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something to live forFINDING YOUR WAY IN THE SECOND HALF OF LIFE
By RICHARD J. LEIDER DAVID A. SHAPIRO
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro
All right reserved.
Chapter Onehunting the invisible game
Who Do I Want to Be Now that I'm Grown Up?
How are we to see life? Is it an existence of meaningless movement from one moment to the next? Or is there a larger purpose in life, something to live for?
When we're young, we think that when we're all grown up, we'll have all the answers. We'll know what we want to do, how we want to do it, and with whom we want to do it.
But when we're older, we realize it doesn't work that way. The questions don't go away, and the answers don't magically appear. Just because we're grown up doesn't mean we're finished growing.
Throughout our lives, we continue to ask these eternal questions: "Why am I here?" "What is my purpose?" "What am I living for?" And while we make these inquiries on and off from cradle to grave, they somehow become more pressing, more urgent, and certainly more poignant in the second half of our lives.
In the first half of life, the questions are framed by basic economic realities. Eventually, though, we reach a point—usually around midlife—where the answers are no longer obvious. Somewhat freed from the practical (although usually not the emotional) responsibilities of providing for our basic needs, we find ourselves having to come up with our own answers.
We reach a point in our lives when we might phrase the question like this: Who do I want to be now that I'm grown up?
Consequently, we struggle, living in the gap between who we are and what we do. Some of us experience daily life as energy-draining and spirit-crushing. Some remain in service to the story of the first half of our lives, when our souls have already moved on to the story of the second half. And so, the hunger for answers to the "Who do I want to be?" question grows stronger.
But where do the answers come from?
Modern media being what it is, especially in light of the mass of Baby Boomers entering this second half of life, potential responses abound. Advice about life is now so cheap and abundant, it floods us from email greetings, tea bags, coffee cups, and the sides of city buses: "Pursue goodness, and you will achieve great things." "Achieving true success is being yourself." "You can only be as happy as the least happy person in the house, and two bathrooms are mandatory."
Few such aphorisms are worthless and many offer genuine insight. Yet, with so much coming at us, even the most profound wisdom rarely finds its way in. We filter our world by merely skimming the surface, reading capsule summaries. We might encounter the answers we are looking for if only we could step back and revisit the timeless rhythm of life.
In short, we might find our answers by revisiting the wisdom of our ancestors, specifically the hunters and gatherers that we are and always have been. What's especially tricky, of course, is that what we're seeking is far more elusive than what we, and traditional hunter-gathering people like the Hadzabe in Tanzania, have traditionally sought. It's straightforward (though by no means simple) to hunt animals and gather foodstuffs. The search for the subtle something we are seeking is, as the Rumi poem suggests, at a level far beyond mere sustenance, or even wisdom.
What we are hunting is "the invisible game." And we might think of this in both senses of the word "game": we are hunting for an elusive creature, one that is difficult to even see, much less capture; but we are also hunting for an intangible game of sorts—the meaningful life game.
In our own hunt for the "invisible game," we read extensively in psychology, philosophy, and ancient spiritual traditions. We interviewed over a hundred people from all walks of life, focusing on the question, "What do you live for?" And we traveled to Tanzania, East Africa, to learn from elders in traditional communities, notably to find out what the remaining hunter-gatherer peoples had to teach us about hunting the invisible game. We wanted to write about the simple, yet profound truths that would fit together, build upon each other, and tell a story about how human beings can find their way in the second half of life.
Our trip to Africa was an Inventure Expedition, a combination of outward exploration—adventure—and inward reflection—inventure. Our intention was to experience our own midlife odyssey. We wanted to deepen our conversation around the question, "Why do some people find something to live for in the second half, while others do not?" This was the invisible game we were hunting, and we learned to pursue the answers with the tenacity of the literal hunters with whom we were living.
And not surprisingly, some of the most profound experiences we had, and the answers they led us to, were not what we thought we were looking for at all.
How Do I Get Down?
On our pathway through life, some of the ways we take are superhighways, clogged with fellow travelers; others are roads less traveled. At times the way forward is quite clear; at other times, we are forced to navigate through uncharted territory.
Sometimes we're on a path but don't know it; other times, we may think we're on a path but aren't; sometimes we make the path as we go along; and then there are those times when we're just plain lost.
Whatever the particulars, though, there does come a time—probably many times—in all of our lives, when we have to find our own path. We have to survey uncharted territory and figure out how to get where we want to go, even if we're not entirely sure where that is.
This is the case as we grow older. The way from youth to midlife is pretty clear; the path forward from there is not so obvious. When we're younger, we see the arc of our lives as an ascent. We "climb the ladder of success" in our careers; we rise "from the outhouse to the penthouse;" if we're lucky and work hard, we'll ascend "to the top of the heap."
At midlife, though, our next pathway may be somewhat murky. After all, if you've made it as high as you're going to get, the only way forward is down—and that may not appear to be an attractive option. Moreover, and more to the point, while descent is inevitable, the safe and rewarding route down can be very hard to find. When you're climbing, the destination is easy to see; you just look up and put one foot in front of the other. You can see where you're going; there are usually plenty of others headed in the same direction, and you have models of people who've already made it to be emulated.
On the way back down, though, it's not the same. The eventual destination can be very difficult to see. When you look below, the path tends to be obscured. What was obvious on the way up isn't so clear on the way down. Moreover, descending, you're pretty much on your own. Each of us has to find his or her own way. And because of this, it's much harder to get the kind of support that enabled us to ascend so easily in the first place.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this metaphorical journey is often illustrated in real life. Many of us have had a hiking experience similar to this one Dave describes.
* We've arrived, after a long day's drive, at our campground above the Serengeti, a high plateau overlooking vast grasslands of every conceivable shade of green and gold. It's an amazing place that our guide and trip leader, David (Daudi) Peterson, refers to as "God's sculpture garden." Massive rock formations rise up from the savannah, which rolls into the vast distance, as far as the eye can see. The rocks remind me of giant ships, sailing through the endless acacia trees which dot the landscape.
We are 14 men from the industrialized West who have come to learn from wise elders in Tanzania, Africa. Ranging in age from about 50 to around 70, we all hold positions of some success and mastery in our communities and are, in general, respected for our accomplishments and competence in life. And yet, as we each move further into the second half of our lives, we have begun to re-examine the roles we play in society, and the roles which, as new elders, our societies permit us to play. So, we have come to Africa in hopes of meeting with the leaders of indigenous groups whose social organization provides a clearer role for those who have gained the experience and wisdom that come with age.
We have been traveling together for about a week and have learned much about one another and ourselves. Each of us has had a taste of what Africa can offer in terms of adventure and "inventure," and we are all, to varying degrees, amazed and humbled by what we have seen.
I for one, though, am still looking for that life-changing experience which has so far eluded me. Richard has told me stories of his many safaris in Africa and I've marveled at the authentic adventures he's had: backpacking across the Ngorongoro Crater without support, being surrounded by lions, confronting elephant poachers in the middle of nowhere. Our trip has been incredible, no doubt about it, but I've found it, after a week, just a bit tame. If I'm going to truly experience the wildness of Africa, the time is nigh.
Everyone has stowed his gear and begun poking around the campsite. Some are drinking beer and watching the nascent illuminations of what promises to be another awe-inspiring African sunset. Others are wandering about checking out the native flora and fauna. A few have taken a hike up a well-worn path to the top of a 200-foot-high rock that dominates the north side of our campsite. The top of this rock, whose vantage point has earned it the nickname of our "balcony," commands a 360-degree view of the area; the only spot higher than it is another rock to the east of our campsite, one without such a clear path to the top.
Wanting some physical activity after our long day in the Land Rovers, and feeling at last that this is the time for some real African adventure, I decide to try to find a way to the top of the east rock. I begin to wind my way around and through thorny bushes and up and over rock outcroppings as I ascend. As I climb, I can pretty well see where I want to get to; although the summit of the rock is sometimes obscured by overhanging branches, it ultimately reappears as I scrabble through the underbrush. Eventually, after about 20 minutes, I come around a final corner of stone and reach the top of the rock.
The view is incredible, even better than the one from the balcony. Not only does it afford me the same vast perspective in all directions, it also gives me a dominating view of our entire campsite. I take pleasure in watching my fellow "inventurers" move about the camp below me. I flatter myself by imagining myself to be the intrepid explorer who, alone among us all, was able to ascend to this lofty perch. Sure, I think, I could have taken the well-worn route up to the balcony, but that would have been too easy for a true explorer like me. I raise my arms to the sky, "Rocky" style, celebrating my accomplishment, reveling in the unique adventure I alone among my fellow travelers have achieved.
After about 15 minutes of self-congratulation, I decide it's about time to return to camp. The sun is beginning to set and we have a fireside chat scheduled at dusk. Since, I figure, it took me 20 minutes or so to ascend, I should be able to be back around the campfire in no more than a quarter hour or so.
I begin to head down, but nothing looks familiar. I can't for the life of me tell where, though the underbrush, I must have emerged as I ascended. I try a couple different routes, but all are either blocked or lead to sheer rock faces with no handholds whatsoever.
There is no clear pathway down; as far as I can see, there is no pathway down at all. I begin to feel my heart beat faster and a bit of panic starting to set in. "How did I get up here?" I ask myself over and over. "Is it even possible to get down? What if no one has ever really climbed this rock? What if that's because it's impossible to get back down?"
Far more than 15 minutes have already passed and it's starting to get darker. The sun is setting and shadows are lengthening ominously. I have visions of having to call down to my fellow travelers—who I'm not even sure could hear me—for help. So much for being the intrepid explorer; instead, I'm going to be the lame-brained loser who has to be saved by the search party.
I begin to feel completely lost. This is adventure, all right, but not what I have planned for. I was supposed to emerge triumphantly back down from the summit, tracing easily the route that got me there. Instead, I see no way forward and at this point, unfortunately, no way back either. In a way though, being stuck like this turns out to be quite useful. I'm forced to sit quietly for a few moments collecting myself, simply observing all that is around me. My focus shifts from where I want to be to where I actually am. Instead of gazing into the distance at my longedfor destination (which, at this point, I can't see anyway), I have no choice but to turn my attention to where I am and see what emerges from that.
As a result, I manage to locate, just to my left, a slim passageway under some thorn bushes that seems accessible. This can't be the same way I came up, though. There is no easy line that brings me around the stickers; rather, I'm forced to push my way through, embedding my shirt with tiny needles that pierce me all over my chest and back.
I have to move slowly, continually unhooking my clothes from thorns that snag me and impede my progress. On at least one occasion, getting hooked isn't such a bad thing; it slows me from careening through the brush to a slippery rock face that heads straight over a 50-foot cliff.
At one point, I'm essentially flat on my back, inching my feet in front of me as I slide beneath low-lying branches, and then, I find myself sliding on my palms for the last 50 yards or so of the descent, at last emerging from the underbrush with a hard thud against a boulder that sends shivers all the way up my spine.
Sweaty, dirty, bleeding from dozens of small thorn cuts, and shaking from the ordeal, I make my way to my tent and do my best to compose myself before heading off to join my mates around the campfire.
Thankfully, I'm not too late and the dying light hides the evidence on my face and body of my misadventure. Or maybe everyone is just too nice to ask why I seem so shaken.
Later, after a beer, I do tell my friends about my ordeal. Everyone is understanding, if not entirely sympathetic, but we share the observation that my experience is not at all unique. A few others among us have had similar experiences while hiking but all of us recognize what happened to me as analogous to the larger journey through life. On the first half of our life's journey, the destination is clear; we navigate toward it by keeping our eyes on the prize.
In the second half of life, however, our destination is far more mysterious and hidden. It is indeed the "invisible game." And we need a whole different sort of navigation system to find our way, one that helps us introspect, locate where we are, and make our way safely ahead.
By midlife, hardly anyone is unfamiliar with the phenomenon of finding the ascending path easier to navigate than the descending route. To a person, everyone knows what it's like to feel somewhat (or quite a bit) lost on the way down from the highest of heights. It's a common feeling among us to wonder whether we will be able to make it back safely from a destination we achieved with more or less ease. We all know that everything that goes up must eventually come down, but we share a sense of puzzlement over how exactly each of us will navigate that confusing and sometimes troubled path back down.
One of our goals in this book is to explore that descending path. What can we do to make the downward arc of our life's time and energy as rewarding and exciting as things were on the way up? How can we learn to recognize the signs and indicators that show us the way ahead?
Descending is not capitulation; it is as essential to the overall journey as ascending. Both are natural to growing whole, not old. Going up is paradigmatically a matter of savoring the world; going down—and helping others to do so—is more about saving. Learning to both save and savor the world requires a spiritual maturity that involves having scaled and come down from a sufficient number of summits to recognize that a self-absorbed life is not very fulfilling. It takes a spirit of generativity—a willingness to give back cross-generationally—to savor the way down.
Excerpted from something to live for by RICHARD J. LEIDER DAVID A. SHAPIRO Copyright © 2008 by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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