We all know about the mid-life crisis that corresponds to Uranus opposite natal Uranus, occurring sometime between the late thirties and early forties. I’d noticed that this ‘crisis’ seems to go on longer than that, and also that all the outer planets reach challenging points in their cycles between our late thirties and mid-forties: Pluto square Pluto, Neptune square Neptune, Uranus opposite Uranus and Saturn opposite Saturn. Chuck in that over-egged asteroid Chiron, and you have the Chiron return at 50-51.
I think Uranus gets singled out because his effects are often dramatic, but I think it’s much more accurate astrologically to talk in terms of a mid-life passage that lasts for up to 9 years. Events usually occur in this period that can cause us to reconsider our values, what is important to us, and to make corresponding, and often major, changes. Often it means finding OUR values as opposed to the ones we grew up around. The choice always remains ours: you see some people, subject to distressing events that confound their expectations of life, coming out the other side as though nothing has happened.
This 9 year period could be seen as pivotal rather than as the whole change, because that search for a life that is authentically us, and not just the product of unexamined hopes, fears and compulsions, is a gradual process, often taking decades. Mine began in my early thirties, and twenty years later it is still going on. But that 9 year period, where all the outer planets hard-aspect their natal positions, was when I made a decisive change from one life to another, that put me out there on my own. It is always a solitary journey; you no longer have the implied affirmation of others. The source of authority moves firmly within.
The Jungian analyst James Hollis writes about this extended period of change in his book The Middle Passage. Here is an excerpt:
I call the period roughly from 12 to 40 the first adulthood. The young person who knows, deep down, that he or she lacks a clear sense of self can only try to act like the other big people. It is an understandable delusion that if one comports oneself as one’s parents have, or rebels against their example, one will thereby be an adult. If one holds a job, marries, becomes a parent and taxpayer, the confirmation of adulthood will surely follow. In fact, what has occurred is that the dependency of childhood has partly gone underground and has been projected onto the roles of adulthood. These roles are not unlike parallel tunnels. Out of the confusion of adolescence one walks through them with the assumption that they will confirm one’s identity, provide fulfilment and still the terrors of the unknown. The first adulthood, which may in fact extend throughout one’s life, is a provisional existence, lacking the depth and uniqueness which makes that person truly an individual.
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These tunnels are of an indeterminate length. They endure for as long as the projected identity and dependency upon them still seems to work. It is next to impossible to tell a thirty year old who is productively working, married and expecting a second child that he or she is still in a form of extended childhood. The parent complexes and the authority of the roles offered by society have sufficient power to attract the projections of anyone still exploring life in the world. As suggested earlier, the Self, that mysterious process within each one of us which summons us to ourselves, often expresses itself through symptoms – loss of energy, depression, sudden fits of rage or over-consumption – but the power of the projections is such that one may keep the larger questions of the journey at bay.
How terrifying it is, then, when the projections wear off and the person can no longer avoid the insurgence of the Self. Then, one must confess to powerlessness, to loss of control. The ego never was in control but rather was driven by the energy of the parental and collective complexes, sustained by the power of the projections onto the roles offered by the culture to those who would be adults. As long as the roles have normative power, as long as the projections work, the individual has managed to forestall the appointment with the inherent Self.
The third phase of identity, the second adulthood, is launched when one’s projections have dissolved. The sense of betrayal, of failed expectations, the vacuum and loss of meaning which occur with this dissolution, creates the mid-life crisis. It is in this crisis, however, that one has the chance to become an individual – beyond the determinism of parents, parent complexes and cultural conditioning. Tragically, the regressive power of the psyche, with its reliance on authority, often keeps a person in thrall to these complexes and thereby freezes development.
In working with the elderly, each of whom has to face loss and anticipate death, there are clearly two categories. There are those for whom the life remaining is still a challenge, still worthy of the good fight, and those for whom life is full of bitterness, regret and fear. The former are invariably those who have gone through some earlier struggle, experienced the death of the first adulthood and accepted greater responsibility for their lives. They spend their last years living more consciously. Those who have avoided the first death are haunted by the second, afraid their lives have not been meaningful.