Where Do We Go from Here? Life's Inflection Points

Gary - Where Do We Go from Here_ Life's Inflection Points

Where do we go from here

Now that all of the children are growin’ up?

And how do we spend our lives

If there’s no one to lend us a hand?

I don’t wanna live here no more

I don’t wanna stay

Ain’t gonna spend the rest of my life

Quietly fading away

Games People Play by The Alan Parsons Project

Writing this blog week in and week out for nearly ten years now often fascinates me. When I started writing this week’s post, I was going to tie the first two lines of this song with the Fed now having reached the metaphorical equivalent of a married couple just about to embark on a new life of being empty nesters now that the inflation fight has turned the corner and the end could be in sight. And then I started writing and pontificating and realized that is not where I wanted to take this.

I have found that I often use the blog to release things that I’m thinking about or maybe welling up in my subconscious, but I can’t quite pinpoint exactly what they are until I start writing. This is one of those cases. I have a company presentation coming up in a few weeks that I have been wrestling with related to the theme of resilience, and I’ve been admittedly all over the place with no clear direction. I know this has been weighing on me, so maybe this will help me align on a direction or set of key messages. We also have our annual investor meeting next month, and I will be doing a presentation there, so I also know this is about when I start wrestling with that.

In addition to the two presentations, last week would have been my late wife’s 59th birthday and the fifth one since she passed away. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, as so much of her aura, vibrancy, and memories are still very much present for me. It’s a testament to what a force of nature she was and how she always made her presence felt. She could also make me laugh, which made the journey together much more enjoyable, and she still engenders a smile when I think about some of her antics.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been delving into the theories of Carl Jung after reading a novel that I loved entitled We Are the Light. In the acknowledgments, the author said that he went through a very dark phase, and among the resources he turned to for help was the podcast This Jungian Life. I felt compelled to start listening to it since I greatly enjoyed the book. I am glad I found it, as it is very interesting and insightful.

Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persists, but it will grow in size.”Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, what we resist isn’t always so clear as it may show up as a nagging feeling, dread, guilt, reduced energy, anxiety, depression, etc. As such, Jung believed we could only truly get to the bottom of what we are resisting by delving deeply into our psyches to try to divine what it is saying to us. In this fertile environment and landscape, we can find out what makes us tick, what is eating away at us, what forces we do not want to acknowledge or address (our shadows), and what triggers and corresponding reactions can derail us. 

Our conscious minds are not always reliable narrators, but our subconscious never lies. Unfortunately, it only speaks to us in symbols, dreams, and archetypes. These archetypes represent the universal unconscious: signs, symbols, and patterns of thinking inherited from our ancestors. Our unconscious consists of our unique experiences (childhood, parental interactions, trauma, accomplishments, etc.) and universal energies that have existed since time immemorial. The treasure is buried in our subconscious minds, and we can only access it through a courageous quest.

Let’s return to the song. It puts a spotlight on the challenges of how couples reinvent themselves and strengthen their relationship after their dependents (children) are no longer so dependent on them and begin to forge their own paths. This will undoubtedly leave a void for the parent(s) and as attributed to Aristotle, “nature abhors a vacuum.” In other words, every space in nature needs to be filled with something and this includes the souls of people. To feel alive and worthy we need direction and purpose and when something significant no longer needs our gifts and talents applied to them as they once did, or they are no longer there to prosper from them and vice versa, this can lead to an existential crisis that can either be handled in a healthy manner and lead to asking ourselves some very deep questions such as: 

Why am I here? 

What are my gifts? 

How do I best apply my talents? 

What would the world miss if I were not here?

What fills my soul?

What inspires awe in me?

What brings me joy?

Or conversely, if these deeper, more significant questions and inquiries are not explored, then we will knowingly or unknowingly be controlled by them in unhealthy ways. This can show up in the form of depression, lacking energy and motivation, addiction, poor diet, not taking care of oneself physically, letting relationships lapse, anxiety, tics, phobias, and so on. In the former, we are saying yes to life and accepting all that comes with embarking on a challenging quest. In the latter, we are saying no to it and risk quietly fading away as the song’s narrator is committed to not doing.

Sometimes it helps to turn to authors, poets, and philosophers (as well as songwriters) to open our minds and expand our thinking regarding the possibilities by reframing how we view the world and our lives.

For example,

Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.”Click To Tweet

And along similar lines, and I’m sure Herbert adapted his line from Nietzsche, this is what the German philosopher wrote:

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.”Click To Tweet

Problems are always a part of life, and they need to be dealt with. After all, the first line of the classic book The Road Less Traveled says, “Life is difficult.” It is a challenge to navigate the vicissitudes of life skillfully. It takes great training via the development of fortitude, courage, resilience, optimism, humor, physical wherewithal, resources in terms of relationships, money, competence, confidence, humility, realism, and so many other tools to not only ride the roller coaster of life safely, but to enjoy it as well, and hopefully be able to direct it in to where we want it to go. And it’s through contending with challenges (versus viewing them as problems) that we can over time begin to transform our consciousness from fragile, dependent entities to individuals with a strong sense of self that is able to self-regulate, form healthy habits, come to learn that discipline equals freedom, and follow a direction guided by the gravitational pull of a compelling purpose.

Similar to Herbert and Nietsche, who both stated unequivocally that life is not a problem to be solved, adopting a challenge-oriented mindset can open the door to the potential to embarking on a very powerful, singular, and unique journey that is experienced holistically and not as individual items to check off our to do lists. We all have the potential to formulate a way of being and living that can be tied to a higher calling, a quest to find the treasure that we can bring back and share with others. 

It’s often the case in mythology and fairy tales that dragons and other hideous creatures often guard the treasure. Like anything we read, we can take them literally or dive down more deeply and interpret them metaphorically and symbolically. Psychologically these fearful entities represent the shadow parts of our unconscious. We try to ignore or resist these aspects of ourselves because they are distasteful, shameful, or too painful or difficult to deal with. And yet, the only way out is through. They must be dealt with, or they will be like a very effective, patient, stealthy guerilla army that will slowly but surely envelop us if we don’t.

Bruce Springsteen is such a good lyricist and songwriter. One of his many great songs is Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s about the facade of quiet and pristine suburban life that masks some very dark forces (the shadow) that happen behind closed doors. I think these stanzas powerfully convey the risks of not dealing with those dark energies we need to address in our lives (and as a society overall).

Well everybody’s got a secret, son

Something that they just can’t face

Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it

They carry it with them every step that they take

‘Til some day they just cut it loose

Cut it loose or let it drag ’em down

Where no one asks any questions

Or looks too long in your face

In the darkness on the edge of town

In the darkness on the edge of town

Unfortunately, the song’s narrator lets things go too far and finds himself in much too deep and now has lost motivation and meaning and is at great risk of choosing a long-term solution to a short-term problem.

You know some folks are born into a good life

And other folks get it anyway, anyhow

Well now I lost my money and I lost my wife

Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now

Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop

I’ll be on that hill with everything I got

With our lives on the line where dreams are found and lost

I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost

For wanting things that can only be found

In the darkness on the edge of town

In the darkness on the edge of town

Last week I wrote about playing in a tennis tournament and how overall, I was very happy with the experience and my performance. I did reference an outburst of anger that, while not something I was proud of, it did help me get recentered and back on track and feel much calmer in its aftermath. One of the reasons why analyzing dreams is such fertile ground for delving into our psyches, and unconscious is because our intellectual minds are bypassed so that filter is no longer there to allow us to rationalize our thoughts and behaviors (or lack thereof). Thus, if we can remember our dreams in vivid detail, then they can offer us a window into issues we are contending with but may not be fully aware of or have the ability to describe and articulate adequately. 

Unfortunately, I rarely can remember my dreams, that my inner territory seems quite barren for now unless I can learn how to improve my ability to recall my dreams and with some level of detail. Tennis, however, is another realm when I’m in the heat of battle where that intellectual filter is often bypassed when my ego has hijacked my entire being and is now clearly in charge. It’s at those times when it wants what it wants, and nothing will get in its way. 

I could have chalked up my anger to being in the moment and reframed it as a sign of a strong desire, determination, and will to win so I shouldn’t overthink it. After all, look how much I’ve improved, so don’t rock the boat. Or, I could use what I have been learning in my Jungian explorations to acknowledge that this is just me rationalizing and sweeping my anger under the rug and resisting a shadow characteristic of mine. After all, I rarely get mad and lash out in my everyday life, but I have on the tennis court, so I better pay attention to that and do a deeper inquiry or else “‘Til some day they just cut it loose..Cut it loose or let it dram ‘em down” as The Boss sings with such depth and feeling. 

In the podcast episode on anger, one of the analysts said that it can arise when we feel thwarted in our attempts to achieve and grow. After hearing that, I could really identify with it. When I have worked very hard physically, my cardio is elevated, my thoughts are racing, the adrenaline is pumping, and I have made valiant efforts to chase down balls, I feel almost entitled to win, and that when I don’t, I feel like I’m going backward, I can’t get over the hump, I feel less than, I’m stuck in a rut and not growing. Of course, none of this is rational, but that’s the point, as our subconscious can’t be sweet-talked, pumped up, and lectured since it is wired the way it’s wired from our childhood, traumas, parental rearing, cultural expectations, etc. If we get triggered, our reaction functions can often be beyond the guardrails of our rational minds.

On the other hand, that’s not to say it can’t be modified by having these energies brought into our consciousness. They can, and that’s the primary purpose of Jungian work. Shine a light on what’s in the deep recesses of our psyches and acknowledge, accept, understand, and welcome them so we can integrate them into our everyday lives so that we can become healthy, productive, and joyful human beings. This is the essence of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic The Sound of Silence.

In this first stanza, the narrator brings to light the darkness enveloping him and welcoming it again into his life.

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

And to follow along the Jungian path, the narrator talks about his dreams. There seems to be a situation in which the narrator sees a mass of people infected with groupthink and unable to act independently on their own accord. Like many prophets, his admonishment goes unheeded as he warns them that what resists persists in that our shadows left unaddressed by remaining silent will spread like a cancer. Unfortunately, like most true believers, they cannot or are unwilling to hear anything that might challenge their firmly held beliefs because if they have to give them up then who are they?

What is their identity? 

In restless dreams, I walked alone.

Narrow streets of cobblestone

‘Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light, I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never shared

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words, like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

And while the tone of this blog post may have been a bit on the darker, subdued side, it is actually quite positive as I bring it to an end. 

Last week I had a match with the person who has challenged me more than anyone on the tennis court. He is seven years younger, in amazing shape, he possesses a will that probably surpasses mine. He is extremely intelligent, always striving to learn, improve, and grow, and is someone who consistently has matches with better players than myself. Thus, playing him is always a good litmus test as to how I am doing. It’s especially important that I am particularly strong mentally when I play him. 

With this deeper self-exploration, I wanted to alchemize these shadow issues I have been wrestling with into something much more healthy. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago when discussing some of my affirmations prior to the tournament, one of them was if I’m going to internalize, then I want to fertilize. I’m going to strive to use the yucky material as fertilizer for growth.

I read a very good article that was extremely helpful in putting tennis in an even greater perspective and improving my chances of walking on the court cool, calm, collected, and, more importantly, staying that way no matter how hot the match got. 

This is from The Real Meaning of Tennis.

Players feel empty inside. They lack self-worth and self-respect and don’t feel good about themselves.

They start playing tennis and notice some results. They improve fast, especially if they are talented. They seem to be good.

They need tennis results to fill their void – their inner black hole of unworthiness and feeling bad about themselves. They think it is tennis results [that] will help them feel better.

But what it comes down to eventually is that there are no great tennis results without self-respect and self-worth.

When you play tough matches, every part of your psyche is tested. Unless you help [yourself] with every part of your mind, support yourself in critical situations, stay positive, and believe in yourself, you will fail.

At the end of the road – tennis results and your tennis career will show you time and time again that it is not tennis that will help you feel better. It is you that must shift from the feeling of self-degradation to self-respect.

If you do that, your tennis will only be a mirror of that.

That’s the whole point of this game.

It’s just a trick of the universe, god or source energy. It’s just a special way of showing you how important it is to love and respect yourself – without external factors and opinions of other people.

That was the message I needed to hear (or read). How can I focus on being kind to others and expect that in return and be downright cruel and degrading at times to the person I have to live with every second of the day: Myself? I owe it to myself to honor my value, integrity, and what I can offer others to be filled with great self-respect and dignity. The game should bring forth these characteristics, and if they don’t, then I have a lot of work to do as the game doesn’t make the man. The man makes the game.

So what happened? I went into the match very centered and stayed that way, no matter what happened. I won the first set 6-3, and we were tied 6-6 when we ran out of time. I was more pleased with my approach to the match and my self-respect than anything else. And isn’t it funny how the positive outcome may have reflected that?

According to Carl Jung, the entire purpose of the journey and quest of life is to reach a state of individuation. And what is individuation? (Unfortunately, I don’t remember the source as I had this in my Evernote from years back without citing where I obtained it.)

The process by which we explore our inner psychological world, clarifying our yearnings, integrating shadow elements in the psyche, balancing masculine and feminine aspects, and coming to terms with a deep and profound sense of who we are. The outcomes of this process – if we have been conscious as we experienced it – is the birth of the Self. This accomplishment marks the return from the journey, which culminates in the transformation of the kingdom, a transformation that can happen only when we not only give birth to the Self but manifest that Self in real and tangible ways in the world. 

Maybe, just maybe, I have taken the first steps down this challenging and sometimes perilous road towards individuation. Only time will tell, especially my demeanor on the tennis court.

Wish me luck!

One comment on “Where Do We Go from Here? Life's Inflection Points
  1. Dwight Frindt says:

    Thanks for your excellent work in introspection. Keep it up young Jedi 😊.
    In being with a tree now and then I notice trees do not question their right to be here, they jus kept contributing absorbing carbon and giving off oxygen, all while being with the way that it is and the way that it isn’t.
    David Whyte points out that if we talked to others the way we talk to ourselves we wouldn’t have any friends at all. Trees apparently don’t have that problem and yet the do talk to each other…

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