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Navigating the Changes

| Therapy Information | 04/07/2012

‘When I’m grown up, I’m going to be/do/have…’ – fill in the blanks.

It seems when we’re children and teenagers, being ‘grown up’ is talked about as if it were a final destination – a goal you achieved or reached, and then stayed there. I don’t remember anyone ever talking about the fact that it was never something that was complete, or that there were stages beyond ‘grown up’. Being grown up was measured by having a job, a car, a house, perhaps a relationship or children – being able to competently navigate the material world. Any further ‘growing up’ that was done was measured likewise by external ‘symbols’ – getting married, career progression, having children. I don’t remember much emphasis on personal development (except in the context of career or as a hobby) and therapy was something you went for if you had a ‘problems’ being a grown up. I know society has moved on since I was a child and teenager in the sixties and seventies, but I suspect that being ‘grown up’ still carries with it a general expectation of being a finished product in some sense. With the knock-on effect of this expectation being that you are a possibly a failure if you don’t measure up – you have failed at growing up.

So for all those that are in their twenties – or even beyond – who are contemplating what being ‘grown up’ means, this article is for you.

Truth is, while our bodies reach a stage of maturity when they stop physically growing or developing sexually, we don’t have the same limits on our mental, emotional and spiritual development. Even if we make a choice at 21 that we’re complete, the life that we live beyond that will inevitably bring us new experiences that challenge us to grow and change. And, for many of us, that’s exactly how we see it. We grow up, and then life throws things at us that we either like or not, and we have to adapt depending on those external circumstances. Any change that we undergo is forced on us from outside – and we blame life for changing and making us to do likewise. Our efforts at dealing with external challenges become all about how we can maintain the status quo, or at least control change in a way that fits with our ideas of who we are and who we should be.

‘Don’t go changing…I love you just the way you are’…

Perhaps, though, these ‘external’ challenges are no different from those same challenges that faced us as babies and young children. The spoon in our fist which we struggled to get into our mouth. That set of stairs we just had to find a way of climbing because it was there in front of us everyday. The language our brains and mouths had to accommodate so that we could communicate with those around us. Those of us that are parents know that we support our children in facing their challenges, while we also know that they will find a way of dealing with them and will develop as a result. We understand that they grow and develop by facing and dealing with new circumstances – that there is an in-built natural timing mechanism that ensures they move on to the next relevant challenge which will help them develop as they need to, all going well. Babies finally get around to crawling, walking, running, speaking when the time is right – in response partly to internal and partly to external promptings. If you keep a baby in a cot, the natural prompting may be there to move, but the opportunity to climb and walk isn’t. On the other hand, put a two-month old at the bottom of a set of stairs and it’s obvious that there’s no internal prompting there to climb yet – the timing of development isn‘t right.

As adults, the same is still true – it’s just that we don’t widely acknowledge it, except perhaps in the context of needing to develop our careers. We have lost touch with the natural cycles of time that might have guided us in pre-modern times, with the traditional rites of passage that accompanied various stages of adult growth, and with the intuitive, feminine side of life. When change is accompanied by physical manifestation (the body changing through age, pregnancy, etc.), it becomes easier for us to acknowledge that an emotional or psychic change is happening. When there is no physical change, we look for other external reasons for why a previously happy relationship has turned sour, or why we suddenly want to move house or change career, or find ourselves acting strangely. There are hundreds of different reasons we can find outside of ourselves for why we suddenly feel differently. It’s stress. Or it’s him/her. Or it’s the office. Or the recession. There must be something that has caused me to feel this way.

Yet there is a natural unfolding that continues to happen for us as adults, no different from that which happens with babies. The external circumstances may provide part of the stimulus, but the internal timing mechanism is still there with us as it always was. Where this timing comes from is a matter of personal belief – DNA, personality, the prompting of our soul. But it is there, nonetheless. And while there are general cycles of time that we are all part of (the seasons, for example, at a very basic level), there are also personal cycles of time which are our own particular patterns of unfolding. Finding ways of tuning into this personal timing can bring with it a sense of acceptance of where we are at any particular moment in our lives, and gives us some understanding with which to navigate the world as adults.

Jung’s writings on individuation – what he calls the process by which we integrate various aspects of ourselves and become more whole and authentic as individuals – are a beautiful, if lengthy, description of this journey of growth. We are all unique, and therefore the way in which we unfold and grow as adults is also unique. Yes, there are such things as early bloomers and late developers. This isn’t a matter of right or wrong, it is simply a matter of an individual’s pattern of growth. But yes, there is also a mid-life crisis of a kind, as well as a clear transition stage at the end of the twenties. There are periods when our work life and relationships will naturally flow, and times when being introverted and reflective may be a better use of our time. There are times to be active, and times to be more receptive, times when getting focussed on career will seem right, and other times when cozying into a relationship may be all we want to do.

There are different ways of tuning into these cycles of time. Simply getting to a place of accepting that they exist is a good start – being open to the fact that there are times when you may not feel like you always have done, and making space to allow new feelings and promptings to emerge. Meditation or any practice of stillness is also helpful, too. It provides a channel for us to connect with the intuitive side of our nature that can help us understand what we need at any stage of our lives.

For me, astrology has provided one of the keys to understanding these cycles of time – seeing in the movement of the planets relative to my birth chart a reflection of the energetic shifts that are being prompted in my own psychic structure. From it, I gain not only an insight into where my energy is best focussed or not at the moment, but also a sense of how I may be able to flow more easily with this particular stage of my life. I also bring in shamanic ceremony, healing and therapy to deal with anything that needs to be rebalanced as a result of the shifts – as with children, not all stages of growth go smoothly and I still need my ‘parent‘ figures that can stand by me when I can‘t do it alone. But most of all from astrology, I get insight and a sense of comfort into why I feel as I do at various times of my life. I am empowered by understanding my own ‘growing up’ process more, and by finally getting a sense of what divine timing means.

But beyond understanding and acceptance comes the sense of responsibility for supporting my own continued development. Making time/space available in my life, as well as having a practice of stillness, are essential tools in being able to accommodate the differing demands these cycles of time make of us in a world that is very structured and focussed on repeating the same patterns daily, weekly and monthly. Women are more naturally tuned into the fact that one week is not necessarily the same as another – with the menstrual cycle we instinctively know that there are times of the month when what we need may be different to other times. But for both men and women, finding a way of accepting that these fluctuations are natural and normal – that it is, in fact, unnatural to expect to be able to feel and do the same thing every day – can take a degree of emotional maturity. And making space to allow these natural promptings and changes to happen can take an even greater level of maturity. How, when we have busy homes, careers and routines that demand consistency from us, do we allow ourselves the time and space that our personal growth needs? How do we balance our need to have certainty in our lives – food, shelter, nourishment, health – with the flexibility needed to allow ourselves and others to change and grow?

Perhaps, one of these days, I’ll put together a year-long programme for those who have left full-time education and are all grown up. It’ll focus on filling the gaps that most education systems have. How to understand ourselves more. How to connect with the natural cycles of time. How to welcome change. How to sit in stillness. How to self-reflect. How to listen to our intuition. How to get a sense of what we need and to find it. How to know when we need ‘time out’ and to be okay with that. I’m sure I could continue the list, but it would make a pretty impressive fourth level education – and might even make for a more contented world.

In the meantime, those of us with an understanding that ‘growing up’ is an ongoing process can share our hard-earned wisdom with those coming up behind us. We can start to shift our culture towards a greater acceptance and awareness that it is only natural that we all grow in different ways and at different times, and that we each have our own internal process to honour. Perhaps we can be more respectful of our own individual timetable.


Freya Watson is author of The Beautiful Garden,  and works as a healer, therapist and teacher, integrating shamanic techniques, astrology and other tools into her practice.  See http://www.singingflute.com/ for more details, or email her at freya.singingflute@yahoo.ie.
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