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The Dialogue With The Self
March 15, 2008

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Midlife Wisdom For Men Issue #102, March 15, 2008

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· Book Review: To Love Is To Be Happy With

· Soul Task Number Four: The Dialogue With The Self

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Written by Noel McNaughton
Midlife-Men.com
(c) copyright 2008 midlife-men.com

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Welcome to this issue of Midlife Wisdom for Men.

This is the last issue looking at what William O. Roberts Jr., in his book Crossing the Soul's River calls "The Four Soul Tasks For Crossing".

As Carl Jung said, "Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life... we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve as before. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning - for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie."

If we are to live the afternoon of our life according to the program of the afternoon, we must "cross the soul's river".

We have already looked at the breakdown of the persona, encountered the shadow, and encountered the soul mate. Now we must persevere, or we could lose it all, and go 'back in the box'.

There are about 1750 words in this issue, which should take you about 5 1/2 minutes to read.

Noel

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Book Review: To Love Is To Be Happy With

A few weeks ago a reader said she had found To Love Is To Be Happy With by Barry Neil Kaufman, to be very useful in her struggle to deal with her midlife husband leaving her.

The book sounded interesting, so I borrowed it from the library. I think it is a good choice for anyone struggling with their own midlife passage, or with that of their partner.

The basic premise is that to a large extent we create our own unhappiness by having beliefs and expectations that don't jibe with the real world. Kaufman offers help in the form of "The Option Process", which gives a series of questions people can answer in order to ferret out hidden beliefs they hold that make them unhappy.

He gives examples of a variety of actual dialogues he has had with people having a variety of problems, and chances are the reader will find themselves in one of these dialogues. If not, they at least see how to use the Option Process to help solve their own unhappiness.

In one of the earliest editions of this newsletter, I recommended "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie, who developed "The Work". I still recommend it. The Option Process is similarly useful, and perhaps more accessible than The Work.

Soul Task Number Four: The Dialogue With The Self

By now we are in the midst of the "soul's river", and at perhaps the most dangerous and challenging point in the journey. The danger is that, having struggled to get this far, we will turn and go back.

The whole task at midlife is to let go of our 'mask' or 'persona' - the image, or box we created for ourselves to define who we are: accountant, family man, church leader, little league coach, whatever - and dive into the deep and unknown waters of the soul to find the 'self'.

The self

Whenever I think deeply on the nature of reality, and on 'who I really am', it doesn't take long before I realize that the 'little me' - the me I know through my 'everyday ego consciousness' - is connected to a much larger reality. Carl Jung called it the self, which includes not only our ego consciousness, but also the unconscious psyche. The unconscious psyche is part and parcel of the Great Unknown, which we refer to as God, or The Creator, or the Higher Power, or a hundred other names.

So crossing the soul's river refers to the painful and confusing psychological and spiritual Odyssey where we let go of our self-created persona, and connect with our 'true identity', which is to be found in the Great Unknown.

The payoff is a new, less ego-centric energy that gives us new life and new purpose. It leads us to our 'true gifts' which we brought with us to offer to the world.

In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus puts it this way: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

Beware of Echo

In the Greek myth about Narcissus, the beautiful young lad was out hunting when the nymph Echo spied him, and fell in love with him. She could not hold her peace when others spoke, but could not speak until others spoke first.

She followed Narcissus through the forest, and when he sensed someone was there he called "Is anyone here?". Echo replied "Here". Narcissus said "Let us meet." She repeated "Let us meet", and ran to his arms. But Narcissus could not love her, as he only loved himself.

The danger to midlife men is that the Helen we seek (remember last issue - Helen is the beautiful feminine part of ourselves that we project onto other, usually younger, women?) will be like Echo, adoring us, echoing our every word, listening with rapt attention.

It is not hard to find an Echo, and even 'fall in love' with her. But we will learn nothing of value about our life or ourself from her. And if we make the mistake of leaving our wife, who may seem frumpy and familiar to us (though other men may find her attractive), for this comely nymph, the illusion will not likely last long. Either our Echo, when the novelty of the relationship wears off, will stop hanging on our every word and begin to think for herself, or we will grow tired of the shallowness of the relationship.

Either that, or we ourselves will remain shallow, and hurry back to the 'safe' bank of the river to rebuild our persona, and try to surround ourselves with others who will themselves not be significant, and who will not challenge us.

As Roberts says in Crossing The Soul's River: "And this gets worse as we get older. We yearn for pretty, nubile, mindless Echo, a yes-woman who will delight with us as we stare at our reflection in the still water."

What we really need is to surround ourselves with authentic people, who have gone on the journey themselves (this is the role of the Elder), and who will disturb our image in the still water, make us uncomfortable, and be with us as we dive down to find our deeper selves.

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface of the well of grief

turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small, round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.
~ David Whyte ~

Job, our Soul Brother

Many times, when I was in the midst of this struggle myself, I felt as though I was experiencing the 'trials of Job'. It made me a little embarrassed to admit it, even to myself, as Job went through a lot tougher trials than I was experiencing, but the pattern felt similar.

As you recall, Job's life was going along swimmingly - beautiful children, lovely wife, great wealth - and he was a devout and righteous man. In other words, he had everything in order, and lived the way he was 'supposed to' live.

Then God and Satan are having a chat, and God starts to brag about how devout Job is. Satan says, "Let me have a go at him, I bet I can make him mad at you".

God says, in effect, "Ok, have a go. Just don't kill him."

Job didn't know what hit him. All of a sudden he lost it all, through no fault of his own.

His three 'friends' came along, and tried to make him 'go back across the soul's river'.

"Go on back home and start over" one says.
"You must have screwed up somehow" says another, "stay with me a while and we will see if we can straighten you out."
"Give up", says the third, "There is nothing you can do."

But Job hangs in there. He stays the course, seeking the truth.

In the end, he hears a voice in a whirlwind questioning him:

Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements? - Surely you know!
Who stretched the line upon it? (Job 38: 1-5)

Now here is the interesting thing: similar words to these are found in Proverbs, in a section that describes Sophia, feminine wisdom:

Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth...
When he marked out the foundations of the earth
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the sons of men (Proverbs 8:23, 29-30)

Aha! Job has taken feminine wisdom into his soul, and is ready to live life "according to the program of the second half", as Jung said.

I noticed, as I went through my own 'trials of Job' - financial meltdown, loss of energy and focus, mild depression, loss of libido, confusion about my life mission, loss of confidence - that I could feel my 'feminine self' starting to emerge. It now feels as though the masculine and feminine energies are balanced within me.

I also have the energy back that I had in my forties, but now it is more thoughtful and less ego-centric. I have even recovered from the financial losses of my fifties.

I feel more in tune with the Higher Power as well.

So that is the journey. It begins when things start to break down. We lose interest in what we used to be passionate about, we become dissatisfied with our life, and long for something different. We feel empty, or dead inside.

We then encounter our shadow, which, if we have the courage to own it, can lead us to our wounds, which can lead us to our gold.

We must also discover our Soul Mate - the feminine within us, and not project her onto the women in our lives.

Then, like Job, we hang in there, persistently seeking the truth about Who We Are, and incorporating all those parts of us we have disowned over the years.

You will find a number of men's midlife transition stories here: men's stories. Perhaps you will find solace in them.

The danger is we will quit somewhere along the way, and 'go back home', but the rewards for making it all the way across are great - a sense of purpose, peace, well being, energy and love. Not to mention that we can be there for the others who are struggling on their own crossings.

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“I speak the truth not so much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little more as I grow older” - Michel de Montaigne, French Philosopher and Writer. 1533-1592

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Don't worry about avoiding temptation as you grow older, it will avoid you -- Winston Churchill

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Would you rather not fight traffic and unreasonable bosses?

Here's how to do that: SBI at home

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I Need Your Questions and Feedback!

Got comments? Questions? I'd love to hear from you.

Just email your suggestions and/or questions to noel@midlife-men.com . I look forward to hearing from you. And thanks.

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Well friend, that's it for now. Again, if you enjoyed this and/or found it useful, and know of anyone else who might like it, please pass it forward. And if you have questions or recommendations, I would love to hear from you.

All the best, Noel

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