Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cocoons and Midlife Crises

"Jung believed that 'every midlife crisis is a spiritual crisis, that we are called to die to the old self (ego), the fruit of the first half of life and liberate the new man or woman within us.' Here is a hidden and misunderstood turning point of the soul, I thought. Sadly, not every person will maneuver its convoluted mazes. Would I? 
I recalled Jung's words in 'Stages of Life':
'Wholly unprepared, they embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year-olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world and of life? No, there are none. Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and ideas will serve as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning--for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.'
Jung divided life into two phases. The first phase, or 'morning' is reserved for relating and orienting to the outer world by developing the ego. The second half, or 'afternoon,' is for adapting to the inner world by developing the full and true self. The midlife transition between these two Jung likened to a difficult birth. 
The transition is difficult because it involves a real breakdown of our old spiritual and psychic structures--the old masks and personas that have served us well in the past but that no longer fit. It's anguish to come to that place in life where you know all the words but none of the music. 
In our youth we set up inner myths and stories to live by, but around the midlife junction these patterns begin to crumble. It feels to us like a collapsing of all that is, but it's a holy quaking."
"What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you'll see that they're also the seedbed of creativity and growth--what allows us to do the daring and to break through to newness . . . Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions . . . yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing . . . When it comes to religion today, we tend to be long on butterflies and short on cocoons."
--from When The Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd

"If I decide to become a butterfly . . . what do I do?"

"Watch me," came the reply. "I'm making a cocoon. 
It looks like I'm hiding, I know, but a cocoon is no escape. 
It's an in-between house where the change takes place . . . 
During the change, it will seem . . . that nothing is happening, 
but the butterfly is already becoming. 
It just takes time."

--from Hope For The Flowers by Trina Paulus


  1. Hi Mark - dropping in via a recommendation from Steve Poos-Benson. This cocoon entry is particularly relevant as I'm toying with the idea of putting aside my career of 35 years and trying to master something completely new for my next 20 years. Most concerning is your text "But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning--for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie." The question...can I master something from scratch at this hour of life? Thanks for making me think about this in a new way. Bill in Centennial

  2. Hey, Bill. Thanks for reading and for sharing. I've felt the same tensions you're describing. And it's never so simple as "just following your heart." The pragmatic questions of life loom large: how am I going to pay the mortgage, feed my hungry mouths at home, and STILL chase my dreams? Compromises must sometimes be made. But . . . we also know life that is short. As to your specific question of "can you master something new at this hour of life?" I like a sentiment that echoes Jung above: the first 40 (or however many) years of your life are simply preparation for the REST of you life. Best of luck to you!