yes and no

Knowing When to Say No

Knowing when to say no increases over time and with experience. Developmentally speaking, self-awareness accelerates in your late thirties and early forties, a process of individuation that continues the rest of your life.

By definition, awareness means you know what is going on inside you and in your environment. The more in tune you are with the instincts, the more you know when to say yes and when to say no.

Since the instincts reside in the body it is important to respect the body’s need for exercise, rest, sleep and a nourishing diet, especially in life’s second act. “Nothing too much” the Greeks said wisely about the value of moderation. Over extending not only numbs the instincts, it makes it hard to think clearly.

As you probably know from personal experience, the subconscious is not picky about how it rights imbalance in your life.  With or without your permission the psyche attracts what will help you change for the better. Resistance to this inner push for growth manifests in emotional and bodily symptoms.

For example, health challenges may lay you low, revealing what you could not see while in perpetual motion.  Conflicts at home and work often mirror the war between the instincts and going along to get along. Chronic anxiety and depression can indicate a suppressed need to be free from what stifles your spirit.

You may have to lose a job, relationship or possessions you thought you could not live without to discover you were not living fully with them. Later, sometimes much later, you realize the only person holding you back was you.

 

Start With Food

To get in touch with the instincts start with looking at what you eat and drink. Keep a daily record for at least two weeks. Be honest, no one is going to read the list except you. You may be surprised by what you are putting in your mouth, and its effect on the body and mind.

Becoming conscious of the body’s intelligence is the subject of Dr. Jeffrey Rediger’s inspiring book, Cured, the Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Throughout the book he discusses the traits and strategies of people who broke free from diets and habits that were killing them.  His own choices as a busy doctor underwent a transformation.

In addition to making dramatic shifts in their attitudes and lifestyles, the brave men and women in Dr. Rediger’s book cut back on or eliminated sugar, alcohol, meat and processed foods from their diets, focusing instead on plant foods.  All began some form of bodywork regimen: yoga, meditation, and regular exercise. They also stopped doing too much, allowing time to just be.

According to Dr. Rediger, the way the Western world lives, thinks and eats fuels chronic inflammation, the precursor to lifestyle illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease, the top five causes of death and disability in the United States.

“An anti-inflammatory lifestyle is ultimately based on changing your relationship with your body,” Dr. Rediger says. ‘That means being very intentional about what you’re putting into it and how you’re exercising it. It means, to the extent you can, moving it every day.”

Equally important is how you relate to stress, Dr. Rediger says, a reflection of how you relate to yourself and others. As mentioned earlier, there is a correlation between poor boundaries and chronic stress.  Becoming aware of and eliminating what makes you sick allows the authentic self to emerge, the healthy, whole individual you were designed to become.

Life Energy Shifts in Midlife

In their classic textbook, Theories of Personality, psychologists Calvin Hall and Gardner Lindzey discuss Carl Jung’s comments about the normal shift of life energy that occurs in midlife and beyond.

“Before a self can emerge it is necessary for the various components of the personality to become fully developed. For this reason, the archetype of the self does not become evident until the person has reached middle age.”

Hall and Lindzey say the task as we age is to “change the center of the personality from the conscious ego to one that is midway between consciousness and the subconscious. This midway region is the province of the self.”

The “midway region” is like being the chairperson in a boardroom of directors. Each participant (a part of you) is welcomed to the conversation, no matter how bleak or pie-in-the-sky its viewpoint.

With the self as monitor, no part of you is allowed to dominate the personality, since balance is the self’s objective. This means the separate parts of you fit together to form a harmonious unit, the inner serenity mystics describe as a sea as smooth as glass.  This is not to say problems end. Inner peace means the way you approach life’s challenges is new and fresh.

The Western world values youth and outer success, however, extroversion that makes it difficult to believe answers are in the unconscious mind. Additionally, the youthful self resists stillness with all its might, since a quiet mind makes you aware of psychological defenses that interfere with success.

The work of the second half of life is to dissolve outmoded defenses so that you can live the life you were born to live.  You will also need to examine the role collective influences played in shaping your beliefs about money, work and love.

The Collective Mind

The collective mind was portrayed brilliantly as the Borg on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Huge blocky spaceships filled with robot-like beings roamed the universe to absorb individuals into the collective. “Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated,” members of the Borg chanted in unison as they descended on other planets or spaceships.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise undertook many life-and-death battles before they put the Borg out of the assimilation business, at least for the duration of the television series.

Similarly, you will go through life and death struggles when you challenge negative collective scripts about money, work and relationships, the first collective being your family. A solution-oriented mindset, then, can trigger profound pessimism.

For example, the poet Yeats said the Irish have an abiding sense of tragedy that sustains them through temporary periods of joy. His wry description of the Victim mentality was also a theme in the works of the Irish writer James Joyce.

Joyce’s stories are populated with people whose stories always end in failure, his way of expressing his exasperation with the Irish tendency to give power to a higher authority (the church, England, alcohol) rather than exercise their own power.

Like artists and all others who see life deeply, Joyce broke through the denial in his culture with an honest appraisal of personal and collective motives. Joyce had his own addictions to alcohol and despair. But the difference between the ordinary person and the genius is that the latter transforms personal experience into work that rings true for everyone.

Like the Irish, your forbearers may have been influenced by pessimistic beliefs if they lived in countries influenced by the Puritans or other fundamentalist religions.  This is because a literal interpretation of religious texts makes perfection, not balance the goal of life.

For example, if you are comfortable with yourself and succeeding you are no doubt in league with the Devil. If you are striving to be perfect and failing, you are on the path to salvation.

You won’t find much to celebrate in Russian or European novels or plays, either, although you will find brutal honesty about what it is like to suffer under religious, royal, and state tyranny.

Asian, Arab, and African cultures have their own brand of collective misery: rigid family and political structures, fanaticism and tribal warfare. It is a miracle anything works at all, given the tendency of humans to project their personal shadow onto the environment.

Human history appears to be an ongoing struggle between the desire to be free and the desire to be enslaved. Freedom is always the harder choice because it places responsibility on the individual. Centralized power is seductive because people can blame those in charge when things go wrong, the projection mentioned above.

Saying Yes to Freedom

Those who have learned from history know that inner transformation precedes outer change, not the other way around. This is why top-down attempts to improve human nature fail, no matter how well intended. The best way to help the world is to change you for the better.

Like the people in Dr. Rediger’s book, you may need to slow down the pace of your life so that you can observe the consequences of your choices. Honest self-reflection will help you to identify and say no to what made you sick. If you need professional help, ask for it.

As you turn psychic energy inward, ask yourself, “What do I want?” You may have to ask this question several times before you hear the Self’s capable voice. Then you will wonder why you avoided such a wise friend.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond. Both books are available in online bookstores. Her website is workwithpassion.com.

 

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