Archetypal pattern analysts, depth psychologists, Jungians, Freudians, students of human development and consciousness have a lens through which they try to make sense of the world and our place in it. Humanists, behaviorists, reductionists, all sorts of “ists” postulate, theorize and ponder the human condition as well. The fact is, regardless of the theoretical stance, we are all in the same soup. Our task is to find the meaning of our lives, to answer the deepest and most primal questions: Who am I? Why am I here?
And then, the next big question is: How do I live my life? A while ago, I wrote about the power of mentors and of the Wisdom traditions that give voice to human experience and serve as guides. Therapists, counselors, clergy, godparents and others may serve this role and blessed is the one who finds someone they can trust to navigate the world and the myriad changes that occur.
Because the one true thing for all of us is that life changes, we must go through all the phases and stages and allow ourselves to be scathed and transformed. I use the word scathed intentionally. So many of us want to move through life unscathed, as though untouched by grief, loss, or aging. We want to escape what Shakespeare called “the thousand Natural shocks that Flesh is heir to. (Hamlet)
Jung once said what we don’t live out consciously, we will live out as fate. We react as though we had no choice in the matter, forces push us and pull us and we end up surprised at the end of our lives that we had not lived our lives at all. I am seeing this expressed more and more in my practice; clients who, in their later years, are looking back and seeing what they missed, having to make peace with the realizations that the choices which they thought were conscious, were driven by unconscious forces.
The most difficult task of life is to see ourselves and our lives with clarity, compassion and dignity so we may live out what is left with more awareness and authenticity. I was at a conference some years ago where the presenter spoke about a woman on her deathbed who had a dream about a lost love returning to get her. At this point, he had long been dead - she had never married him because her father disapproved. Instead, she remained a spinster and cared for her siblings’ many children. As she worked with this therapist, she came to realize that all her life she had followed the rules and regulations of her family and never ventured outside that familial sphere.
At the end of her long life, she at last admitted that she had missed the opportunity to live her own life. It was a spiritual moment for her, to see and accept her life, all of it. She didn’t need to make excuses, minimize or maximize anything. It seemed that the very act of taking full responsibility for what she had not done liberated her to live the last of her days peacefully. It was less a resignation than a new conscious awareness about all that her life had been. She died several days later.
Our work, and the work of those who choose to join us, is to look at our lives, wherever we are and accept responsibility for acts committed or omitted. When we consciously carry the consequences of our choices, we are free to live more fully and authentically, regardless of the number of our days.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor