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  • The Psychology of Spirituality and the Second Half of Life, Part 2

    In part 1 on the case studies of spirituality we looked at issues of reality and connection; here, we look at the crucial issue of meaning.

    psychology of spirituality

    It’s no overstatement to say that, here in the 21st century, many people are undergoing a genuine crisis of meaning.  This can be particularly true for those in the second half of life.  This issue can become acute at any point in the life journey, but life can ask us some crucial, unavoidable questions as we pass its midpoint.

    Psychology of Spirituality and the Crisis of Meaning

    In our age there is a genuine and widespread sense of vacuity in the lives of many people.  Many are afflicted with an overall sense of meaninglessness.  And, as individuals move beyond the various socially prescribed tasks of the first half of adulthood, they can find that these issues become particularly pressing, even to the point of what might be called existential crisis.

    It’s at this stage in life, when the kids start to go to university, and move out of the house, and much less of the parents’ energy is consumed by them, that people confront “the empty nest”.  It’s at this time, too, when individuals often realize that there are very real limits on what they will be able to achieve in their careers, and they struggle to accept those limitations.  Simultaneously, the individual may become aware of a whole range of other limitations: financial; health, and many others.

    The 19th century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote on how existential despair could appear in the individual’s life when an inherited or borrowed view of the world no longer proves adequate to help the individual in unexpected and particularly difficult experiences in life.  Depth case studiess well know that this is very often the experience of self-aware individuals as they move through the second half of life.

    Psychology of Spirituality: The Politics at God’s Funeral

    Those who watch House of Cards on Netflix will be familiar with the nefarious doings of the nihilistic antihero of that drama, Frank Underwood (played by the formidably talented Kevin Spacey).  At one point, Underwood describes a religious discussion he had with a professor:

    psychology of spirituality

    And then he asked if I had no faith in God. I said, ‘You have it wrong. It’s God that has no faith in us.’

    For Underwood, the conventional idea of God that he has inherited doesn’t convey to him any fundamental feeling of being loved, or valued or believed in — it’s basically an unreal abstraction.  This fits the whole pattern of House of Cards, which portrays the reality of the politics at God’s funeral — life amidst a crisis of value and meaning.

    Meaning as Essential

    The need for meaning is not quite the same as the sense of reality that we described in the last post.  It becomes apparent in the course of psychotherapeutic work that meaning revolves around the sense that there is something inherently worthwhile, something that really intrinsically matters about our lives.  The sense that this has value, this is worth going on for, this makes a powerful difference in my living.

    Having meaning in one’s life is not something optional.  Whether there is some transpersonal, transcendent meaning in our lives, can literally make the difference between life and death, as Dr. Viktor Frankl continually reminded us.

    The sense of having found meaning, or lacking meaning, has profound implications for what we value, and for what we purpose, and so, ultimately, the course we choose and the path we walk on the journey of life.

    Emphasis on the Unique Individual

    Depth case studiess continually stress that, throughout the journey of the second half of life,  there must always be an emphasis on the unique individual, and on the symbols that speak to that individual, and that carry a sense of meaning and of touching the deepest parts of his or her being.  In whatever form these symbolic realities manifest, they form the basis of the individual’s true spiritual search or spiritual journey.

    Those who have worked with individuals confronting their unconscious selves in case studies well know that meaning for the individual is not contained within the routine affirmations of organized religiosity or conventional piety.  Rather, meaning and spirituality are contained in the deeply symbolic encounters that touch the individual’s mind, heart, imagination — and soul.

    Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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    © 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)
    1. JamieRosanna
      May 25, 2016 at 11:21 am -

      Truly there is a deep sense of this in the “body of our culture”
      Thanks for posting…

    2. JamieRosanna
      May 25, 2016 at 11:25 am -

      Truly their is a deep sense of this in our “cultural Body”.
      Thanks for posting…

      1. Brian C
        May 25, 2016 at 1:11 pm -

        I think that’s very true. Our culture is certainly feeling a sense of vacuum of meaning. It would seem to be an experience that we carry in both body and psyche, and it’s only via depth work that we can begin to recover meaning that is personal and vital. Thanks for your comment, Jamie!

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