I’ve recently read Jungian analyst James Hollis’s book, The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife. It is one of the best books on this developmental phase, and its many opportunities, that I’ve read. The author says that childhood lasts until around age 12, the first adulthood from around ages 12 to 40, and the second adulthood–if a person chooses to progresss–from around age 40 to old age. Many people never pass from childhood to adulthood developmentally, but are overgrown children, and many people never pass from the first adulthood into the second, and thus have unlived lives. Hollis writes that the middle passage presents us with the opportunity to reexamine our lives and to ask, “Who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played?” It is an occasion for redefining and reorienting the personality, a necessary rite of passage between the extended adolescence of the first adulthood and our inevitable appointment with old age and mortality.
The Middle Passage addresses issues such as:
- How did we acquire our original sense of self?
- What changes herald the Middle Passage?
- Why do so many go through so much disruption in their middle years?
- How does one revision the sense of self?
Quotes from the book
“The capacity for growth depends on one’s ability to internalize and to take personal responsibility. If we forever see our life as a problem caused by others, a problem to be ‘solved,’ then no change will occur.”
“The middle passage occurs when the person is obliged to view his or her life as something more than a linear succession of years. The longer one remains unconscious, which is quite easy to do in our culture, the more likely one is to see life only as a succession of moments leading toward some vague end, the purpose of which will become clear in due time. When one is stunned into consciousness, a vertical dimension, kairos, intersects the horizontal plane of life; one’s life span is rendered in a depth perspective, “Who am I, then, and whither bound?”
“The first adulthood is . . . full of blunders, shyness, inhibitions, mistaken assumptions, and always, the silent rolling of the tapes of childhood.”
“Given the opportunity for a full life span, one passes through a series of different identities . . . Approximately every seven to ten years there is a significant physical, social and psychological change in a person. Consider who you were at 14, at 21, at 28, and at 35, for example .”
“One of the most powerful shocks of the Middle Passage is the collapse of our tacit contract with the universe–the assumption that if we act correctly, if we are of good heart and good intentions, things will work out. We assume a reciprocity with the universe. If we do our part, the universe will comply. Many ancient stories, including the Book of Job, painfully reveal the fact that there is no such contract, and everyone who goes through the Middle Passage is made aware of it.”
“The breakdown of the ego means that one is not really in control of life. Nietzsche once noted how dismayed humans are when they discover that they are not God. The fundamental result of the Middle Passage is to be humbled.”
“A sign that a person has not made the middle passage is that he or she is still caught in ego-building activities of the first adulthood. One has not yet learned that they only represent projections onto finite and fallible icons.”
“Jung felt that the best thing we could do for the world was to withdraw our shadow projections. It takes enormous courage to say that what is wrong in the world is wrong in us, what is wrong in marriage is wrong in us, and so on.”
“The shadow should not be equated with evil, only with life that has been suppressed. As such, the shadow is rich in potential. Becoming conscious of it makes us more fully human, more interesting. A shadowless person is extraordinarily bland and uninteresting. [. . .] The shadow will out, whether in unconscious acts, projections onto others, depression or somatic illness. The shadow embodies all the life which has not been allowed expression.”
“A conscious appointment with the shadow at midlife is essential, for it will be operating surreptitiously in any case. We must examine what we envy or dislike in others and acknowledge those very things in ourselves. This helps to prevent our blaming or envying others for what we have not done ourselves.”
“The only requisite to entry into the Middle Passage is to have discovered that one does not know who one is, that there are no rescuers, no Mommy or Daddy, and that one’s fellow travelers will do well to survive themselves.”
“The paradox of individuation is that we best serve intimate relationship by becoming sufficiently developed in ourselves that we do not need to feed off others.”
“The more traumatic the childhood, the more infantile our sense of reality. It is very hard to know our reality and to operate from its baseline. Risking loneliness to achieve that sense of oneness with oneself we call solitude is essential if one is to survive the Middle Passage. To move to the necessary solitude in which individuation can proceed, one must consciously ask each day, ‘In what way am I so afraid that I am avoiding myself, my own journey?’”
“Most of all, if we are to heal ourselves, we have to ask what our spontaneous, healthy child wants.”
“We are obliged to live our passion lest our lives remain trivial and provisional.”
“Fear of our own depths is the enemy.”
“The goal of individuation is wholeness, as much as we can accomplish, not the triumph of the ego.”
“If we live long enough, everyone we love will leave us. The corollary is that if we do not live long enough we will have left them.”
“The act of consciousness is central; otherwise we are overrun by the complexes. The hero in each of us is required to answer the call of individuation. We must turn away from the cacaphony of the outerworld to hear the inner voice. When we can dare to live its promptings, then we achieve personhood. We may become strangers to those who thought they knew us, but at least we are no longer strangers to ourselves.”
Art by Rene Magritte.