So what now?
Words by Darcie Cripps - Talbot
How can I hear my calling amongst so much noise?
What is a calling?
Answering our hearts true desire?
Attending to our talents and interests?
Following a religious ideology?
Fulfilling our potential through therapy?
Finding our centre or inner peace through meditation and the like?
So, what are all of the above questions about? Essentially, it is relating to giving meaning to the everyday, living a meaningful life and, for many, becoming a person of purpose living a life of personal, professional or social fulfilment. The "calling" is essentially an ideal that we pin to the horizon, a force that we ascribe to destiny to keep us looking forward and striving for better.
Looking forward, living in forward motion is a very human idea - isn't it? In reality, way back when we were still hunter- gatherers, we were creatures of motion - we were transient people driven by survival to keep moving. That was our purpose - to survive, to procreate.
But now? For many people in the western world, survival is a luxury that we have access to without needing to constantly be on the move; our houses have become stationary, our lifestyles relatively sedentary; and we've evolved to have an abundance of the greatest commodity of all - time.
But despite all of this, life is still about motion - a new-fangled motion which isn't driven by the necessity of physical survival, but by the social constructs that help us to survive our social and psychological worlds.
Everything in our social and emotional environment; from the progressive acquisition of education to the concept of promotion and career development, to the forward process of "getting better" from emotional difficulties to the milestones that we are expected to meet in our relationships and our parenting- it's all about doing more, being more, collecting more. Whether you imagine life as an uphill struggle, a race to the end, or a journey to enjoy - I can almost guarantee that whatever the metaphor, you imagine yourself on a trajectory of forward motion - a linear process we call life, rather than floating about in a pool of timelessness.
When initially tasked with writing a collection of articles for a magazine aimed at retirees, I questioned what my training in psychology and counselling could realistically offer to a demographic of which I'm not a part. After much consideration, and looking back over the case studies and "practice clients" of retirement age that I'd worked with during my training, I noted three key themes:
- the importance of the concept of a "calling" to retirement aged people
- the fear of losing purpose that retirees were experiencing
- the lack of experience that all of us (even those with 60+ years of rich experience on the planet) have in sitting with motionless. Being still, if you will.
Now this is something I can comment on and contribute to the world of fiftyfiveup.
Before we go any further, I want to introduce the idea of "person first language". As it says on the tin, it's about putting the person first when we talk about them- instead of a "retiree" or "retirement aged man" from this point I'm going to be saying " a man who has retired". Empowering isn't it?
So back to my three themes and what they've got to do with the question of "how do I hear my calling"?
Firstly, what really strikes me about the shift from work to retirement, particularly in terms of momentum, is that this is often the first point in time when we lose the sense of purpose that has been driving us forward all of our lives - suddenly, looking forward is more frightening than helpful, and converse to everything we've grown to know about ourselves and the world around us, nobody expects us to be moving forward anymore- there are no more promotions, no more major milestones, no more acquisitions to be made. Sounds frightening right? Stillness?
The good news is that humanistic psychology is all about the beauty of being still and challenging the idea that progress is always a good thing. Unlike other areas of psychology which aim to help people move forward towards a "better place" - being fixed, in layman’s terms - humanistic psychology is about growth as a fluid and changeable process from being trapped within the rigid parameters of who you think you should be and how you believe you should be living (usually in an ever striving, ever building, ever accumulating sort of way) to being self-aware, knowing who you are regardless of the "shoulds" and being comfortable living with immediacy (in the now). This might sound contradictory to my point- after all that still sounds like moving from point a to point b - but the wonderful thing about this type of psychology is that it believes you can move from A to b to Z to C whenever it's right for you and, scarier still, you can sit at A forever if that's what's right for you.
So that's the theory out of the way - what does all of this actually mean for you?
First of all, if you are a man or a woman who is about to retire or has recently retired, consider the lack of purpose that you may feel, or the frightening prospect of a new chapter without a sequential or linear process of forward motion set out for you, as the biggest opportunity you're likely to have ever been given to start developing a relationship with stillness.
A good place to start might be to attend to the feelings of panic that swell inside you from time to time; chances are that pangs of "oh my god I need to do something" are actually those "shoulds" of yesterday trying to get your attention. Notice them, challenge them - if the word "should" is there, ask yourself - why? And unless the answer is "because it makes me happy" or "because it's what I want" then guess what? You probably shouldn't.
So what about that calling I've been talking about? Developing skills and hobbies, pursuing spirituality, engaging in mindfulness e.g. yoga or answering deeply held dreams or desires are all perfectly healthy ways of making life meaningful; as long as the meaning of it serves you and not the "shoulds" in your mind. The danger is when we confuse meaning for purpose. Meaningfulness is about personal fulfilment; actively engaging in the world in a way that improves your relationships with yourselves; purpose is a pressure that we let the world put on us and often put on ourselves in order to permit ourselves to feel important.
The reality is that trying to feel valuable because we are important to an external environment is surprisingly harmful to our actual sense of identity and relationship with ourselves. Feeling valuable to ourselves and important to ourselves isn't about how valued we are to others, nor about having purpose, but about living meaningfully with ourselves.
So how do you hear your calling amongst all of the noise? You notice and challenge all of your "shoulds", you allow yourself to lack purpose for a while, you consider what the word "meaningful" means to you - and in time, you will hear it.
It can be challenging to shift a life-long perspective on how to live and how to be, so this article likely won't be enough to completely change your life, but that's okay - you don't need to. In next month's issue we are going to be exploring identity changes and what humanistic psychology says about strengthening our sense of self when our identity, and perspectives on life, shift during major times of change