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Posts Tagged ‘life’

Metaphors for life

Life is a house in ruins. And we mean to fix it up

and make it snug.

From the poem “Couplings” by Menna Elfyn, translated from Welsh by J. Clansy

This metaphor for life would explain why we often try to fix something that does not require fixing. I know a few people who believe life is a war or a battlefield. I wonder if they can put their guard down. Some of those metaphors we carry with us were not chosen by us, but for us and are worth revisiting. What happens if we allow for the new ones to emerge from deep within us?

The other day I was exploring my own metaphors for life, the ones that might be unconsciously influencing my choices and ended up trying new ones for size, the ones that ring true to me today. One of those that emerged quite organically was that of a garden. (The gardening season here has started but I did not know much about gardens or plants and hardly planted anything so let us say I was suprised by this image.)

Seeing life as a garden made me feel more connected with the gentle yet powerful energy that growing things carry, reminded me that I often turn to nature for healing and when I need to feel rooted and supported.

Playful exploration in watercolors lead to the line from Rumi’s poem, “The Gardener is coming”. Which means I am not the Gardener! This is not my garden to fix but I am invited in, like everybody else, to explore, to touch and be touched by Life. The garden that came up for me was nothing like an organised and structured English garden but rather a half-wild mixed garden with trees, bushes, flowers and grass, in all colors.

Just remain in the center,

watching, And then forget

that you are there.

Lao Tzu

Thinking of a garden brought up the theme of seasons in life just as seasons are an important aspect in a life of a garden, the seasonality of appearance and disappearance, acceptance of the old things dying as new are being borne.

So, what is life like for you?

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As it often happens in life, once we ask a question, answers start coming from all possible directions. My journey into the basement to meet my shadow led me to often shocking discoveries of the patterns that kept surfacing in my personal life and insights as to how they were shaping my life. Some of those discoveries could have been done much earlier with the help of a professional, I suppose. Nevertheless, here I am, years and multiple sabotaged relationships later and my research on the subject (without looking for anything in particular) led me to mooching the book by Jungian analyst James Hollis “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life“. This just a week or so before my birthday (interesting coincidence). I was saving the book for the week-end. Today, when iTunes started downloading the podcast updates, I opened it up to see who Tami Simon interviewed this time on “Insights at the Edge” and gasped in disbelief when I saw the title of the new episode: “James Hollis: Underneath the Midlife Crises”. Come on!  Now I had both the book and a very skillfully done interview with the author.

So what’s the deal with the so-called “midlife” crisis and how come it seems I’ve been having one for years although I don’t have any conscious fear of aging?

Hollis posits that any crisis occurs when the maps we are carrying (conscious or unconscious ones we adopted from our culture or family of origins) do not match the terrain, when there is discrepancy between “what we sought, served, and accomplished, and what we feel in our private, honest moments”. This occurs when we experience the unavoidable conflict between the natural Self and the acquired “sense of self” (he calles it “the false self”) with “the values and strategies we have derived from internalizing the dynamics and messages of our family and our culture”*.  As children, we adopt certain defense mechanisms to ensure our survival and  we carry those with us into every decision we make as adults. Those unconscious mechanisms often guide our choices in directions quite different from those our soul desires. Most of us experience this identity crisis many times in the course of our lives and as any collision, it’s a painful experience.

As for “midlife” crisis, Hollis does not see it as “a momentary madness” , but an invitation from our soul to a more authentic existence, when something larger is wishing to emerge; an opportunity to radically examine one’s life. We have gathered enough internal material to actually address the critical question,

Am I living my life or somebody else’s?


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How much is this moment worth to me? To get a sense of worth of something I need to compare it to something else, something on the same scale. I would probably value the moment I take a step into the emptiness of the open sky with a parachute on my back more than a quiet morning in the kitchen when I am waiting for my espresso to be ready. At least today when I feel I could use more action :-).

Most of our awake time I spend comparing stuff,  assigning value to things, events and experiences based on how I feel about them at a particular time. It is easy to forget that all of those also have absolute value, outside myself and my story. Every single experience, event or thing is unique and therefore comparing it to the next one does not make sense.

If  we remembered about the absolute value of everything, lots of anxiety in our lives would dissipate because at its root lies comparison, preferences and discrimination of one thing over another. When we take relative value of things for their absolute value, we end up chasing those things or experiences we value higher than others. This is not bad in itself, it just doesn’t work in the end.

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It was one of the tough days that call for a treat. On that particular evening it was the bar of  rather expensive dark chocolate with cherry and chilli pepper that had the task of saving my evening. I had a gnawing headache that was so subtle it was hard to notice. When it was my turn to pay at the grocery store, I realised I didn’t have enough money on my bank account and Swiss chocolate had to go. (I have to explain here that I do not owe or use a credit card.) It was not such a big deal: I needed to get home to my PC and transfer some money from the electronic saving account to the one that was connected to my Visa card.

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Not that I was interested in that particular TV-show. Even so with no special plans for Friday night it seemed like a good idea to visit a friend who invited me to watch the show I liked. Somewhat unwillingly, I stepped out into the cold night and immediately loved the sensation of crispy air against the cheeks, the dark sky, the silence hanging over the neighbourhood and the prospect of walking alone with my thoughts for at least a quarter of an hour. The street was empty – on Friday night not much happens in our neighbourhood.

Not much happens in Sweden in general. There is little place for contact outside one’s social circle. Talking to strangers is restricted to a brief exchange of remarks at the train station when the train is running late or polite smiles when strangers’ eyes meet. I have not been outside the country for a year and started missing the spontaneity of encounters that often comes when people find themselves in between countries and social norms of their cultures. Surprising encounters happen somewhere else, and most definitely not in our quiet area where on a Friday night you are more likely to run into a hurrying on some urgent business rabbit than another human being.


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On “the arrogance of reason”

Friday dinner/metaphysical discussion with a friend who is currently trying to figure out the answer to the-meaning-of-life question.

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