The Third Act: After the Middle Ages Comes the Renaissance! ~Dr. MaryLynn Patton
Gail Sheehy puts the key question out there for our third act: will we be refreshed or resigned? This can be the best time in life if we release old roles, finish unfinished business, and find a renewal of purpose. As Jane Fonda’s Youtube posted on the third act proclaims, this does not have to be an automatic drop off into insignificance but is an opportunity to reach upward in authenticity and spirituality. Scott Fitzgerald said “There are no second acts in American lives” and we do indeed live in a culture that glorifies youth. However, most of adult developmental theory and everything in Sheehy’s Passages would disagree, leaving the matter up to the choice of each of us. Greater self knowledge and new measures of self worth is possible in the 50s and forward.
I’ll share at the end of this reflection on the third act the diverse bibliography that produced these comments. A common thread is whether we would always be led by our egos or experience the deeper inner call of our spirit. We all live with the constant social and external demands of our ego to look smart, have a partner, have money or a “successful” child, or be forever young. Going deeper and quieter with my breathe to discover the heart and soul of who I am is harder but worthwhile. It helps me answer the questions of “what I really love is...” and “If I was not afraid then I would...”
Paulo Coelho calls the ego “the other”. He explains that “the other” is the part of me that taught me what I should be like, but not what I am. He goes on to say, “I am just like everyone else who listens to their heart: a person who is enchanted by the mystery of life, who is open to the miracles, who experiences joy and enthusiasm for what they do. It is just that “the other”, afraid of disappointment, keeps me from taking action.” This retreat will provide time to listen to our inner guidance.
Oriah also wrote about the ego and the weaving together a life time of choices that form a pattern of the deep essence of who you are and always have been along with your own persistent life challenge that comes up over and over for you. We’ll explore these personal patterns through visualization and collage.
I was blessed this summer with the opportunity to have Betty Fussell to lunch for a conversation about her own Third Act. Betty had her 85th birthday in Tepoztlan while renting a house here and she will teach a writing workshop in Tepoztlan in January 2013. Check out Betty Fussell at http://bettyfussell.com to see her interesting website. Betty explained her third act in terms of the culture she grew up in, which echoes Gail Sheehy’s book New Passages that considers the changing patterns of aging influence by our individual culture. Sheehy says if we make it until age 50 without cancer or a heart attack then we are most likely going to live to age 92 or beyond. The implication then is at age 50 we may be just at the mid-point of life having given little or no thought to how we want to live the second half. Could it be possible to begin a creative endeavor, pursue a never-realized dream, connect in a closer way to one’s community, become healthier and more content?
I feel a restlessness at age 63 that is telling me now is the time to make some changes in my life. Betty has the energy characteristic of a prolific writer yet her energy is neither frantic nor driven. She is very alive and I am curious about what makes 85 so satisfying. She likes what she does. She is stretching to teach new skills in Mexico at a writers workshop. She is moving from the East to the West coast. I heard her saying the hustle and bustle she used to love in NYC needs to be replaced with the tranquility of the sounds of the ocean. She is making changes that her inner voice and circumstances call for.
Each of us will feel some unknown disturbances from within during this passage in the third act. Gail Sheehy points out that these disturbing feelings may have no external cause even though our tendency might be to blame them on our husband, children, parents, or other external “causes”. Often they are a signal for change. If we are intolerant of our spouses we may need to stop displacing our own contradictions onto them and have a look at our conflicting desires. Four key areas of perception are undergoing subtle changes as we age: (1) our inner sense of self in relationship to others, (2) the proportion of safeness to danger we feel in our lives, (3) our perception of time- do we believe we have plenty or do we feeling it is running out? (4) our gut level sense of aliveness or stagnation. Sheehy says that like the lobster who sheds his shell and spends time in a vulnerable state, the new shell replaces the old. We experience these shifts in perception, give up old techniques that worked before including cherished illusions of safety and familiarity, to reach out towards expansion and growth.
Our personalities are deeply influenced by age, stage, and gender as well as generational and social change. Growth means temporarily surrendering security and limiting patterns. So the paradox that comes with middle age is accepting our essential aloneness (in the sense of depending on another human to fix things) allows us to become more loving, devoted and magnanimous. It emboldens us to find our own inner road to security within ourselves. Sheehy quotes Jung: “To be sure, it takes a half a lifetime to arrive at this stage.” Now is our time to approve of oneself at last and give a blessing to one’s own life. If not now, when?
Gail Sheehy’s 3 books: “Passages”, “New Passages”, “Passages: Predictable Crisis”
Oriah’s 3 books: “The Invitation”, “The Dance”, “The Call”
Sonia Choquette’s “The Power of Your Spirit” & her “Healing With the Masters” series
Paulo Coelho’s “By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept”