glazed incongruous known, was now mine, and mine alone.
I neither acquiesced, nor adhered to the fake conclusions driven hard upon us all by the godless hordes about. I was in the war, but I was no warrior, only an indifferent soldier gone AWOL in the glorious night; I was fugitive from both sides of the fight, caught in the soul's no-man's land, like a sacrifice the spoiled Gods refused to take.
And yet I still took part in everything. I went everywhere, thought every thought, loved every love, and suffered every pain, like all the rest, but none of it was mine- I did not belong and that is why I belonged. So you see where I was at then.
It was a strange concoction of merriment and writhing, in which the joy of life made the hurt that much more painful. The more I fled the thorns, the more I got pricked. The more I tried to grab the roses, the more I got pricked. The thicket grew around and through me. The more I ate, the more I breathed, the more I thought, hoped, attempted, or cursed, the more I got pricked. Still I fought hard against the crime of our earthly destinies.
At one point in my life, while I was back in North America, and experiencing a similar estrangement from all that is, I was compelled to head out one cold and miserable February day from Vancouver, towards my haven on the coast- Flores Island. It took me two full days of hitchhiking and bussing to finally make it to the little hamlet of Tofino where I caught a Native-operated water-taxi out to the island. Upon arriving, just as the sun was going down, I began a two-hour hike to the far, wave-beaten west coast, and the destination of my pilgrimage.
I remember the darkness and mist falling upon me as I slogged onward and entered the last part of the trail leading to a secluded beach where few others ever came, and so it remained a natural bastion of isolation and purity. And I remember that only a few hundred metres into the bush my flashlight went dead. And I remember at first stumbling about trying to refind the trail, and not being able to find it, and then spinning around thinking I could hear the ocean, and following the sound, then realizing it was only the wind in the trees, which meant I had been flailing in an unknown direction, and then I began stumbling through marsh and swamp, and climbing over endless deadfall and through ferns and salal, and imagining what a torturous night it was going to be in this wet and freezing west-coast jungle. And I remember finally coming to a stand-still from lostness and exhaustion, and leaning against a great tree, and looking up to the heavens, and uttering the words I suppose I was meant to utter from the outset of my journey- "OK, OK, you've got me now." And I gave up. And I remember how in the moment of that acceptance and surrender I was as if wiped clean, as if the prodigal part of me had been returned again to the home of my beginnings, and I was reunited with the source again, and suddenly without thinking or questioning, or wondering about direction or distance, I started off going again, with a newfound determination through the undergrowth, for I had returned to the spirit by giving up the ghost. And I remember finally making it through to the edge of the forest, and stepping out onto a darkened beach, and realizing that I had come out just a few feet away from where I had intended to end up, and despite my frantic confusion I had been guided through it all along, and all I had needed to do was surrender and allow it to be so. And I remember the cheers of gratitude and relief that leapt out of my mouth right then, flying off into the empty night for no one to hear but the trees, the ocean, my God and me.
And then I remember arising early the next morning, and feeling that I had still some fight and unpeace left within me, and in the damp and bite of the west-coast winter I set off down the massive beach, as I had done in this very place so many times before, walking up and down to beat the taint and thickness out of me. And somewhere along the middle of the day I remember turning to face the ocean, and in the empty, capitulative openness which comes from such solipsistic mortifications, throwing up my arms and asking why I had needed to come all the way out here, again, why had I to face the loneliness and discomfort again, why I had been told- "Get ye to the sea my son", again. And I remember how obvious and easily the answer wafted through my mind; a simple answer, one that a child could have told me, but an answer I would not have understood until I had been whipped and frozen by the world, had lain down and been lifted up and lain down again because I could not do what I was supposed to do, which was the answer to my lostness all along, and the answer was- "Just Be!"
And as I fell softly into the rhythm of myself once again, and calmly began to walk along the beach, I realized my lesson was over. And I strolled back to camp, packed up my belongings, and prepared to venture forth again into the world of men from which I had just been driven, only a day earlier, but now I came back to share the commandment which had been spoken to me from the sky- "Just Be!"
For there is no moment, no event, no grain of sand, no laughter, no death or healing, no thought or feeling, no tear or yearning out of place. The cosmos is eternally complete. There is no problem if only we would just be. That is all that is asked of us. As simple, and difficult, as that.
(excerpted from Roots and Wings: adventures of a spirit on earth, by Jack Haas)