Life Crisis - Breakdown or Breakthrough?

We often misuse the term crises in modern English. “Crises” derives from the Greek “Krises” which has associations with: to separate, decide, judge, to discriminate. The term was used by Hippocrates and Galen to mean a “turning point in a disease.”

The dis-ease or dis-comfort we experience in the stages of a life crisis/ awakening can be caused by the misalignment of our ego and True Self. I use the term ego to refer to the structure that has been built based on our personal history and how we have learnt to deal with our experience. I use the term True Self to refer to our wholeness and highest potential.

Crises appear in many forms; adolescence, death of a loved one, loss of a job or identity, divorce, miscarriage, depression, mid-life crisis, menopause to name a few.  In fact, many crises are often a Crisis of Meaning and the mythic call to the adventure we call the Hero/Heroine’s journey.

“The typical life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.” Joseph Campbell.

A principle of psycho-spiritual psychology is that "Self is always seeking to become more itself."  This means that it is our True Self and not the organiser we call the ego that seeks greater and greater expression in the world. When our ego identifications do not align with the emergent True Self then the soul will seek the “death” of those ego identifications which we can experience as a crisis.

Often, we go through life constantly striving and achieving. For example, the successful business person and parent, who has spent their life doing and accumulating without asking “for what?” Eventually the “for what?” catches up with us, usually in the mid-life.

Psychosynthesis is a psychology that gives context for healthy neurotics (like you and me) to Self-actualise and to live a meaningful life aligned to our purpose and values. It’s founder, Assagioli, describes the phases we go through during a crisis of meaning which is characterised by a sense of lack, a thirst that cannot be quenched by anything material, which can be accompanied by “a sense of unreality and emptiness of ordinary life.” He names this phase “Crises Preceding the Spiritual Awakening.” The individual may begin to question their values and life purpose because what they are looking for is meaning. Our myths describe this condition as the hero feeling a sense of aridity before setting off on a quest. 

 “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.” - Dante

In our modern world we often do not have a context for this experience and it goes underground. Some may well seek medication and other forms of self soothing. Others will blame external factors and there is often pressure from colleagues, work, family and loved ones to “just get on with life” because the potential turmoil of change is too much.
Our healthcare service is under immense pressure to get people back on their feet and back to work. Medication and other interventions are promoted that metaphorically stick a plaster over the symptoms. Our ego’s naturally want to get away from the pain and suffering we experience and make 'it' go away. Yet, these very symptoms are the messages from our True Self, calls from the Soul, that something more is wanting expression, that more of us is attempting to breakthrough into our consciousness. 

With such a lack of support in mainstream western culture and little understanding of our natural life-stage cycles, no wonder so many people throw themselves into fervent activity in hope of staying attached to their old egoic identifications. This may manifest as a new relationship, new hobbies, toys or an array of addictive and soothing behaviours, or possibly taking on even more responsibilities. This creates the dramatic and manic outer life often seen during a mid-life crisis. The monomyth refers to this as “refusal of the call to adventure” (Campbell 1993). In psycho-spiritual terms this is called a refusal of the call to Self.

It is not uncommon for the experience of a lack of meaning and hopelessness to lead to suicidal fantasies. This is a dangerous confusion of levels because in the Hero/Heroine’s journey it may truly be time for a part of us to die, yet what we need is a symbolic death rather than an actual one! This symbolic death creates space for the emergent Self, for the next life chapter. 

The container provided by rites of passage have enabled people for thousands of years to separate from limiting mindsets, beliefs and identifications so that the symbolic death can take place safely. Ceremony provides space for realising the emergent Self and helps to contain life crises. In the past, we had many ceremonies to provide such containers and the Vision Quest or Wilderness Solo Fast was and still is one of them. 

When Rites of Passage, such as the Wilderness Solo Fast are not enacted we see the distressing effects of individuals who become stuck causing suffering for themselves and their communities. 

All rites of passage contain an archetypal pattern. It is the soul attempting to move a person through different life stages regardless of whether the container of ceremonial space is provided. Basically, crisis is inevitable and cannot be avoided - we may all need to separate, cross a threshold and return renewed to our life at some point.

The Wilderness Solo Fast offers a container for the letting go of egoic identifications and a surrender to Self, enabling the emotional and mental freedom to live the Hero/Heroine’s journey.

For too long many of our spiritual awakenings have been dismissed or reduced to breakdowns by those who do not how to facilitate the soul. Within the breakdown there is also the potential to break through to the truth who you are. If we listen carefully to the still quiet voice within us, often we can realign our lives before the situation becomes too painful.

I urge you to comment, share and like this post. Let us de-pathologise these powerful turning points in our lives.

Author: Jon Keen, Wild Rites Coach and Guide.
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