— from Rosie Kuhn —
All day long we process and interpret patterns and momentary snapshots of life, in order to make meaning. Tarot cards, astrology, economic forecasting, political unrest, weather patterns, a grumpy barista, getting up on the wrong side of the bed – each of us are continually bombarded with thoughts, sensations, and emotions, all of which contributes to the ongoing practice of making meaning of our lives.
Making meaning gives us a sense of who we are in the midst of the reality we are immersed in. Making meaning also provides a sense of safety, security, stability, and invulnerability. We continually look for what makes sense in the world and what we can put our faith in. Yes, meaning and faith are intricately and intimately connected.
When an individual cannot make meaning of the circumstance in front of them, they begin to lose faith in themselves and their reality. They feel vulnerable, exposed, and uncertain of who they are and what is their’s to do. They doubt their ability to function in the real world, and they begin to lose faith. They are afraid to tell anyone what it is like inside them, because they believe they are the only one to ever experience a crisis of faith, more widely thought of as a midlife crisis.
Generally, when in a midlife crisis, the experience is ‘my life has no meaning’ and uncertainty and doubt arise. People feel directionless and lost. Hope becomes hopeless, and powerful shifts to powerless. Why? Because what we believed to be meaningful is now experienced as meaningless. What happened?
We think of a mid-life crisis as a cross-roads. An individual arrives at this crossroad when what they think and what they do seem to be meaningless. When someone finds themselves at this juncture in life, he or she will use Herculean strength to stay on the well worn path of normal. However, the true direction to experiencing personal meaning is to take that path less traveled. Choosing to fully immerse oneself into the experience of meaninglessness, though it sounds intolerable, actually becomes the most empowering and exquisitely excruciating act of courage known to humankind. Yep, you read that right.
Since the aging process includes a whole lifetime, and because we are living longer than ever before, it isn’t unusual for individuals to experience more than one life crisis. Adolescents question life and meaning, so much so that suicide is the second leading cause of death for children between the age of 10 and 24. We are familiar with midlife crises for those in their 30s, 40s, 50s. And, we know that for the elderly, the question of meaning is sometimes insurmountable.
Sometimes a life crisis is a consequence of an event or circumstance, but more often than not, it occurs because there was a question that arose from apparently nowhere – “What does this all mean?”
Quite often, regardless of the age of the individual, the experience is one of a shattering – as though the mirror on the wall that reflected their identity, their reality, fell and shattered into a million pieces.
Though this event can be as devastating as a full on car-crash, this shattering rarely involves an ambulance, or any other form of emergency medical assistance. This event quite often is never even talked about, though the internal experience can be horrific. Meaning, identity, purpose, values, priorities, beliefs, reality – all are obliterated! In this moment we are not only in a midlife crisis, we are in a spiritual crisis – a crisis of faith.
Crisis of Faith
Up until this shattering, every second of our lives we put all of our faith in the reality we trained ourselves to obey and pay homage to. Rarely do we realize this is a practice of faith – one we don’t even question.
Though we may go to church and say we put our faith in God, rarely do we put our faith in God during the week. Instead, we put our faith in our car, in our job, in our 401K, in the stock market, in our children, their teachers, the washing machine. We put our faith in our body, in alcohol and other substances. We put our faith in doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, the media, our Facebook friends. Boy – I’m feeling agitated just writing this. I think I’ll change the subject! Oh, I so want to let myself off the hook right now! But alas, I have a job to complete….
The aging process isn’t about the decline of our bodies and our minds. The aging process is about cultivating wisdom. For me, wisdom is the ability to utilize the intelligence within us. Sadly this intelligence is sorely invalidated by the world we have immersed ourselves in.
We train ourselves to ignore our intelligence and our own personal experience for what we are told. Instead we’ve trained ourselves to put our faith in our parents, teachers and others we’ve deemed to be the authorities. A crisis of faith is the moment when we are required to reclaim our own ignored truths and intelligence. A crisis of faith requires a rehabilitation and strengthening of those muscles of self-trust, self-honor, and dignity.
Yes, you – aging, cultivating wisdom and intelligence. Cultivating trust and faith in your own direct experience as a particpant of life; choosing to choose for yourself what something means, and choosing where to put your faith, based on your own experience – not someone else’s.
You know when something has meaning for you, because in that moment you experience an uplifting sensation accompanied by a sigh of relief, as does the feeling of relaxation. You feel good – you might even find yourself smiling. You see beauty and light when perhaps just moments ago, all seemed in despair and ruin. In this moment you know what is true. The experience of delight intrinsic in this knowing – well, believe it or not, you can put your faith in that.
If you’d like to join in the AGING – Who Me in-person discussions at the Senior Center, we are meeting this coming Tuesday – Feb. 28, from 1 2:30 p.m. For more information, or if you’d like to talk on a one to one basis, call Dr. Rosie Kuhn at 360-376-4323.