There comes a time in the life of everyone, where they begin to question the nature of their very existence. Call it a midlife crisis, an existential crisis. Choose any adjective you like, but it remains seen as a crisis to be averted. Yet in various other cultures, histories and paradigms of society, it is just another in a long line of milestones we all reach, respect and honor through tradition. This time is when one finally settles down from the fervor of youth, reaches the fullness of their potential in the mundane world, and begins to recognize and prepare for the eventual reality we all must face. It can come at any time and age, or not at all, but midlife is the most common among them.
In a fast paced, capitalist society, there isn’t much room for anything beyond what is consumed, acquired, or otherwise placed under our command and control. What makes life easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable? You can easily see why one reaching this point in life would seek out the thrills of youth, and what once gave life meaning and substance. When there is nothing beyond what you have in this life, it would be easy to assume you just need more, or a different kind to make the difference. It’s a junky mentality when you break it all down.
An alternative that others have used over the course of our known existence, has been that of continued learning and seeking out knowledge beyond one’s own wheelhouse, perhaps even outside of one’s own realm of existence. It becomes less about what you acquire, and more about what you leave behind, a legacy. It is no longer the question of what one can bring into their life, but more what’s to be culled and rooted out to make more room for what’s truly important.
Either way, a change begins to take hold. That is not looked upon well, when the world around you seeks stability and comfort instead of growth. Thus it becomes a crisis, something wrong, something to be remedied, medicated and eradicated with extreme prejudice. How dare anyone seek out true meaning in their life, when there are so many responsibilities to take care of, why isn’t that enough. The scorn and anger one faces in the light of change beats many down into a servile shell of what they were meant to be.
The world’s religions and spiritual traditions accounted for such changes. In some cases it was encouraged by the family and culture for these individuals to resign from their responsibilities and seek out spiritual truth and knowledge. To find the meaning beyond this day to day existence, and then bring that knowledge back to be shared with the others. It was not running away from life, shirking one’s responsibilities, or even escapism. It is a natural phase in life for those who feel called to it.
Keep in mind, this came with its own trials and tribulations along with new responsibilities. This was not something taken lightly just to feel better, or try something new. Many seek it out with a consumer mentality, only to find what they can take from it. It has to be nicely packaged, appeal to the ego, and require minimal if any effort at all. This is what one might call religion. Often packaged in a single book, with quaint and convenient stories, that gives the reader morals or a code of ethics to live by, for good or ill.
Yet hidden in these stories, these books, and these religions, you will find commonalities and simple truths that transcend each and every one of them. These simple and yet profound realities cannot be taught, bought or gifted by anyone, they must be experienced. There are those who can guide you along the way, and perhaps even escalate the timeline in which these experiences occur, but without the individual work and self sacrifice required, they remain out of reach. There may be some basic truths on which we can all agree, and which are common to most, but these experiences remain individual and tailored to the one who seeks them out.
This knowledge has no meaning and is of no value if it is not put to good use. Thus comes the responsibility to be of service to others in whatever form that may take. Being a parent, a mentor, a friend or family member. Adding culture and wisdom to society through thought, action and deed. Being an example to others, without preaching your truth, for each must find truth in their own way. Be it through words, art or craft, attempt to express what you find within, to give others the courage and will to seek, and the hope that they might find.
We spend the first years of our life learning how to adapt to this new world we find ourselves in, and perhaps forgetting the world from which we came. Then we spend the better part of our lives learning to master what we can in this world. I’m finding that the later part of life ought to be focused on assisting those that come after in their quest for mastery, and in preparation and adaptation for what comes next. This is not a crisis, but simply a turning point in life, where the focus shifts, and the preconceived notions and meanings once held are reexamined and realigned with a truer purpose in life.
Maybe I’m wrong, and I just need to get a faster car, a bigger TV, and a longer line of broken relationships, or perhaps I just need to pick a seat in the pew and break out my checkbook, but I like my odds.