As elders, we are in the afternoon of life.
I prefer this distinction over being in the “winter” or “final act” or “darkest hours.” With afternoon I can see the glimpse of sunlight on the horizon still. I continue to feel connected to all of a wonderful life that brought me to where I am today. The afternoon doesn’t sound like “the end.”
Carl Jung was the first to refer to this time in our lives – those years between 56 and 83 – as the afternoon of life. Youth was morning, and noon corresponded to mid-life.
People, especially Americans, so often characterize getting older as a negative, something to be denied, ignored, or fought off. This time is associated predominantly with decline and, indeed, the process has its challenges. It’s quite possible, however, to make aging a positive experience. All the years we’re given after mid-life are there for a purpose; they contain a wealth of opportunities.
Focus on Yourself
The concept of enjoying aging is fairly foreign to many of us.
Yes, in the afternoon of life, the sun is sinking lower in the sky, and its warmth declines. Carl, however, encourages us to enjoy life during this time and to regard aging now as the time to focus on us.
Doesn’t that sound delightful? We’re being given permission to concentrate on our needs and desires. It feels like being wrapped in a snuggly soft blanket to me.
The only thing we need to do to capture the most of getting older is be aware of the opportunities in aging and to rise to the challenges aging presents. We also need to take age-appropriate actions to foster the changes nature has in store for us.
Some of the opportunities we can look for in aging during this afternoon of life include:
~approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality
~identifying our innate qualities like empathy and humor and the ability to listen compassionately
~letting go of the need for perfection
~while honoring the past, letting go of the need to keep it in the forefront overshadowing the present
~letting go of society expectations
~letting nagging self-doubt fall away
About the Challenges
We’ve been given this great adventure and with it comes the need for patience and fortitude, especially with the aging body and its weakened immune system, which allows disease to flourish. Dealing with illness is a major challenge most of us know about – either directly or indirectly. It’s a fact, one we each deal with in our own way. Remember there are both physical and emotional supports available to you if and when you need them.
Carl Jung and his students provide the following tips for aging well:
~a life devoted to an aim is richer and healthier than an aimless life. Having a goal to strive for is ideal;
~accepting the realities of aging – rather than trying to turn back the clock, will be much easier;
~look for your unused potentials and see if you can engage them for the better;
~say “no” to outer-life demands that create stress;
~reduce your “baggage,” and
~develop a sense of humor.
How I Interpreted Jung’s Information
The purpose of our afternoons is to focus on ourselves. That’s how I interpreted Jung’s description of this time in life. For a long time, I felt the need to hide how much time and money and energy I spent on myself. Now I feel Jung’s permission to savor the enjoyments of life’s afternoon, and in doing so, his goal for us to have a happier, more fulfilling future.