“Midlife is the old-age of youth and the youth of old-age.”
Titled: The Change, Midlife, Life Accounting, Second coming of age, The Jubilee (at 50, 7 cycles of 7)
When: Rituals to recognize the natural changes that occur throughout one’s life as an adult are not limited to just the two I’m going to mention in this series and may be regularly observed at any time a person feels it is relevant. I’ve seen it suggested that people should do rituals every five or ten years or whenever some change occurs that seems to warrant recognition. This may be at physical changes such as menopause, or changes to the hair, skin, joints, muscles or energy level that signals a certain maturity level to the person. It may be at certain dramatic lifestyle changes such as when children move out or at the death of parents or other role models. It may be at certain birthdays or anniversaries. It may be a combination of any number of these signals that bring a person to realize that they are no longer the young person they once were and it is time to recognize that shift in identity, relationships and lifestyle that occurs as one matures.
Why: To honor a person’s transition from young adult to mature adult and to help them adjust to the changes that usually accompany the gradual aging process we humans go through. While these changes don’t happen all at once, these types of rituals help a person pay respects to, and come to terms with, those changes. In western societies where youth is prized, this change can be daunting and disheartening and can lead to the stereotypical midlife crisis wherein the person seeks to somehow preserve their feelings of youth by doing childish or dangerous things or can be embraced as an opportunity to re-define one’s life goals and new ventures may be taken up. The midlife rituals help define those transitions into manageable parts and put a positive focus on the future.
One common feature of a mid-life ritual is the listing off of past deeds and accomplishments and an accompanying list of future goals and hopes.
The person may claim a reward for what they’ve done and/or receive new challenges.
The person may use symbols to define aspects of their life and roles they’ve fulfilled or will fulfill.
This ritual may be time for the person to sit down and have a discussion with a mentor, or elder or even their peers.
What are the general themes?
Personal accomplishments are a big feature, as are the hopes and dreams for the future. Being welcomed into the “second half of life” in a similar way as one entered the adult world may be another theme. Being freed from the responsibilities of young adulthood may be celebrated. Seeing both the past and the future through positive terms may be another theme. Rebirth symbolism is appropriate. A crossroads might be a useful symbol for describing the midlife experience.
The act of listing off accomplishments may be done in a number of ways… one may quit simply speak of or write down the activities and accomplishments that bring the person the most pride and the new goals they now cherish. Another way might be to capture the story of the person’s life so far in the frame of an epic legend leading to the crossroads at which they now stand and a description of the possible directions they might take from this point on.
Reminiscing about ones youth through the re-enacting of memories or rereading of old journals and letters may be done and new letters may be written to the future self or new journals begun.
Any symbol of new ventures and new goals of the person may be initiated during such a ritual, such as the signing of applications to a school or a new job or sewing the first stitch on an item of clothing to be worn on a new adventure.
Symbolic rewards might come in many forms, be it gifts from friends or gifts given to the self, such as a new piece of jewelry, a new ritual tool, masks or hats representing ones past roles or even pieces of fruit or candy representing ones accomplishments, to be feasted on after the ritual.
Accomplishments may be separated out into categories associated with the directions or elements with each having a different reward or a different challenge to complete.
An interview with someone who the person sees as a peer or mentor to re-assess their place in life and what is desired in the future is a good idea, as is talking with an elder who has passed through this stage of life. These interviews don’t have to take place during the ritual itself, but may be a longer-term venture as the person seeks to understand and redefine their roles by speaking with the people closest to them or establishing new relationships with positive role models.
How is the person’s life changed after the rite?
A person who passes through such a ritual may have an easier time coming to terms with the changes that occur during this time of life and will have a kind of validation that it is OK to change and move on into a new sense of identity. They, and hopefully their community, will establish a special kind of respect for the maturity of the individual and they may mindfully establish a new role for themselves within the community and within their personal lives.