Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Later-in-Life Learning

Originally posted on August 28, 2011

There’s a lot about early and even mid-childhood development and the many things that go on during these phases. But I’ve been impressed recently, on reflection, how much still there are lessons to learn, new integrations, continued healing of past stresses, traumas, neuroses, and relationships. We realized also that this continued learning is part of the spiritual journey as well as the psychological process. We’re pretty healthy, but that in fact has only sensitized us to the many ways that we continue to heal areas of folly, quirks and foibles. We are tempted so frequently to lapse into more childish attitudes, tempted by so many kinds of situations and lower-consciousness-media. It seems like many interweaving spirals as we come round to learn again at a slightly deeper level what we learned less thoroughly many times before. And we realize that this is just the way it is: Indeed, being alert to the challenge of life-learning, perhaps we are a little faster and denser in our learnings—or else starting further back in neurosis than others. But actually we doubt that. We want to witness to the idea that it is complex and there is a great deal, and un-ending thicket of new opportunities to learn and deepen—and it’s okay, there’s no final victory or goal. This is just the way life is. Indeed, there’s a kind of aesthetic “depth” to realizing the varied nature of life learning, and in this sense, it’s a bit fun.

For example, recently a dream for one of us triggered some re-working of old business. One of the questions was, “Why did your subconscious present you this material now?” We think this way—a kind of faith in the way the deep mind is aligned with the wise angel-teachers (or other personifications of what is truly mysterious to us). We don’t get dreams unless we’re being given opportunities for another tiny growth step. Jung calls this the circum-ambulation (walking around) of the soul.

Erik H. Erikson, a psychologist and psychoanalyst who wrote about life-long psycho-social development, spoke of the later part of the life cycle as “integration,” but the point of this essay is to note that this phase is no less dense than, the mixture of the teen and young adult years. There is no single career, for example: Diversification is part of this true fully lived life.

I make this point because our society has this general sense or myth that there is an “up” to grow, and once a person has pretty much finished the growth spurt, deep psychological, spiritual, and character changes don’t happen. Our point is that this myth is deeply misleading. Believing it tends to generate a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If instead we believe that maturation continues throughout life, that there are a thousand deep lessons to learn—or learn better, or deeper—between midlife and death—that might create a different sense of what life is about. This idea is a fundamental principle in psychological literacy, in becoming psychologically minded in the 21st century—a trend that I see as obvious and inevitable as the movement of science from the periphery of culture to the mainstream between 1860 through 1960.

Spirituality is part of this: Psychology and spirituality used to be separate, but I envision their full integration. Similarly, science and philosophy become background fields also moving towards integration. Psychology arose from a more value-free model because being value-free (or trying to be) was a value for science. By the mid-late 20th century it was becoming clear that this compartmentalization was foolish. In the realm of spirituality, ignoring the truths of psychology and science made certain once-vigorous streams of tradition increasingly obsolete, while new vital strands were evolving that integrated the best of both realms.

Spirituality in its best sense offers a wider frame, a longer-term goal, for building identity and meaning in life. Psycho-technology (not just therapy, but also business, education, etc.) offers a grounding in how to pursue these values in the short and mid-term. It need hardly be noted that our actual implementation of this vision is at best only 10%—for the most part, (1) the society is hardly ready to open to these ideas, so busy are most people in still either fighting for the way science or religion used to be or dropping out from thinking about such things; (2) few people have any appreciation of what the new spirituality or psychology entails, including most teachers of teachers; and (3) we are in fact only in the early stages of making actual progress in this overall integration. Nevertheless, I’m fairly certain this is a viable and necessary line of development. 

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