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Awakening Spring in Autumn – A Sample Chapter

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What happens when we ignore these “strange attractor” and assume that they are only a rising mist, a wind that rustles dying leaves, or an aged willow that looks so grey? What happens when we choose massive denial and make the wrong decision? We face stagnation—a loss of spirit and an absence of soul. We grieve the loss of spirit, yet we fail to restore spirit or move into soul work. We withdraw from the world, but don’t turn inward toward soul. We become “mean spirited,” turning our spirit into a negative force.

The stagnant male is animus-dominated. He resent others of his own age when they remain engaged in the world. He resorts to sarcasm and resistance, having abandoned hope and ambition. He even resents the young men and women who are newly engaged in the world. Like Scrooge, the stagnant Autumnal male focuses on one thing at the expense of all other aspects of life. For Scrooge that one thing was money. The stagnant obsession for Scrooge-like men in real life may concern power, position, traditional family values, reputation or an old political cause. They strive toward goals such as the acquisition of wealth or power—but these incentives no longer have meaning for us when we are stagnant.

Meanwhile, the stagnant female is anima-dominated. She resents being cast into the role of servant to her demanding spouse and children. They are going out into the world to find their fame and fortune, while she is still at home or working in an under-paid and under-appreciated job in some barren organization. Typically, she is working for a male boss who lacks emotional intelligence, relying on her to do the “dirty work” (equivalent to cleaning up the baby’s back side). Why does she still do most of the cooking at home – and all of the cleaning? Like the stagnant male, this woman acts out of habit. She has reached a point in her life when activities should take on their own meaning and impetus—activities that were previously means to other ends (such as the approval of her life partner, the admiration of other women, the achievement of security).

For both the Autumnal woman and man, the original purpose is lost. We must either move in new directions in our life or invest new purpose in the activities we are already doing. Psychologists identify this second option as “secondary autonomy.” (Hartmann, 1958) It can serve as the foundation for either psychic renewal or psychic stagnation. Our stagnant woman can find new purpose in her cooking (perhaps taking classes at the local culinary institute or community college). She can redecorate her home and add bright new colours to the walls in her living room. Or she can volunteer in a local service club and serve on the executive committee with other women and “evolved” men who take her seriously and appreciate her skill and hard work.

Our Scrooge-like man of Autumn can repurpose his existing work and move away from an orientation toward success. He can instead move to an orientation toward significance—finding ways for his work to be of tangible benefit to his society. He can find satisfaction in mentoring the young women and men with whom he works; he can teach in the business school at the local university. He can let go of his controls and serve the family, helping them explore and establish their own identities. Stagnation can turn to generativity even without a radical change in one’s career. Accumulated life experiences can be of great value. We don’t have to start all over again; but we do need to do what we are already doing in a more caring and life-giving manner.

There is another, very disturbing aspect of psychic stagnation. We chose stagnation when we desperately try to blunt our pain—when we feel hopeless and confused. . . . We yearn for atonement and peace. We act out of an obsessive need to somehow heal the wound and eliminate the anxiety associated with midlife depression. David Morris (1991) has suggested that we live in a society that no longer can find any meaning in the experience of pain. This is largely because there is now the possibility of avoiding or eliminating pain through medical advancement and, in particular, “pain-killers.” We try to escape from that which is painful rather than finding meaning in this pain. We race away from our inner voices from other rooms and from the feminine and masculine voices because we hope to avoid pain and somehow find peace without suffering.

Unfortunately, we live in societies that not only approve of this avoidance, but also offer many antidotes to pain, both legal and illegal. We live in societies that are filled with middle-aged men and women who would rather escape pain than find any meaning or purpose in the pain or, for that matter, find meaning in any other aspects of life. In certain societies, people stop learning, growing and transforming the day they find their first job. Government jobs that are symbolically called ‘iron rice bowls’ are in demand, for they help one avoid the pain of unlearning and relearning. Life after retirement becomes even easier, as there is no need to think or work, while sitting on the pedestal of past achievements and glory. Pain and generativity are companions, so are stagnation and the avoidance of pain. Pain and generativity are the curative arms and eyes that attend to us without anger or hatred.

Discerning the True Voices

In attending to voices from other rooms, we must make some important decisions regarding what we do with the messages we receive. In attending to these voices, we do not necessarily have to do what the voices suggest. We must listen, but don’t have to take the advice. During the Middle Ages in Europe and in many Asian spiritual traditions, mystics attend carefully to the voices they receive through meditation and contemplation. They remain open to various mystical experiences. However, these mystics realized that some of these messages might come from somewhere other than a divine source. The voices may come from their own personal ego, from other people, or even from some evil source. As a result, these mystics devised methods not only for contemplation and transcendent experience, but also for determining which messages come from God and which come from elsewhere. They called this process “discernment.”

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