Finding Passion for Life, at Midlife and Beyond
Valentine’s Day is a culture-wide celebration of love and passion, yet, for many, finding passion for life is one of the greatest challenges.
This proves particularly, urgently true for those of us at midlife and beyond. The great danger for many of us in the second half of life is to become blase, jaded or disgusted by life, just when life might be becoming more intriguing, more colourful, more real.
OK, …Now What?
At midlife, it can easily feel like we’re on cruise control. Day can blend into day, with the sense that there is nothing to show but “another day’s useless energy spent”, as a 1960s pop song put it.
Many at this age — to the extent that they are not caught up with simply coping with economic necessity — can easily feel that life is lacking in colour. That the great challenges and thrills of life belong to a vibrant youth, either long gone, or that never really was, at least not for them.
Many people respond to this awareness with a kind of quiet despair, that never really gets fully acknowledged. Instead many people hover above their real lives, never admitting to themselves that they’re struggling with a sense of banality. Although not popular with the critics, in the 2014 film Hector and the Search for Happiness, actor Simon Pegg gives a very commendable portrayal of someone caught up in this kind of denial and compartmentalization — the kind of subtle, unacknowledged despair that philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death”.
The Status Quo is Not Enough
The research underlying neuroscience and evolutionary psychology points strongly toward a conclusion: as organisms, human beings are purposive. Our nervous system is oriented towards human beings striving after a purpose, or, if you prefer, a passion.
Long before this neuroscience work was ever completed, C.G. Jung wrote of what he called the “teleological” nature of the psyche. What he meant by this is that the psyche is striving to meet some end
So we are at our best, most fulfilled, most complete, when we are striving toward something. In other words, when there is a passion that grips us, when we are yearning and striving for something, it is then that we feel most alive. And it is in the second half of life when the questions like “What is it that I really yearn for?” or “What is it that is really my life’s passion?” become most important and urgent.
The Art of Alchemy: Finding Passion for Life
How do we find what we’re passionate about? That may well be one of the key things that individuals need to seek out in the course of /a-midlife-transition.
In the second half of life, finding passion for life that is genuine and as deep as our own souls may well require that we look in places that we might not expect. There are many parts of ourselves that we don’t know well or at all — what Jung referred to as the Undiscovered Self. There are many things we can learn from these unknown places within us. Depth case studies shows that, often, it is precisely in these disregarded shadows that we end up finding passion for life. This can happen in many ways, both great and small.
Example. Fred hated classical symphonic music. This feeling was deep and real. His parents had refused to have any music other than “the finest music” in their home, and in his teen years, they forbade him to listen to rock punk and new wave. After that, Fred was resolute: nothing even remotely like classical music would make it even within earshot.
Years passed. Fred and his wife, now in their 50s, were invited by an important business client and his wife to attend the opera. “The opera?” Fred thought in disbelief, “You’ve got to be kidding! No way!” Still this was a crucial client… Fred gritted his teeth, and attended.
Fred was amazed. In spite of himself, as he listened and watched Mozart’s Magic Flute, he was drawn to the colors, the pagentry, the rich sound, the incredible singers. Soon he and his wife would attend another opera, and then another. In the most surprising of places, Fred found a deep and abiding passion.
Depth case studies is fundamentally concerned with connecting the individual with the real wellsprings of deep and abiding life. In surprising ways, it may involve us in a personal journey of finding our passion for life.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst