There is a teaching story which depicts a teacher and a student standing inside a building with high windows. They observe that a pigeon has become trapped inside the building and is confused as to how to get out. The pigeon has become exhausted from its attempts to find its way to freedom and is despondently perched on a shelf on the wall. The teacher approaches the bird and quite suddenly and loudly claps his hands. The bird, responding to what it perceives as a threat to its life, instinctually flies away through an open window into the welcoming sunlight.
The student remarks, “See how quickly the bird found his way out with your intervention!” To which the teacher replies, “Yes, and see how the bird thought that this was an act that meant to do him harm. The motivation for it to free itself had come from experiencing something that felt contrary to his freedom and possibly even life threatening. Until of course, he flew out of an open window into the limitless freedom of the sky.”
In order to experience midlife as a growth process, we will need to see whatever is happening to us as an impetus for changing our life approach. Just as the pigeon in the story had exhausted itself trying to escape its imprisonment using its old methods, we try to employ methods of living that have worked before in our younger lives. That was a time for pushing forward, forging trails, and making a mark on the world by the exercise of sheer will. The time of Midlife Growth, however, is a time of responding to life’s cues cooperatively. Something inside of us wants us to grow and change in order to continue our journey. This is a time of seeing our limitations simply as boulders in the stream of our lives against which we initially crash but ultimately flow around in any way we can to continue down the stream. The boulders are not there to stop us but to engage us in a life-giving play of creativity that generates energy and opens up opportunities to see ourselves differently than before. If there is anything that is required for a fruitful period of Midlife Growth to take place, it is the willingness to see ourselves in a new way. This can be a frightening prospect when approached from the crisis side of the equation. But if we encounter the crisis willingly, realizing the need to change our basic perceptions of ourselves for the sake of moving with the flow of life again, we are energized and excited at the prospect. We become explorers of our own consciousness, which engenders new experiences through which we learn about ourselves as individuals. Our growth and development continues until our physical death and, depending on our particular viewpoint, possibly even beyond that.