Friday, May 10, 2013

The Late-life Crisis

I was reading today that along with the ‘Mid-life crisis’ there is now a 'Late-life Crisis', that happens to people in their sixties. Thank heavens for that I thought.  Life does go on after all. Because where would we be without crises, how would we ever make the big changes that are necessary for our lives to move on?

Crisis comes from the Greek Krisis meaning a turning point in a disease. That’s what they are, turning points, and they aren’t of our own conscious making, it’s like life puts them there. Or the gods, the spirits, we call on them, and they respond by turning our lives upside down. Or own unconscious propensities lead us there. Whatever. The Germans have a great word for mid-life crisis: Torschlusspanik, literally "shut-door-panic."

And one of my internal fights (along with the one against reductionist science) is the idea that once we are in our sixties, that is it, it is at best a long decline. I do not THINK that, but somewhere I BELIEVE that, because that is what our culture, to a large extent, believes. Otherwise people would not be forced to retire at a certain age, or become unemployable in their fifties if they find themselves jobless.

This attitude is changing to some extent for purely economic reasons: we are living longer, so the pension pots are no longer big enough, so the retirement age is being gradually raised, in the UK at any rate. But that still means people in their 70s and 80s are left on what can effectively be the scrap heap, though no-one would say that. From their point of view, fair enough, they may not want to work anymore. But to others work can seem like everything, if you can’t or won’t work you’re either a loser or an old person on the scrap heap.

The time is ripe for change astrologically, as the Pluto in Leo generation enter their 60s and 70s, and Pluto transits Capricorn. The generation who knows how to stay youthful (Leo) transforming attitudes to age (Capricorn.)

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What I find myself saying regularly in readings is when you get older, it can be time to start over in a really BIG way. Think BIG, think RADICAL. When you are older, you know that life is about change, you hang looser to some of your beliefs and shibboleths than when you were young, all this achievement stuff is just part of life being a dream that transfixes younger people, so being older frees you to do things and live in ways you have never done before. In ancient India,  older people often went off and became wandering mendicants, spiritual seekers. In Australia and the US they buy mobile homes and travel round the country in tribes and their children worry about them.

But what is this ‘Late-life crisis’? It seems to be about people in their 60s experiencing bereavement or illness, and it brings them face-to-face with their own mortality, and there are 2 frequent responses: they either give up and go downhill, or they find a new lease of life.

And this is well described by the two generational transits that we all experience at that time: the second Saturn Return, aged 58-59, which ushers us into our sixties, followed by the closing square of the Uranus cycle, in the same way that we had the opening square aged 21 or so.

So the second Saturn Return. Well I haven’t experienced it yet, so I don’t know what I’m talking about, but hey, when did that ever stop me? :)

Before Pluto came along, Saturn was the planet of death, and he still is: he sets boundaries and gives us judgement, the ability to weigh up and learn from the past. At the first Saturn Return, he is orientated to the future, towards what we have yet to achieve. At the second – well, we could look at it as orientated to the past, to what we have done. But, particularly with the modern increases in life expectancy, we can also look at the 2nd Saturn return as orientated to the future. What we can achieve now that we have many years’ experience behind us, but also, crucially, what we can achieve now that we are aware of our mortality. And what also do we mean by this word ‘achievement’, that is so tied up with Saturn, so tied up with what the world and our parents expect of us and which may have driven us for most of our lives? What is worth achieving now that we know we will die and that we can’t take anything with us, particularly worldly recognition? 

(I don’t know what happens after we die, all I know is that I’m quite suspicious of any certainty, including certainty that death means extinction: in its own way, that certainty is also a false comfort.)

So after the rounding-up of our lives through Saturn, and the perspective and realism and awareness of mortality that he gives, comes the Uranus square Uranus. A disruption of what has become safe and routine and predictable in us, in order for new possibilities to get in. And that may involve illness and bereavement. Or unemployment.

It’s like when we were 20-22, but the other way round. First you have the Uranus Square, opening you up, making life seem full of possibilities. Then Saturn square comes along and says OK, but you need to be grounded first, you need to be able to take care of yourself, otherwise all the vision is unreal.

But in our early sixties it’s the other way round, it’s Saturn then Uranus, it’s Uranus who has the last word. And that’s just as well because we shouldn’t need to go off and ground ourselves, that’s there as a matter of course (hopefully), so we can live out those Uranian possibilities in quite a real way.

But it depends, and here’s the crisis, because that’s what Uranian disruption often means, crisis, we can’t carry on as before, something’s changed, and we don’t know what to do. It depends on how you respond to that disruption, and that may depend on the state of your Saturn: have you become so fixed that either you carry on as you are now or you feel you may as well just leave? Or has Saturn taught you his secret lesson, has he taken you beyond what the world wants of you, and you are free? Either way it may still not be comfortable.

But the best meaning of Uranus square Uranus, best in the sense of going where life wants us to go, is to go with that change, begin anew, because that’s what life always wants us to do, however old we are. Jung found through dreams of his elderly patients that life behaved not as though it were about to be extinguished, but as though it was going to continue, and he said the best way to live is according to nature, which therefore means looking to the future. And Uranus is a forward looking planet. Maybe they’ll come up with a new crisis based around the Uranus Return in our 80s.

Because it’s also about recognising old people as people with lives that develop, and that are just as important to them as younger people’s lives are to them, and the more society can do that, the more it will recognise events such as the ‘Late-life Crisis.’

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Fatima said...

Thanks for that....I am just starting to figure that out...almost there!

It looks like you are really enjoying the road :)

Robin said...

As a woman who just turned 70 last month (early Taurus), I still can't wrap my mind around being "old". I recall when we didn't trust anyone over 30! The worst thing about being "old" is the societal mind-set of it
. My body has aged, but my mind has refined-- I realize things that I never did before. Uranus is great at bringing bolts of insight. Saturn brings wisdom. It isn't all that bad!

Anonymous said...

you have a good feeling for what you haven't experienced yet.

am now going through the U/U square. One of the issues I'm dealing with is the dichotomy of working/not working as if those are the only 2 things one can do. I am feeling that there is another dimension to be accessed, a dimension of beingness, different from the achievement orientation of youth. It's subtle (and hard for me to describe) but I sense it and am trying to find the key to being there.

Unknown said...

Interesting reflection and take. If we could only remember that life is an energy that we can turn into a force and give it direction...
Great ending: "Because it’s also about recognising old people as people with lives that develop, and that are just as important to them as younger people’s lives are to them, and the more society can do that, the more it will recognise events such as the ‘Late-life Crisis.’"
That is spot on and would make social services (for example) and society as a whole to have a different view on what we are and what we need and can be.

Anonymous said...

This turning around of Saturn and Uranus seems quite clear to me (eventhough I am 38 ;-)
It looks like: when you're young, you have ideals (Uranus) but you have to know what you need or have to fulfil them. When you're in your sixties, (it's "the other way round" like you say), you know what you've got (Saturn), but the challenge is: what can you do with what's left! Could be little, could be more, but the challenge is revolutional (Uranus): what can you DO with it?
In the first round, your dreams have no boundaries, you find them out by Saturn. The second round, the boundaries are kind of set, but how far can you go within these boundaries?
Maybe that's why the older people like to travel so much, they are not impressed anymore by these boundaries (Uranus) :-)

Moragh said...

Speaking personally, as someone who went through her second Saturn return 18 months ago & has only just realised that the Uranus square kicks in around 18 months hence, I can only say that I feel the best part of my life is still to come. I decided to jack in the bread-and-butter job at my Saturn return, which is the best thing I've ever done. Who knows - maybe at the Uranus waning square I'll finally realise what it is I want to do when I grow up!