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.
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.
Many of us have probably had moments when we stepped through a portal which became a passageway to the next chapter of our life—the next relationship, the next job, the next place to live, or perhaps our status abruptly changed as we became a parent, a widow, a retiree, or a disabled person.