November 17th, 2014 · what do you want in life
In Part 1 of this post, we saw how discerning what we really want becomes much more individual in the second half of life; in this post we look more at what that might mean.
Actualizing what we want, and living it out means being able to truly hold the tension between our desire, our yearning — our “call” even — and the concrete realities of our lives.
Stuck in the Archetype of the Puer Aeternis
A danger that befalls many is simply letting our yearning float above our lives, and never doing anything to make it actual. Depth psychotherapists would call this a denial of soul. We all know people in whose lives this dynamic is glaringly obvious.
Jung’s colleague von Franz has amply spelled out the dangers of this psychological state of subjection to the puer aeternis or “eternal child” mode of being. At its best, this archetype of eternal youth can be the source of incredible art — think Mozart . At its worst, it can keep an individual hovering above the real substance of his or her life, perpetually refusing to be tied down.
Why We Need to Keep It Real
We can avoid the risk of actualizing the things that matter most to us, for reasons such as:
- we fear it will create messy, complex situations in our lives;
- we fear that life will make us pay dearly for getting what we really want;
- we’ve somehow absorbed the message that we don’t deserve to have this thing in our lives; or,
- we fear that the real thing, once we get it, will be not quite as good as the way we’ve imagined it.
Although we don’t admit it to ourselves, it can be quite tempting to stay floating with the fantasy of what we want, rather than taking actual steps and sacrifices to bring it into being.
Leonard Cohen captures this state of the provisional life superbly in his song “Waiting for the Miracle“. He shows the state of yearning, of going nowhere, and of the extraordinary cost when we allow what we want and need to hover provisionally “out there”, and never seize hold of it.
There is an aching poignancy to his words, reflecting both regret and yearning…
What I Want, or What I Feel I Have to Settle For?
Once we try to seize hold of what we really desire, we most often have to reach some accommodation between our yearnings and the realities of the world. It may well be that the things I desire are very difficult to bring about. There may be financial, legal, or family reasons why what’s desired is hard to attain. There may also be psychological issues, in that attaining this thing flies in the face of conventional morality, or requires us to face our own shadow, the part of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge or accept.
Also, desires that emerges might go in directions that just aren’t sanctioned by the collective or group to which we belong. Example: a chartered accountant who takes pottery lessons may not always meet with approval or understanding from colleagues.
Yet we can’t just throw up our hands and forget these yearnings. To do so might entail a terrible cost. Often we have to move in the direction that life is beckoning, if we are to avoid a sense of flatness and sterility in our lives.
Who I truly am is linked to what I really want. The question “What do you want in life?” is fundamentally a question about identity.
It’s not enough for soul to just fantasize about living the things that really matter to us, at that very individual level. It has to be made real, incarnated, lived out. The work of depth psychotherapy concerns overcoming the often very real barriers to living our own real life.
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst