THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER LIVES OUT THERE.
I first heard this sentiment on a television show, spoken by a woman who had reinvented herself at midlife. She’d left behind a life that no longer suited her, and created one filled with zest and enthusiasm.
Always on the trail of such stories of personal alchemy, I snatched up her words like a jewel thief. Then deposited these golden treasures into a play, and based a character on them. And spoke them many times myself, because if you’re writing the play and acting in it, you get carte blanche to give yourself the good stuff.
THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER LIVES OUT THERE. AND IF YOU CAN JUST LET GO, AND TAKE SOME RISKS, YOU’RE VERY LIKELY TO FIND SOMETHING EVEN BETTER.
Just let go. If you were here on Monday, you know I’ve been writing about letting go. And at first glance, the words above seem to be asking us to let go of the old life, the one that no longer fits. To take a risk so that we can step into the new life.
Not an easy task, to be sure. Yet if it was as clear as that, letting go of ONE OLD LIFE and stepping into ONE NEW LIFE, it would be so much simpler.
But look at those words again, and you’ll see they’re more complex. Because if reinvention or life enhancement or meaning making or whatever you want to call it is on our plates at midlife and beyond, we’re also being asked to let go of other lives waiting to be lived. Lives that might have been.
It puts me in mind of that old chestnut of a quote from John Greenleaf Whittier:
OF ALL SAD WORDS OF TONGUE OR PEN, THE SADDEST ARE THESE: IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.
It might have been. Oh my, is there anything more poignant? Closing off what might have been, ripe with all of its promise and possibility, can feel like an existential blow to our psyches. In fact, wouldn’t it be nicer if we just didn’t have to face it?
Many times we don’t face it. At least that’s what I’ve noticed. When clients begin to grope towards this subject, I often hear something like this:
Yes, but I’ve always wanted to take up surfing. And write a book. In fact, I have such a great idea for a documentary film. Of course, I musn’t forget golf. Plus I’m committed to organic gardening and the slow food movement. And I love the desert so much. I want to live there and have a horse property. But the beach is fantastic too. I often wish I’d studied marine biology, in fact. Oh, wait, I forgot that I’ve been meaning to sign up for volunteer work at my local library. I love to read. And I need to get back in shape too. And I often wonder, what would it be like to have another relationship in my life? It’s been too long. I wish I had a stronger connection with my friends, too.
Keep in mind that the person speaking likely has a full time job. And in the midst of so much overwhelm, it’s not surprising that they usually end up doing nothing.
Faced with such a dilemma, we often resort to getting tough with ourselves. “Just make a decision already,” we demand, “And get on with it!”
Or worse, we sink into a stuck space where life seems empty, repetitive, and meaningless.
Whatever the case, we need information to go forward. But the information we’re seeking isn’t usually out there. Rather, it’s deep within us, in the place where story, imagination, and archetypes reside.
Only by going there first can we discern which lives need to be expressed as actions in the external world, and which lives are actually calling us to take an inner spiritual journey.
Because the desire to plant an organic garden might just be what it is. Or, it might be about developing a relationship with your inner nurturer.
And the desire to take up golf might just be what it is. Or, it might be about opening yourself up to bond with other men.
And the desire to volunteer at the library might just be what it is. Or, it might be about recognizing your wise, internal sage.
Consider what Robert Johnson says about this in Living Your Unlived Life:
It can be useful to reclaim what is unlived in you externally, adjusting your life to express these potentials. However, often this is impractical or impossible…When we experience untapped potentials inwardly, on the level of symbolic life, often the experience goes deeper, is more intense, and produces more personal development. There are many realities that can only be taken in at the imaginal level. You can still live whatever path resides within you if you consent to explore symbolic life.
FIRST, LIBERATE THOSE LIVES
If you’re experiencing a bunch of lives waiting to be lived, they probably feel like a herd of penned-in wild horses, poised to break down the corral at the first crack of thunder. Leaving mayhem in their wake.
So let them out. Now. Gently. Be their horse whisperer.
Write them down, and keep going until each one has been released. Or make them into a mind map, letting them twist and turn and intertwine. Or gather them all on slips of paper, and stow them safely in their own special treasure box.
Once you’ve gentled them, live their story for a few moments by giving them a voice. Speak (or write) as if you were in that life:
- I love organic gardening because it heals me, brings me back to my roots, and brings me into rhythm with the seasons.
- I spend my day outside, digging in the soil, planting.
- At the end of the day I feel fulfilled, satisfied, at peace.
These prompts can be used with any unlived life or unlived activity, and once you step into them, you will probably find the life wants to keep talking, going far beyond the few words I’ve used here as an example.
And then an interesting thing may happen. You’ll start to notice themes. Or you’ll keep repeating yourself. Although on the surface each life may seem vastly different, you will likely find a shared story that lives within them.
Creativity. Wisdom. Love. Adventure. Community. Independence. Balance. Nature. Meaning.
Whatever it is, this is the story that wants your attention. And it can be lived in the external world, through small actions. It can also be lived symbolically in the internal world, through grand imaginations.
You can write it. Paint it. Dance it. Collage it. Sing it.
You can talk to it. Open up a dialogue. Tell it what you see. Ask it what it needs. Express to it what it feels like to begin to accept it.
You can meet it in your dreams.
You can relieve its urgency to be lived in the external world by inviting it into your internal life.
FROM LETTING GO TO TRANSFORMATION
In the end, there are still a lot of other lives out there. But the act of examining them is in itself a feat of alchemy. Giving them their freedom. Listening to their stories. Discerning the essence of what needs to be lived.
Transforming what might have been into a rich life, both inner and outer.
SO, WHAT LIVES ARE WAITING TO BE LIVED IN YOU?
WHY NOT START NOW?