Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Have Identified the Problem...

“I have identified the problem, I just haven’t made the time to fix it.”

My father-in-law said these words last night as we drove through the cold and dark of Montana on the evening before the Winter Solstice. We were headed east from Billings to Miles City for an early Christmas dinner with fifty of Erica’s closest relatives and the plastic panel next to me was rattling in a way that annoyed us all. I stuffed a pillow between my seat and the panel and the rattling stopped. I hadn’t fixed the problem, but I had stopped the noise.

A few hours later, after consuming about 4000 calories—mostly from butter and sugar—we got in the van and started back for Billings. As I rested my head against the inside of the window, looking for Northern Lights in the fifteen-below-zero degree darkness, Mike’s words came back to me: “I have identified the problem, I just haven’t made the time to fix it.” It struck me that in the larger context of my life, this sentence rings truer than I am strictly comfortable with. But before I could devote any of my overtired, overfull attention to this realization, I fell asleep—my exhalations freezing on the inside of the window into a thick layer of ice by the time I woke up in Billings.

The following morning I forced myself out the door for a four-mile run through air that was struggling (unsuccessfully) to reach zero degrees. As I ran the sweat made its way out through the three layers of clothes I had on and froze as hoarfrost on my legs, chest, back, and beard. To keep my mind off the frigid temperatures, I thought about what Mike had said the night before.

I have been reading some of Carl Jung’s writings about the challenges of mid-life, and this idea of identifying problems and working to make things different and better has been on my mind a lot lately.

Carl Jung identified 5 main phases of midlife:

* Accommodation (meeting others' expectations - actually, this takes place in the first part of life, but is the context in which midlife processes take place)
* Separation (rejecting the accommodated self)
* Liminality (a period of uncertainty, where life seems directionless and meanders)
* Reintegration (working out 'who I am' and becoming comfortable with that identity)
* Individuation (facing up to and accepting the undesirable aspects of our own character)

Along with these phases, (which are often non-linear and overlapping), Jung identifies the main choice adult humans have to make as they enter the second half of their lives. Jung says people can direct the bulk of their energies into conserving what they have created in their lives OR they can continue to be a creative force for change in their own lives.

I am at that exact point of having to make this choice. My mind and heart tell me to choose the second path, but I am finding a lifetime of habit to be a sometimes-powerful obstacle to overcome. I feel just like my father-in-law with his van door: I have identified the problems, I just have to decide whether, when, and how to fix them.

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