By today’s sociological standards midlife ranges between approximately 40 to 60 years of age. Initially, it might announce itself with the question, "Is this it? Is this all there is?" We might feel a vague sense of stagnation, at a loss for how to go forward. By the time we reach the midpoint of our lives, imperceptibly, something may have changed deep within us, as if our personal atmosphere flattened in tone, became somewhat gray and indistinct. Our days and weeks may seem to run together, merging into dull normalcy. In the background of our lives we might feel a vague sense of disenchantment, as we yearn for something more.
The motivation to embark on a spiritual path comes from the uncompromising experience of dissatisfaction. Plodding along day after day we might suddenly realize that we've been on a plateau without having experienced anything new, fresh, eventful, or uplifting for a very long time. There’s no longer a song in our heart, yet we feel compelled to keep the beat going, dutifully walking the tried and true way of many yesterdays, until one day when we can no longer postpone the urgent need to cut the rope and be free.
The spiritual passage begins with questioning some of our cherished assumptions about who we are and whether the life we have chosen for ourselves has been a conscious choice. By considering these questions we retreat from the world into our own depths where great challenges wait for us. It is here in this invisible domain that we communicate with our inner being to know the real longing of our heart. We become more sensitive to our feelings of limitation, our unmet longing, but also our defensive numbness and insensitivity that protects us from the pain of dissatisfaction.
Yet, here in our interior world we have the opportunity to re-claim a brilliant energy that can fertilize our lives. This timeless life force circulates throughout all of existence, and although it has never been lost, paradoxically, we must search for it in order to discover this forgotten dimension of ourselves.
There are continual openings when we finish one activity and before we're about to leap into the next, before we check our email or voicemail or before we make the next phone call—when we could take a seat in the neutral space of nowness. To open our senses and appreciate the living moments of walking aimlessly through our city or town, as we take notice of the storefront window decorations, nod to the passersby who return a smile, and taking a seat in the neighborhood park, we find delight before the stone lions as pigeons perch on their heads.
When we allow these open moments where we don't feel compelled to shape our experience, we have the possibility of enjoyment and freedom. This is how we wear out samsara. When we do land in the experience of nowness, it can be a delicious moment of peacefulness and absence of struggle. Egolessness is the experience of what lies on the other side of our known life, the life that we’ve mapped out with our beliefs, assumptions, expectations and our social roles. It points to the deeper, far-reaching dimension of what a human being is, on all levels—-somatically, intellectually, emotionally, artistically, creatively. When we’re wholehearted in our love, our passion, in our creative expression, and even in our grief, when we give in totally to this moment without the impulse to be elsewhere, then we are present in our totality. This is a taste of egolessness. What will happen next is unknown. This is the call to adventure.
Perhaps our life has stopped growing in meaningful ways. Although we may not be suffering grossly, we’re not looking forward to anything either. We’re getting through our days, eating, sleeping, paying bills, going to work, and dying a little bit every day. This might be analogous to the Buddha’s first noble truth of suffering. It's the first blessing on the path of self discovery because it can provoke a question that burns in our heart.
There are two fundamentally different but complementary states that we can be in—being or doing. We live in an action-oriented, “doing” culture, where efficiency and achievement are valued. “Being”, on the other hand, is associated with idleness, having nothing to do, simple relaxation, or taking time out for reducing stress. Being is commonly regarded as a valueless interval between doing necessary things, as having no intrinsic meaning, value, or purpose in itself. However, from a meditator's perspective, being is the only time when we’re without our agenda, where our mind and heart are unguarded, where we allow ourselves to experience the moment without manipulating what arises.
Samsara has been defined as wanting what you can't get and getting what you don't want. Disappointment sobers us up from wishful thinking and levels the playing field, inspiring us to seriously question our beliefs about ourselves and our life. Disappointment can provoke a spiritual quest.
Imagine that on a bright sunny day you visit a neighborhood park. Families are sitting on blankets, sharing food and drinks and enjoying their company. Young couples are playfully tossing a frisbee while their dog chases in mad pursuit, and brightly colored balloons strung to a family's picnic table are bobbing in the air amidst the joyous laughter and raucous shouts of children. All is well here. Feeling relaxed and at peace, you lie down on your blanket and fall asleep. You sleep soundly, but upon awakening, you discover that the park is deserted but for one or two adults picking up trash. The temperature has dropped and ominous clouds are rolling in. You wonder if you dreamt that idyllic scene of children laughing, frisbees spinning, and balloons dancing in the air. Unfamiliar feelings of vulnerability and disorientation now take hold of you.
The fact of aging is not a problem, but our ideas of aging are. Aging reminds us that we’re mortal and that time will run out on us. It’s a wakeup call that we have to ease our grip on whomever or whatever we're holding, so that we travel lightly. This gesture of surrender permits our human journey to evolve, but we have great resistance to letting go because it confronts us with uncertainty.
In the esoteric schools of spiritual practice, the left-hand path refers to the more radical understanding and methods for discovering enlightenment where we’d least expect to find it. The left-hand path, sometimes known as tantra, includes the teaching of the five wisdom energies which are associated with the basic elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space, that we all possess. These energies have the power to re-spark our sacred or magical connection with life, the life we may remember from childhood.