I’ve come to see that boredom & loss of energy are the first signs of entering the ‘middle passage’. The middle passage is also called the gateway to ‘second adulthood’, which if ignored leads to a midlife crisis.
Second adulthood is the inner marriage of the soul’s yearning with one’s essence distilled from the roles one has played. A lived sense of purpose often comes from finding second adulthood (this is phase 5 below).
As one enters (more or less) one’s 30s and 40s, there are the realisations that neither youth nor life last forever. One day we all must face the end of life as we know it.
Existential psychotherapists believe that a cultivated appreciation of the finite nature of life (in this realm) can vitalise both action & the drive to live meaningfully. Father of Analytic psychotherapy & generally remarkable human, Carl Jung called the journey from childhood to adulthood, then through the middle passage and into second adulthood ‘individuation’.
By being open to explore the middle passage (and all the emotions that come with it) I found a big-but-subtle difference between ‘what I want to want’ and ‘what I actually want’. This exploration led me to the realisation that I had been making many choices in my life based upon what I wanted to want. This took a long time to work out.
As I learned to look beyond ‘what I want to want’ I’ve come to appreciate the cost of congruence. This involves letting go of ‘what I wanted to want’ & the sexiness of ‘what could be if only…’ Basically, I had tried to train myself to believe that when I reached my goals I would be more deserving of love and respect.
What I gained through letting go of ‘what I wanted to want’ was deeper self-knowledge and what still feels like ‘right’ (in the platonic sense) relationship to life that is holistically congruent.
Learning about the psyche to better understand myself I have come to see that my journey, whilst personal, is completely natural. Pretty much most humans in modern societies (like Australia) lose childlike wonder through schooling, parenting & cultural conditioning (i.e. getting a ‘good’ job & being part of their culture). Awe is replaced with other’s expectations & cultural certainties. This aspect of modern life is the fuse that burns toward the middle passage. What combusts is the ego.
7-Phases of the Middle Passage:
1. Looking for happiness outside of oneself: i.e. ‘I will feel complete when I achieve [whatever]’. Or, ‘I will be happier by finding and connecting with something or someone new in the outer world’.
2. A disconnect between how I feel inside and how my life looks i.e. Falling levels of happiness with relationships, objects or careers that I thought would be the One.
3. Become okay with what I feel, even if I am uncomfortable with it. Claiming the truth of one’s emotions, such as ‘I am not happy with the things and experiences that I thought would fill me’.
4. Come to accept that happiness really doesn’t exist outside oneself i.e. happiness is an inside job. The trick here is to learn not to become lost in the emotions or judgements that can arise here. The gold lays beyond the stories that people here tell themselves about themselves.
5. ‘Where did I learn to believe that happiness is something outside myself?’ This is where one learns to become their own detective! It is a peeling back to explore one’s identity beyond religion, culture, family and even beyond the experiences, choices and memories one has in order to find ‘who I am’ in the present moment.
6. Exploring all these parts of oneself through conversation with trusted and loved companions, introspection, journaling, artistic expression, psychotherapy and/ or any other means that feel ‘right’. Feeling ‘right’ is not to be confused with ‘easy’, sometimes this inquiry is hard going.
Artists and creative people take note: inspiration often flows from exploring these parts of the self.
7. Being open to follow wherever this road leads.
The middle passage becomes a ‘crisis’ when people distract themselves with work/ toys/ affairs/ pseudo spiritual and rote-religious practices in order to ignore the call inward. Such people keep looking for happiness outside of themselves when they get to the second phase, and can live their whole life like that.
I don’t know why a bigger deal is not made of the potential awesomeness of the middle passage, nor why modern society seems to be fixated on filling inner needs with outer wants. But I do know that there is gold to be found exploring Jungian and existentialist psychotherapeutic ideas to make it through the seven stages if one is truly open to the journey.