If you are somewhere in your forties there’s a good chance that you are experiencing a major life-shift. You might be engaging this shift in a spirit of fully conscious participation, but more likely you have noticed it creeping outside your windows at night and scratching at your screen door. Things that once motivated you to get up early and stay up late now barely hold your interest. The compelling sense of heroic purpose that had ignited your passion to change the world is starting to feel contrived and maybe even a little sickening. You keep waking up from a disturbing dream, only to slowly realize that the dream is your life.
Or maybe you realize it all at once. Your career slides over the edge. Your marriage starts to pull apart at the seams. Your doctor finds a mass, or you unexpectedly lose a loved one. When it happens that fast, this life-shift I’m talking about can cause your entire world and sense of self to come unhinged. Something has changed, and there’s no going back to the way things were. If a way forward is even possible, you start to feel that it might not be worth it. It just might be over. There’s nothing left.
Your friends look concerned. You must be depressed, so they try to pick you up. Get some sleep. Take some pills. Have another drink. Don’t be so melancholy – you’re bringing the rest of us down! Maybe you’re thinking too much. Lighten up.
But if your friends are in a similar existential place in life, chances are really good that you’re going to sink for sure.
What’s going on? Of course it’s hard to say with any categorical certainty, but the things happening inside and around you could be very natural – even to some extent inevitable. Here’s one way of looking at it.In the first half of life you are busy preparing for and then enthusiastically carrying out the imperatives of your culture. Your upbringing and years of education fling you out across the surface of life in pursuit of happiness and success. If you have sufficient ambition, you are expected to get far. Along the way you are rewarded for your achievements and given recognition in the form of gold stars and lollipops, ribbons and trophies, diplomas and promotions.
The better you are at getting ahead and keeping up with your competition, the stronger and more meaningful these social reinforcements become. You are expected to get a job, find a partner and get married, raise a family and invest in the commonwealth. So you put on the suit, grab your coffee, and head out the door.
On it goes: day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
For the first forty-five years or so you are a Skimmer, arcing through the world like a skipping stone on a pond. The fantasy of worldly success, exaggerated even more by the nagging fear of failure, throws you across a long series of experiences, tracing a line that by default becomes the plot of your life story.
Then you blink and a couple of decades are gone. Your kids are stepping into their own lives and not calling you as often. The work on your desk starts to feel tedious and boring. You look in the mirror, and to your shock someone has pulled the flabby skin of an older person down over your head.
The bars on the merry-go-round are beginning to slip your grasp. Hang on! you’re told. Young ambitious career chasers (and comparatively better Skimmers) are getting interviews for your job right now. Try to keep up!
Now you find yourself with a few close friends, drinking wine and struggling to make sense of this heavy exhaustion you feel. Something is shifting, but what? In a way, the world has let you down. The seductive fantasy of identity, purpose, and success is flickering on the screen – a screen you had regarded a clear window on reality for so many years. It’s as if the axis of your life orientation is flipping 90° from horizontal to vertical, dropping you like a stone.
Consider this your invitation to life in its fullness. You are at the threshold of something that no one so far has been able to fully comprehend or explain. Those who risk faith in this deeper mystery have found the grace to slow down, let go, and sink into being. They are Sinkers, which according to the value system of Skimmers makes them drop-outs.
Sinkers are on the quest to live more intentionally. They seek inner fulfillment rather than outer accomplishments and social validation – another value that can sound to Skimmers like a gospel of selfish gratification, when it’s really the exact opposite of that. Life that is “filled full” has nothing missing; it is complete and whole, just as it is in this moment. There’s no need to make it count, make it meaningful, or make it yours.
Another thing about Sinkers is that all the cultural pretense of who you think you are, what other people think about you, and the persistent illusion of identity (ego) itself falls away. Up at the surface, of course, this pretense is making the world-go-round go round and round. But down here, the only way to be is real – authentic, fully present, and completely liberated from all things “me.”
So if life is starting to feel uncomfortable, if the glamor and shiny incentives are just not exciting anymore, and you’re not sure you’ve got any more “skips” in you, take heart. Nod your head and thank your friends for their sincere concern and earnest words of encouragement. Sure, you still have undiscovered talents. You’ve made a difference, and there’s more for you to accomplish out there in the world.
Don’t be afraid. What’s happening is what must happen. It is the way of things. You needed to wake up sometime. So now stay present, release your expectations, and allow yourself to gently sink into being.
Have faith and relax … all the way down.