As women and men in late midlife, we must discern the good voices from the bad voices. We must sort out the truth about our psyche from all the false claims that swirl around us. We have three options when it comes to discerning these voices. We can choose to ignore the voices. This is our first choice and seemingly the safest one. Our second choice is to listen to the wrong voices. Our third choice is to listen to the right voices. To be successful in making this third choice, we must determine which of the voices seem to be responsive to our changing Autumnal needs, values and life purposes. We must determine which voices seem to keep us stagnant and stuck where we are right now, which distract us from new-found pathways, and which turn us toward pathways that are destructive to ourselves and the people we love.
These distinctions are not easily drawn. As women and men of Autumn, we usually know little about the process of discernment. We are accustomed to living in the external world, making decisions based on data that exists out there in reality. We are great at repeating the safe old patterns of thought and action. “How much money do we need to pay our bills this month?” “Which of these technical training programs is likely to prepare our daughter best for her future life?” “Where do we want to plant that new tree?” The process of discernment requires that we attend to internal data and make decisions based not on rational argument and analysis but on deep searching for inner truths related to our hopes and fears. This is not an easy task, when we live in a fast, noisy and demanding world.
We must ask difficult questions about our inner life, with courage. “Which emotions are elicited when I think about enacting this long-deferred dream?” “Of what am I most afraid when considering a positive response to this invitation from my inner voices?” “What is old, safe and stagnant in my current life?” “What is new, risky and generative in my emerging life?” “Who might be impacted in positive or negative ways, when I make this choice?” “Who can I speak to, for some advice?” “What rules might I be breaking, if I continue this way?” While several practical suggestions about discernment are offered later in this book, each of us must find our own way to discern what is right and wrong for us during our Autumnal years.
The first and most important step is to listen to the voices. Without this first step there is no need to discern anything, for we have chosen to remain deaf and blind to our inner world. We have chosen stagnation over generativity. Our child will die in our arms. We will wear garments of anger and hatred, living with hopelessness and confusion.. . . in this instance, our own childlike self, dreams we have abandoned, and voices we have ignored in the rooms of our early adulthood.
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