Scan some of the online literature about mid-life, and you’ll be impressed by the volume and variety of signs and symptoms associated with it. Such mild regressions as chasing the gray away, face-lifts and tummy-tucks, sports cars and younger lovers, however, are only surface reflections of what’s happening unconsciously.
One thing is gaining recognition: transitional changes begin in the body but also have profound psychological effects, as mind and body are not separate by nature. Instincts once conceived as physiological for lack of a psychological perspective were euphemized as “drives” by ego-based psychologies unable to deny them — this, despite the sweeping psychic changes attending puberty and young adulthood. It was as if ego’s current state of knowledge relieved any further development save the rote learning of facts.
But, instinctive needs are generated by emotions portending more than just biological imperatives. I know I was raised with the fearful need for security — especially by staid adults whose knowledge and authority masked a deeper uncertainty — in a world that is as relentlessly irrational and ever-changing internally as it is externally.
Mid-life is a profound test for a consciousness that would know everything but its own nature, and it’s usually repressed to whatever extent possible to mature while still nursing a youthful pose. The mystery of nature requires an increasingly complex organ of perception to manifest itself, and the urge to wholeness will never be fully comprehended by a partial consciousness. Psychic changes merge with physical ones on the smallest scale, however imperceptible to an ego fascinated by its own image.
The processes symbolized in these images, though, must already have attained a high degree of energy-intensity (value and purpose) and complexity to register consciously. How symbols originate and how we perceive them are a great mystery, but the greater confusion may be due to an older, more literal form of perception.
Since Jung began outlining his psychology over a hundred years ago, the mystery of symbols and their effects have been struck a heavy blow by material science. Yet, we’ve been driven by symbols, inspired by them, and instructed by them from time immemorial. This newer knowledge of the profound role they play in our psychology would, with reflection, allow an opportunity to re-connect with them on a more conscious level than the older metaphysical interpretations of who we once thought we were.
Depth psychology is acquainted with the focus and direction of consciousness as against the diffuse and irrational demands of the unconscious. Though the difference between the two ways of perceiving are naturally at odds, they’re also intended as complements.
They attract and repel at the same time, and only the weight of nature’s purposes decides which will prevail. Jung wrote that a very powerful attraction is needed to overcome the often hostile opposition between the sexes. The same is true for the mid-life transition — only here, consciousness is pushed to assume a greater responsibility on a higher level for its inner relations, just as couples adjust psychologically long after the unconscious attraction has initiated the still-sleeping urge to wholeness.
The greater problem of adjusting to the inner opposite certainly has its origin in the dual forces compelling the union of the sexes. Their profound demands for reconciliation find us making concessions we never conceived in our youth. Religious symbols have always drawn upon those analogies to describe their purposes.
Marriage is revered as a religious symbol for that reason, yet how many cling to the old ideal today for unconscious reasons they would rather not concede? We’re being pushed to make concessions to newer values, broader ways of seeing than the conventional, one-sided interpretations of the past. It’s not by choice or accident that old values are losing the efficacy they once had.
Though many contend that our religious heritage has only made for rivers of destruction (as it undeniably has, looked at only through that lens), our history must refer more to our interpretations of ourselves and our ideals than to anything inherent in the values themselves. One need only reflect to see that their intent is far distant from what we’ve achieved. The problem doesn’t lie with values or principles.
Aside from our rational ability to focus on the most minute details (science) to the exclusion of a broader picture (life), there is another factor which exaggerates the rift between the real and the ideal. The tendency of ego to see anything outside its own interests as suspicious and dangerous is an even older part of our natures than the relatively recent Christian precepts of love and acceptance which at least set us a definable task through the latest stages of our evolution.
As I interpret Jung’s efforts, this task is not dissolving as much as it’s changing form due to the growing complexity of consciousness — and an expanding intellect fastened onto images of objectivity unimagined by the emotional cast of previous generations. Yet, this new sense of objectivity must remain compulsively tied to the material world to divert the fear and uncertainty which defines psychic development.
The new intellect is would further refute the primitive animal who lives beneath it. We can see in our history how the religious ideal failed to significantly change it except in our minds: the very illusions which compel its rebellion. Who today would know the spiritual side of this billion year old Leviathan?
This primitive side of our natures is in need of development for us to contend with its destructive power. But, we need examples to learn how to do it. Read more about the process here.