Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Friendship in Mid Life: Crisis and Beyond

When I started to write about this particular topic, I quickly found myself stuck, rethinking and rewriting a lot. It can only mean that it's a diffiuclt subject for myself, but I will still try and sort out some main concerns.

In the past, I have talked quite a lot about the interaction between people on internet forums. In general, my experiences have showed me that people easily forget all about good manners when they don't have to deal with you in real life. I too, have made mistakes; I easily open up and pour out all about my inner life and personal challenges, and of course it's going to irritate people or give them an incentive to be helpful in the wrong way. Many people, especially ones who work as healthcare professionals or have recently awoken to the new age spirituality, can be a bit over-eager to help someone they perceive of as needy. Oh how embarrasingly easy to slip into the victim mode even just a tiny little bit! We all do it - well most of us anyway - yet it's one of the hardest things to admit. And people can be very cruel in their dogmatic rigidity.

My inner alarm goes off when I get a sneaking suspicion that they are not particularly in tune with who I am and what I do but more interested in my 'issues'. I have learned valuable lessons in mirroring my own issues and the frustrations I have felt because of the responses from other people, but also about not continuing to project my need to talk to other people about the more personal challenges onto people I have never even met in real life. I have to have a very good feeling in order to go onto that level with anyone online. It's all about gut feeling or intuition - staying mindful is the key. The discernment I learned to exercise was nonetheless conditioning me to a kind of paranoia that carried over to real life - this was an over alertness that needed to calm down.

For a number of years the internet was an important outlet for my social needs, but eventually my real-life situation changed and I was very relieved to leave that stage behind. Blessed were real life people - I no longer took them for granted! I had seen a lot of depressing things, and preferred to continue leading my life knowing much less about other people's shadow sides. I rather turn a blind eye to a lot of it, something which strangely seems easier to do out in the real world as opposed to the confines of the internet. I don't need to deal with other people's neuroses. This is not to say that in a way, other people's neuroses aren't part of you, because in life you see what you need to see in order to learn your lessons of life.

The importance of saying no to all that cannot be over estimated, however. Perhaps it's a sign of maturity, a way of finally establishing healthy boundaries and recognizing you don't need all this mirroring and extreme emotion. Maybe you're just growing old, or even becoming more self-centred and conceited, having decided that people aren't worth your time. Whatever the reason, you do need to learn to filter your experiences in order to be less scattered, overwhelmed, confused and lacking in groundedness. You no longer have quite the strength and stamina to tackle the misery that abounds, whether it be conscious and ostentatiously out there, or subconscious and hidden from direct view. The idealism of youth is dissipating, changing into a more level-headed attitude to life. I never thought of myself as idealistic, but I can now see that I have been that way a bit in the past. The passion and ardour with which I pursued my 'mission' is no longer obvious, and I am yet to find what exactly will replace it. I believe that opening up to an equanimity that will help deal with this in a less pessimistic manner is vital, but I also think that you cannot know to look for this unless you have already experiences what is normally part of becoming middle-aged. It's easy to make excuses and give up in the name of old age; this is not what maturity should really be about.

The scary thing about the fatigue of mid life is that many people probably feel the same. While it was cool to get to know other people when you were young, and chatting was often deeply inspired and intense, it almost grinds to a halt when you reach middle age. It's rare to find a kindred spirit who also has time to spend chatting away. In general, striking up real friendship becomes slower and more arduous, because no one wants to get hurt and rejected again, nor do they wish to spend their limited resources on people outside of their family or work. People with some intelligence remember and imagine all the things that go wrong between people, and hesitate to take yet another risk. While I feel tired myself, and for good reasons, I also wish to counteract some of this tendency, as it can lead to complacency and unwillingness to embrace different ways of thinking and living life - you can lose the ability to listen to others. Self-acceptance mirrors the acceptance of others. It's a ping-pong effect, as more acceptance of others probably fosters more self-acceptance, and vice versa. It's complex and in this area, self-sabotage happens very easily. Very often people start competing to reject each other first. It's important however, not to dwell on who's to blame, especially be careful about simplistic new agey concepts such as self-rejection which hardly helps anyone in the facing of their blocks.

There is a spiritual viewpoint, which suggests that anything you react to outside of yourself is really only tickling your own repressed shadow issues. In other words, no one is 'doing' anything to you, but you are experiencing an emotional response because you have a problem. If you feel that people reject you, maybe you have a subconscious tendency to reject others. This tendency might show itself as defensive mannerism and jugmental attitudes. Maybe you're not as open and friendly as you thought you were. You might say, that it's the people in this particular place where you find yourself who are unfriendly and dismissive. Yet, there are all sorts of personal reasons of karma that took you to this place and made you attract the experiences that you find offensive. You can trace the whole line of cause and effect backwards in time - well, in reality it spreads out like a great net of causal events, in all directions. There is no point in trying to understand all that this entails; it's too complicated and most of it is imbedded in the unconscious anyway. It can be overwhelming and depressing. Beat yourself up for the repeated failure to learn your lessons and you have the start up of the darkest of depressions! What you need to do is locate the repressed feeling and liberate it; yes, it's easier said than done, but it's a vital part of our development as humans.

While I subscribe to this spiritual viewpoint, I do find it somewhat polarised and therefore a bit problematic. There are also collective energies and tendencies tied to certain times and places. While all this is no doubt intricately connected to you and your place in the whole so that you can live and learn lessons of unimaginable scope, there are probably also collective issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with you. In general these are things you don't feel attracted to or get entangled in. I'd therefore like to propose a slightly less polarised view, a paradox that encompasses a subjective and objective stance within one and the same framework, suggesting a less sollipsistic and claustrophobic atmosphere of 'me, me and more me'.

War or a natural catastrophy is something that goes on somewhere in the world but it may not concern you directly. However, as all the energetic movements on our planet and in our cosmos are so complicated, we are still likely to get affected by them in some ways. For instance, there may be very important cosmic changes going on but it's not necessarily easy to establish where your place in the grand scheme really is. I feel that this can sometimes make creative, sensitive people more withdrawn, and so it will reflect on my own social life. Or maybe it's as simple as your husband's ex feeling jealousy... how much of that has anything to do with you? You can see what your feeling response is and then walk away. It's up to us how we respond; this can always be made into a lesson of sorts. It's never really wasted, is it?

In the case of friendship I would thus conclude that you may have to look at a lot of unpleasant shadows in other people that don't have anything much to do with you, but you may still react to them. If you're a highly sensitive person (as defined by Elaine Aron), you are most certainly reacting to all sorts of things that are worrysome. Not only do you realize how little people actually care, how preoccupied they are with their own lives, and how limited their understanding of other people's problems really is... you end up sharing much less, as you know that many subjects are beyond authentic sharing. Wishful thinking is no longer part of your mental vocabulary. You have become so very complex (as opposed to just complicated), so people who really understand where you're coming from are rare and far between. Ironically, the oldest friends are often the most loyal even when you don't have a whole lot in common. Familiarity takes on a new meaning, providing a sense of much needed security. You're tired of being exhausted from feeling that you're giving more than you're receiving, thereby limiting your entanglement with anything that doesn't happen with directness and spontaneity. I try and act on spontaneity, even if it makes me feel pushy at times, but my Nordic shyness often gets the best of me. Insert some more bladibla... In any case it's hard to say whether the chicken comes before the egg. Ideally, you would give unconditionally, not expecting anything back. Yes we all know that, but how to put it into practice?

You do need to stop and revise your attitudes, with candid honesty about the issues that are keeping you from embracing others lovingly, while opening yourself to change. Hand on heart; how many of us are that filled up with surplus energy and unconcerned by past conditioning and trauma? For most of us, there is still work to be done not only to become more authentic, but also to open up more to our spiritual intelligence. As you clean out your subconscious mind of issues, you start seeing things more for what they really are. Even friendship itself may need to be redefined, for instance to encompass a more accepting attitude to the coming and going of people in our lives or more differences. I know that for myself, a problem is giving out a lot of energy to form relationships, and then seeing people disappear from my life. I believe the answer is to accept the ephemereal nature of all aspects of life, but also become a better conduit of energy so that you do not replete yourself. Or; you may find that it is better at this time to stand back and conserve energy by not scattering it about. It is your mindful choice.

When I got married, I was deeply disappointed with the lack of attention from people who I expected something from because I considered them my or my husband's friends. The wounds are deep, but at some point I had to just realize that most people have a lot of dark shadow stuff embedded in their subconscious minds, and that breaking the contact because of this was not always such a good idea. A lot of dark stuff is out in the open these days - this is a good thing. Making these decisions was very heavy, and I still feel hurt. I know I'm dealing with something on the inside that is escaping my mindful eye, because it's comfortable being the way it is. The mind can trick itself into seeing only what it wants to see, and even though I always thought of myself as being particularly observant of the workings of my own mind, something is obviously escaping me. It will be interesting to see what emerges, as it is already about to be exposed.

The question is, should we expect to do shadow work with our friends? Well, recently I have been despairing because it seemed to me that I had become so transparent and 'touchy' that the only way to relate to anyone was by opening up and dealing with disappointments and frustrations. It would require quite a motivated friend - again, I think that age brings about a sense that friendship shouldn't be yet another burden, and so it's not so easy to get to this point. I'm not sure friendship should be difficult, maybe it should really be an oasis, but sometimes we are so full of things to work out that it's the only way of getting anywhere. We may also be afraid of losing our friends by putting demands on them, and will thus hold back. Some restraint is probably necessary, as we need people in our lives and need to make informed decisions about how much to tolerate and how much to ask the other person to tolerate in return. Even the most motivated shadow worker probably has misgivings in this respect.

In practice, regarding friendship, you have to ask yourself, if someone doesn't cause you continuous stress then you should probably try and honour the years of friendship that the both of you have invested in it, and try and forget some of the hurt. I don't know how you stop expecting anything from people without closing off your heart, but I think it is definitely possible. The ongoing process is why making friends still seems like a big challenge and a source of pessimism or disenchantment, and I know I'm not alone in this. Like me, more and more people have challenges of a lasting kind that needs acceptance rather than overcoming (i.e. chronic illness), but the environment is not ready to accept deviance of any sort. Something still requires healing so that the heart ceases to be so vulnerable. A strong heart is capable of great compassion. Human beings are overwhelmed by life and few have a solid basis to stand on. Balance in give and take heals the ego self, whereas a lack of concern about giving unconditionally is part of a greater spiritual process. These are possible to attain, albeit amongst the most difficult tasks in life.

Nonetheless, many good things have come out of the internet.