One of the most important tasks as we age is to begin to shed the mantle of who we thought we were, who we were supposed to be or who others expected us to be. My thinking was stimulated by a recent interview with James Hillman by Salon.com His most recent book “The Force of Character” explores the importance of character as we grow old.
It is clear that our job now, is to yield to who we really are. And who we are is revealed through a jumble of whims, longings and clear calls to action voiced not by our constructed personality but by our character, the structure from which everything moves. We find ourselves at last, on our good days, sinking back into a natural sense of self and resting there. We are no longer running away from this place of acceptance of our core identity or resisting it in any way. We simply rest there. From this position of authentic contact with our essential nature, we now begin to move. We are not compelled to act by the requirements of the family or the job, we find ourselves instead moving like a bumble bee, as nature at this time of life intends for us, from flower to flower, pollinating with the perspective and wisdom of age and experience.
We push up and out of our old identities and reach toward a new and at the same time re-membered authentic self. In our 3rd act workshops and coaching, we encourage this pushing up and reaching out movement. We do it by asking you to reflect deeply about what calls to you and what no longer calls or has relevance or interest. This is the internal maneuver that helps to identify your essential nature.
It is in the 3rd Act that we pull ourselves up and out of the old habits of “shoulds” and “oughts”. We are also pulled by others, ahead of us in their 3rd Act, into the full flowering of our third growth. It is a growth that demands a more complex response to reality. We are asked in this new developmental stage to move slowly and reflect deeply on the true nature or character of our self.
We are asking of ourselves at this time in life to take action from a place of character. We do this by listening deeply to our inner voice. Sometimes this voice is very quiet and speaks to us in a whisper. Sometimes the voice comes in the form a synchronicity or even as a kind of a nudging. For instance, as I did recently, you may find yourself pulled up the street you are walking on to press your nose to the window of a gym full of interesting athletic equipment. Suddenly you are transported into a desire to feel the kind of natural strength and agility you had as a kid. Pay attention to these nudges. This is your authentic self speaking to you. How will you respond?
Our character, Hillman states, is not a compilation of “habits, virtues, vices,” It is a rich, complex and multifaceted self that becomes increasingly tolerant and expansive with an ability to complete the developmental challenge of interceding for the younger generations with wisdom and love and moreover to bless them in their endeavors to grow. When we truly take our place as elders with a force of character, we set a powerful example and allow the natural movement of generational energy to flow to those who follow. This is our gift.