“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” ~Carl Jung
Imagine yourself on a beach on a lovely summer’s day. You have spent the past few hours lovingly and painstakingly constructing a fantastic sandcastle, complete with moat and protective walls. You stand back admiring your work when you notice that the tide is coming in. At first you think it won’t reach your castle, then you hope against hope that it won’t, but with each successive lapping the water comes closer. Soon you can no longer deceive yourself into thinking that your creation is untouchable. The water begins to erode the foundation and all you can do is watch as it disappears before your eyes.
Midlife is like standing on the beach, watching your castle being swept out to sea. The castle contains many things: health, energy, hopes, dreams, beliefs, beauty, a sense of immortality. There are many ways one can meet the “afternoon of life.” In our country, midlife is something to be resisted. Ours is a nation that extols youth, novelty, consumption, conformity and extraversion; it does not venerate or cultivate age, wisdom, intuition, introversion, and introspection—all the qualities called for at midlife.
Psychologically speaking, midlife beckons us to move past ego and discover our internal, immortal essence—what Jung called the Self. We are called to move from an external orientation to an internal one, to transform ourselves in a profound and meaningful way by embracing the fullness of who we are. It is normal to develop our egos as we go through the first half of life; discovering our strengths, falling in love, working, and creating an outer life are all important. The trouble arises when we stop at this stage, believing that that is all there is, or all that matters. A person (or a culture) centered on youth and novelty has no internal compass, no guiding wisdom, no depth of character. It’s shallow and insubstantial and about as attractive as an old, painted hooker.
We fritter our energies and ignore our souls attempting to hold back the sea. Pursuing eternal youth and material goods is a vain attempt—in both senses of the word—to hold fast to a castle that is returning to the sea. It is Sisyphean and sad to try to look and behave like a 30 year old when you’re pushing 60; sad because it’s such a tremendous waste of a powerful and precious opportunity to become something more: someone deeper and more soulful, someone unique with something real to offer.
“What at morning is true at evening will have become a lie,” and what will matter is not how young you look or what you own but who you truly are—not who you once were, or who you imagine yourself to be, but who you uniquely and actually are. The opportunity to come into our fullness is the sacred gift contained in midlife. Who are you? Why are you here? What needs to be done? And what will remain when your castle returns to the sea?