“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.” Thomas Merton
Our world is changing ever faster. Facebook, the iPhone, YouTube, the WiFi internet, Twitter, and Instagram give us a connected world with lots of instant information available. These and other changes complicate our lives in many ways. We may be busier than ever. Our children often are doing homework later into the night. The family structure is breaking down, and we see changes in marriage and sexuality. The values that we assumed made us unified are changing because of the great diversity we see in not only America, but throughout the world. As we cope with the impact of these changes and many more, we encounter stress in our bodies.
In the middle of all these changes globally, we still face the challenges of adult development. Frederick Hudson writes: “Most grown-ups know very little about the territory of their (later) adult years.”
This becomes more important as our life expectancy grows. The changes in lifestyle and medicine enables us to live much longer. We often waste our most valuable resource – citizens over fifty year of age. Corporations too often want to eliminate older workers. Our cultural assumption – in the United States – is that aging is bad and as we age we lose much more than we gain. Robert Lifton says, “There is a special quality of life-power available only to those seasoned by struggles of four or more decades. . . . The life-power of this stage can be especially profound.”
Carl Jung viewed the second half of life as a time of immense growth and development. It is a time for personal introspection, reevaluation of our lives, and dynamic spiritual discovery. We may assume that we need to decide on our work and marital partner by our late 20’s. Wow, that is a lot of pressure! Most of us are engaged in several different types of jobs in our working lives. Sometimes this happens by our choice. And there are times when someone chooses for us, saying: “You are fired.”
As our income changes, we need to reassess our lifestyle and adjust our spending. Our assumption that we would simply continue to earn more money endlessly may have been false. The larger world economy also affects us all as we learned in 2008 with the financial crash.
“For centuries, it was the understanding that when people became adults, they stopped growing and became fixed as predictable, responsible persons the rest of their lives,” writes Frederick Hudson. “Growing was over. The adult years were shaped by the personality and experiences of the child.”
Our lives are a heroic adventure. Life after fifty can be rich in many ways. Robert Epperly wrote his very personal and open book, “Growing Up After Fifty: From Exxon Executive to Spiritual Seeker,” about his journey after midlife. Please enjoy this video about his book: