“Life behaves as if it were going on, and so I think it is better for an old person to live on, to look forward to the next day, as if he had to spend centuries, and then he lives properly. But when he is afraid, when he doesn’t look forward, he looks back, he petrifies, he gets stiff, and he dies before his time. But when he’s living and looking forward to the great adventure that is ahead, then he lives and that is about what the unconscious is intending to do . . . Man cannot stand a meaningless life.” C.G. Jung
I searched for a meaningful life for years without knowing it. Then, at the age of 49, I joined a Counterpoint Group. Some of us studied Jungian psychology together for ten years. This triggered a major transition in my life. I had been getting messages from my unconscious Self that something wasn’t working and I was very unhappy about it. But what I learned about myself from that group, and from my subsequent commitment to record and work on my dreams, began to change everything.
“The failure to search for the calls of the Self in the midst of my struggles and the avoidance of the encounters that reveal them are risks I am no longer willing to take. Whether these events fail to enrich my life or bring it new hope, joy, and love along with life’s suffering is up to me. The cross of the moment may require me to overcome my dread or lethargy with passion, and if I do so, the moment of the special suffering of transformation will give birth to hope, confidence, and the renewed experience of being fully alive—the most alive I have ever felt, even as I approach my eighth decade.” Bud Harris, PhD, Aging Strong: The Extraordinary Gift of a Longer Life, pp. 47-48.
A few years ago, after The Soul’s Twins, was published, I began to experience a mild depression. I noticed it in symptoms. Like after 30 blissfully creative and deeply meaningful productive years, I was no longer motivated to start another major work. Like a reluctance to get out of bed in the morning. Like an awareness that my normally sharp mind and healthy body were undergoing uncomfortable challenges: the worst of which were my irritability toward my husband, an unwillingness to socialize, a lack of enthusiasm, a sense of hopelessness, and a diminishment of my sense of self-worth.
Finally, I acknowledged to myself that I was in a bad place. I realized if I wanted to keep living with meaning and passion, I needed to do something about it. So, as a woman who has never even seen a therapist and was filled with fear and trepidation about asking for help, I started weekly sessions with a Jungian analyst.
I started analysis a year ago. Recently I’ve felt a “renewed experience of being fully alive.” I give the credit to my family and my analyst for helping me through this rough time. Then my 80th birthday arrived last Sunday. To celebrate, my children arranged a weekend stay-cation for our family at a local resort hotel. That experience is the inspiration for this post.
On the eve of my birthday they presented me with the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received. The first was deliberately silly: a lipstick I’ve been bothering my daughter to tell me the name of because it looks so gorgeous on her and I hope it looks as good on me! Second was a silver circle necklace with the names of my five grandchildren etched on it. Then they handed me a large framed scroll on beautiful paper titled “80 Things We Love About You”. For my 80th birthday each child, spouse, and grandchild, ten in all, had written eight things they love about me. Eight times ten = 80. My age now. Here are some samples:
My husband: “You’re the real deal. You don’t hide who you are.” (That’s a recent phenomenon. I wasn’t that way for years.)
My daughter: “Your vulnerability. You share what’s important to you, who you are, and what you believe.”
My son: “That you taught me that it’s okay to be an introvert.”
My son-in-law: “How you welcomed me into the family by making me a gingerbread house Christmas stocking.”
My daughter-in-law: “You are always up for a long talk and a glass of wine.”
My first-born twin grandson: “You challenge me to think about the world in ways I would not otherwise.”
My second-born twin grandson: “You inspired me to look deep inside myself and follow my heart.”
My oldest granddaughter: “You inspired me to pursue psychology.”
My youngest granddaughter: “You introduced me to horses which led to one of my greatest passions.”
My youngest grandson: “Anybody would be lucky to have you as a Grandma.”
Oh, my heart! Was this not the best gift ever?
I encourage you to use this idea with your family at milestone birthdays. It has meant everything to me.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.