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  • The Real Gold: Creative Living in the Second Half of Life

    Creative living can sound like a platitude—perhaps the slogan of a trendy furniture store! Yet, in reality, it’s very important to consider what creative living might mean for us. This question is especially important for people in the second half of life. What does creative living mean for us at this stage of life, and why is it so important to take it into account?

    Photo by Steph Wilson 

    Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson has used the expression “inner gold” to refer to the inner creative and vital reality that is connected to the deepest levels of our psyche. Johnson asserts that

    Inner gold is the highest value in the human psyche. It is our soul, the Self, the innermost part of our being. It is us at our best, our twenty-four-karat gift to ourselves. Everyone has inner gold. It isn’t created, but it does have to be discovered.

    This inner gold is the essence of our personal uniqueness, and it is the core of our creativity. We want to live in connection to it, because, when we do, we experience ourselves as most fully alive. It is also closely tied to the sense of meaning in our lives.

    The Second Half of Life and the Crisis of Creativity

    Issues related to our uniqueness and our creativity often confront us as we go through what Jungian analyst James Hollis describes as “the middle passage”—the important process of midlife transition. In this middle time, it’s often the case that our relationship to our lives, and our fundamental understanding of ourselves, start to change. Sometimes this occurs in dramatic ways.

    Jung noted that there is a certain type of experience that characterizes the first part of adulthood. The first stage of our adult lives can easily be dominated by a sense of obligation and by conventional roles. There are common tasks that engage a great many of us in this primary stage of adulthood.  These include getting a post secondary education, establishing a career, finding a partner, having a family, perhaps owning a house. These are all things that line up with meeting the conventional collective expectations of our culture.

    Yet there may well come a time on our adult journey when we move beyond these expectations, and move toward something that we experience as a great deal more individual. This stage involves more reflection on our own particular life journey.

    This later stage may well bring us into connection with previously unexplored parts of ourselves that are creative and full of vitality. This may also entail a search for ways to bring this creative energy into our personal world. At such a time in our life, we may have encounters with the deeper parts of the Self, and with the impulse to express that deeper reality in a whole range of different ways in our lives.

    In the second half of life, life asks us the question: how will we respond creatively to our lives? How will we express what we most fundamentally are

    Creative Living and the Core of the Self

    Such creative expression can take an untold number of different forms. We should not be narrow in our understanding of “creative living”: the real gold can reveal itself in many surprising and wonderful ways.

    To genuinely engage in this type of creative existence is to engage with the very deepest part of who we are, which Jungians call the Self. This can occur in very many different ways. Sometimes when it occurs, we don’t even realize right away that this connection with the deepest part of our identity is really occurring.

    We may not understand what is going on very well when we feel the impulse to create. We may not be able to think our way through to a clear theory of understanding as to what is going on. Yet this creative impulse may be a vitally important expression of our unique personal life energy.

    There may also be a strong desire to repress or suppress this creative energy. This can especially be true if the impulse expresses itself in an unorthodox form that is seemingly at odds with how we normally show up in our lives. It’s very important for us to adopt a non-judgmental attitude towards the full panoply of our expressive self.

    I can recall a particular time in my own journey in therapy, when a great deal was changing in my understanding of myself and my life. It was a period of considerable upheaval, when new insights were coming quickly, but I was also facing a lot of conflicting feelings and confusion. It was right at the moment when it seemed that my confusion was at its height, that I felt a particular impulse: to work with clay.

    I initially dismissed the impulse to do this kind of work as simply silly. Up to this point in my life, I had regarded myself as a pretty strong-minded individual. A good clear thinker! How could making things with pieces of clay from the craft store possibly help me?

    I would soon learn that it could actually help in quite a number of ways! No, I am certainly no artistic talent at working with clay. Yet, the contact I experienced with parts of my deepest nature through this work had a profound impact on the way I saw myself. I would even say that it impacted the future course of my life over a period of many years.

    Now, please understand that I’m not urging everyone to descend on their local craft store and purchase all the clay! Working with clay was important for me, because it resonated with some deep part of my personality. You may be like me, but you may very well be quite different. There are a vast multitude of forms that creative living and self-expression can take. The key thing is to identify and work with the form of creative expression that resonates with you.

    The Gold We Are, The Gold We Bestow

    This “gold”at the centre of our human lives is the key and touchstone to our personal uniqueness and to creative living. It is truly the work of a lifetime. It is something that we often only become first aware of as we go through major life transitions, especially in the second half of life. This may well be the particular time when the outline of ourselves may start to emerge from the background haze of obligation and socially manufactured personal identity.

    What does creative living look like in your precious unique life? This essential question is tied to finding and connecting with the vital energy of your own real life. This search for the expression of the true core of ourselves is a key part of having a meaningful life. To consciously embark on this search can be a matter fo great importance in our life journey. Gaining insight and support through a working alliance with a depth psychotherapist can be fundamentally important infulfilling this life task.

    With very best wishes for your continuing personal journey

    Brian Collinson 

    Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2024