Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Flourish or stagnate

Less than a year ago, I was not a happy camper. If I had been Goldilocks, I would have been whining because the porridge was too cold, the chair was too hard, and the bed was too soft.

But it wasn't really about the porridge, the chair or the bed. In hindsight, I believe I was frustrated because I had yet to identify my life's purpose and figure out how to live in alignment with it.

The psychologist, Erik Erikson, identified eight stages of life. According to Erikson, each stage involved a task. If you completed the task demanded of the relevant stage, you would be rewarded with a benefit that you would enjoy for the rest of your life. But, if you failed to accomplish a task, you would suffer from a disadvantage.

The good news, though, is that it is possible to catch up later. For example, if you did not acquire basic trust in the world as an infant, it is possible (if challenging) to do the necessary work and establish basic trust later in life.

The stage in which I personally am most interested is the one in which I am at the moment -- middle age. According to Erikson, the accomplishment of this stage is what he called generativity.

What Erikson meant by generativity was a contribution that had the potential to last beyond your own lifetime. The contribution does not have to be spectacular or impressive. The main requirement is that it is meaningful to you.

For example, you might teach a hobby, such as photography, to a child. You might create a garden. You might act as a mentor to a younger member of your profession.

Failure results in stagnation. If you do not give something of yourself to the world, you become stale.

That's how I felt in Calgary, before I bought into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community and moved to Nanaimo. I felt dull, to the point of suffocation.

My membership of a cohousing community has given me many opportunities to contribute, directly to the cohousing community itself and to the wider community, with which my fellow cohos and I have lots of connections.

Linking this back to my previous couple of posts, I suspect this is one of the greatest losses that hunters experience when they are robbed of their habitat. Older men are denied the opportunity to mentor younger men and boys.

In Iron John, Robert Bly goes on at length about the importance of the role that older men play in the lives of younger men and boys. He also describes how meaningful it is to older men to play a useful part in the lives of younger men and boys.

All the way from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, hunting-gathering societies implicitly understood this. They all incorporated sophisticated initiation rituals and ceremonies into their customs.

Returning to me, since I have found a renewed sense of purpose, porridge, chairs and beds have ceased to be issues. Those kinds of things have just fallen into place.


MidnightCafe said...

I stumbled upon your blog today, as I'm searching out reading material on multigenerational housing, cohousing, communal living, or whatever-else-you-want-to-call it. I appreciate your thoughts, as we are making plans to become a multigenerational household when our oldest daughter marries (probably in the next 2-3 years). As this is significantly outside the norm for American families, I've been thinking and reading quite a bit.

Judy Roberts said...

Lovely to hear from you, MidnightCafe. All the best with your quest to create a new (actually old, LOL) lifestyle.