Right before leaving to Belarus, a surprise call from Esalen came confirming admit to a workshop for which we’d been wait-listed. A spontaneous “yes” landed me (and hubby) at one of my favorite places on earth, barely home a week from the intensity of international travel. I was sleep deprived, still jet-lagged and relatively unclear about my sanity. But when has that ever stopped me?
This was a full week-long film seminar with a 30 year track record at Esalen. We met some incredible film buff devotees. This year’s theme? Meaningful Aliveness in the Second Half of Life. Which actually turned out to be fertile ground in which to continue to plow through my ancestral musings. The films were an immersive wave of stories recounting the universal call conscious humans have to create meaning out of random life circumstance. Story after story of struggle and despair, love and triumph, suffering and hope.
When the time we have remaining becomes so obviously shorter than what has already passed, this call to meaning often becomes insistent. Even in this beautiful group, ranging in age from 50 to past eighty, we were not in the relatively young part of the spectrum. Over the course of seventeen films, particular themes began to take shape for each participant and we leaned into the framework of Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging to help articulate and define our focus.
I don’t think it matters if you are twenty or eighty, this is a beautiful list to contemplate and I offer it up here for your perusal:
- Face the certainty of death. Well, O.K. We may as well start here. Because the other six are impossible to consider until we truthfully breathe into this one. We happen to live in a death denying culture so, if it feels challenging, it’s because we, for the most part, just do not go there. Each, in our own way, would be well served to find a way to do just that. The shape of shivasana, or corpse pose in yoga, was described by Patabhi Joies as “practice death, little bit, every day.” I love that; there is nothing like embodied practice.
- Review, reflect upon and sum up your life. I remember when I was forty telling my incredibly astute daughter that there were historical life details I was already forgetting. In all her innocence, she looked clearly at me and said “Well mom, why don’t you write them down.” It took me about a year, but I did just that back then. Navel gazing has its place. I am grateful for a life arc that has included plenty of reflection in a variety of mediums.
- Let go of roads not taken. This one feels so clear from this vantage point. I see where I could have gone but did not. Mostly the passage of time has clarified and softened the roads I have not travelled. The trajectory of a life is composed of choice points and regret does not have to be a final emotion.
- Let go of the dominance of the ego. Huge awareness gift when we discover the cast of characters that have been so busy for so long protecting us from the boogey man. Notice this is not an invitation to transcend or get rid of ego. I love Gabrielle’s metaphor for this one. Who’s driving the car? Whether this territory perplexes you or fascinates you…we are so going there in community. Please calendar November 2-4 for Essence Revealed . Because your beautiful potential car-driving essence is what ego is desperately keeping under wraps.
- Encounter and honor the wholeness of the Self within and with others. There is so much enticement, so many nooks and crevices in this complex statement. And of course there is no final answer. In this moment, from things that came to pass these last few weeks, I find myself focusing on gratitude. Tracking my negativity showing up in the form of complaint and finding my way from there to simply being grateful. Alert for moments of feeling blame or blamed and taking the wider Rumi perspective of meeting out in that field beyond right and wrong. Love. It all eventually circles back to love.
- Articulate your own raison d’etre. Victor Frankl tells us that life has meaning under all circumstances. From Principles of Logotherapy: “Meaning is found not only in what we do (work, hobbies, causes) and what we experience (nature, art, relationship) but also in the attitude we take in apparently meaningless, tragic situations that cause unavoidable suffering.” Why are you here?
- Engage creativity. Which is what happens with the energy that is freed up when tasks one through six are truly undertaken. Who knows what incredible form this might take and how dare we play small and keep our gifts from the world.
Wow. No small thing this list. You know, it was also no small thing for me to sit in a dark room eight consecutive days and stay open to the experience of transformative change with zero basis in embodied movement. I struggled. I stayed with. I trusted. And a lot of light was shed. So here’s an offering of a short list of the six films that moved me most:
- Leonard Bernstein: Larger than Life (documentary extraordinaire…wow!)
- The Straight Story (a David Lynch masterpiece)
- Ikiru (pictured up top—classic 1952 Akira Kurosawa)
- Tuesdays with Morrie (made for T.V…get out the kleenex)
- Shadowlands (the made for T.V. version)
- Limelight (Charlie Chaplin’s final film)
Let me know if you watch any one of them and how your experience sheds light on Carl Jung’s tasks. I’ll be out there holding Sweat Your Prayers this Sunday, my last time of the season. Come find meaning with me.