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A Midlife Metaphor in Brief

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

Separation of the persona from the ego is the outcome of Separation--the stage is the process of these two parts becoming separate. Once the persona and ego become separate, the midlifer enters Liminality. Once separation has occurred, the work can begin. Liminality is initially about ego death or disorganization. Rebirth propels the midlifer into the final stage Reintegration, wherein the ego reorganizes.

The midlife journey is a labyrinth. Separation is the anteroom, preparing the midlifer for Liminality. This is a metaphorical shedding of the skin. Once removed, the skin is transported through the Labyrinth to the final phase, Reintegration, and the midlifer enters Liminality. The only way to retrieve the skin is to go through the labyrinth of Liminality.

In Liminality the midlifer experiences the death of the Self or Ego. For the person in Crisis, this is a continuation of the panic which began with avoidance of Separation. Midlifers experience Liminality in a variety of ways. It is a deep well or chasm and the midlifer falls into the depths of the abyss. But it can also be a suspension in mid-air--the gap. A person may experience both at different times. Liminality is a place between--the midlifer has left on his journey, but has not yet arrived at the destination; he is neither here nor there.

The Midlifer in Crisis clings to the ledge of the chasm to prevent falling. Occasionally he climbs out and runs back into the anteroom of Separation--but he is without his skin.

The depths or suspension are a time for self-contemplation and meditation. This phase is the place of inner knowing and intuition--soul development. Depression is not uncommon even for those midlifers not in crisis. In many cases depression is not a state of unhealth, but a natural and necessary phase of inward experience. Consider the experience of losing one's Self. Rebirth has not yet occurred, thus the person is nothing. Complete emptiness. Fear is natural, and easily leads to panic and depression.

The danger is from those who do not understand and are thus unaccepting of this natural state and seek to fix the problem, through pharmaceuticals or simply denial and unacceptance of observers who yank the midlifer all the way out of the labyrinth. The midlifer thus returns to society with no skin. A vital part of himself remains in the labyrinth and the only way to retrieve it is to enter from the beginning and follow it through to the end.

A person enters Liminality with a body but no skin. At the bottom he loses his body through a metaphorical dismemberment. This is a common motif seen in myths and fairy tales and a common experience in the process of becoming a shaman. Dismemberment may be felt in dream or waking states and though some recognize the feelings as imaginary, for some there is a physical component--some feel as though they are being physically ripped apart.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

The persona-mirror has shattered and lies in pieces and he is as an unborn egg. He must now sift through the pieces and acknowledge their existence as a part of his Self. Once acknowledged he can choose to discard or keep the pieces and begin the project of piecing himself back together again--such work is personal and not for the horses or men of kings. This is the process in which a person regains his own sovereignty.

This is the process of creation, preparing for Rebirth. The Shadow and Persona become integrated into a whole and balanced person. This person is creating his new Self from the building blocks of his history and he will thus be both different and the same as he was before. Jim Conway called the phase of Rebirth Withdrawal because the MLCer withdraws back into himself at or near the end of his depressive phase. This withdrawal is due to the newness of Self, he needs to come to know this new person in private before introducing himself to the public. This is a time of testing and rejecting and testing again.

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