The true nature of a Midlife Crisis

Most people are aware of the word crisis associated with the word midlife. This pairing of words was first used in a paper by the Canadian psychoanalyst Elliot Jaques, who was 48 at the time of its publication. The two words are rarely seen without one another these days, and are associated with a time of confusion, struggle, and corresponding feelings of being lost in the world. It is important to note that Jaques went on, after this publication to write 12 books, get married, form a consulting company with his wife, and contribute to the field of psychology for the next 38 years! This “second life” lived by the person describing a crisis points to the fact that crisis must have had a different meaning for him – one that contained possibility and promise as well as danger, difficulty and trouble.

Crisis has at its root the Greek words krisis, meaning decision, judgment, choice, andkrino, to choose or decide. So, as with any turning point in our lives, one aspect of life is ending while another begins. This new beginning, heralded by krisis or krino then, is a time for a decision and a choice. Free will is deeply involved in this decision, and it is at this point when we can call on our latent Genius qualities to come to our aid and inform this very important choice we are compelled to make. This choice or decision is actually the choice to live or to die. Rather, it is a choice to either dwell in our previously lived version of life which has brought us this far, or to move in pace with life itself into the next chapter and incarnation of our experience where fresh possibility exists.

Although a crisis can signal danger and the need to make a decision, it is important to recognize this crossroads as a naturally occurring phenomenon of a time of growth and development. So for our purposes, we are going to refer to changes happening in the time period between our mid-thirties and mid-sixties as Midlife Growth. This sheds a more accurate light on what is actually taking place. The idea of crisis is only one side of the equation. Crisis in the advent of midlife is merely the motivation provided to us to make the changes that will ultimately lead to a greater sense and expression of our individual and innate life purpose.

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 had become exhausted from its attempts to find its way to freedom, and was despondently perched on a shelf on the wall. The teacher approached the bird and quite suddenly and loudly clapped his hands. The bird, responding to a perceived threat to his life instinctually flew away through an open window into the welcoming sunlight.

The student remarked: “See how quickly the bird found his way out with your intervention!” To which the teacher replied: “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 was seen as something contrary to his freedom and possibly even life threatening. Until of course, it flew out of an open window into the limitless freedom of the sky.”

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