Musings on an unlived life

I had a post brewing in my brain about my mother and her unlived life when I saw this New York Times review of a book called “Missing Out: In Praise of an Unlived Life.”

Many of us as children imagined that we were fairy princesses or dashing knights, stuck in a fairy tale from which we will soon awake and live the life to which we are entitled.  Evil parents are truly stepparents, and someday soon our “real” parents, the kings and queens, will rescue us and we will live happily ever after.

For my mother, who died just before Christmas, this fantasy was a reality that lasted throughout her life.  She locked herself into a tower of her own laziness and refusal to create actions that would effect change in her life, and waited for the fairy tale to rescue her.  My mother’s astrological chart showed a Moon/Chiron conjunction which reveals a deep emotional wound from which we never really heal, but which becomes our teacher as, ideally, we release the wounds from the past and move into a transformed future.  She also had a grand trine in water signs, and when people say “aren’t grand trines good?” I always use my mother as an example.  Because grand trines create ease and flow in one’s life, but they also help us to avoid the kind of crisis that forces us to take action and make changes.

As someone who works with people to help transform their lives and manifest their dreams, this frankly drove me nuts. From the time she moved to live closer to me in 2000 until the day she died I worked hard to overcome my desire to change her – to make her live the kind of life I wanted her to have.

“Your way is not may way,” she would say.  Of course I thought she was simply wrong.  I have worked very hard to overcome my own wounds and create  a wonderful life, and I believe that everyone should have joy and satisfaction and a sense of purpose and accomplishment.  My mother, on the other hand, seemed to prefer the imagined life to the real one.  The idea of the dog was better than the actual dog.  The idea of the daughter was better than the real one.  The idea of the vacation was better than the reality, which was then canceled over and over.

So I found this review interesting, and disturbing:

“Missing Out,” Phillips’s 17th book, is his most poetic, paradoxical, repetitive and punning yet; he doesn’t argue in a linear fashion but nestles ideas within ideas, like Russian dolls. …

What’s at stake throughout these essays is how we understand the “lives we could be leading but for some reason are not.” Phillips’s clinical practice (he sees patients four days a week and writes on Wednesdays) has shown him that “we live as if we know more about the experiences we don’t have than the experiences we do have.” He refers to these parallel or shadow lives as our “unlived lives,” and says that many of us “spend a great deal of our lived lives trying to find and give the reason” that “they were not possible. And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives.”

It’s hard not to find this embarrassingly familiar: the unloved lovers, the unsucceeded successes. We’re so sure of what our unlived lives would have been like that we feel guilty for not living them — for not living up to our potential. But “where did we get our picture of this potential from?” Phillips asks. We live in an age in which many of us no longer feel rooted in traditional systems of belief; we know we are nothing special — “on a par with ants and daffodils” — and so seek our satisfaction in the perpetual present of consumer capitalism, in which “knowing ourselves” means “simply knowing what we want to have.” …

With Phillips, we feel our wished-for satisfactions (our madness?) listened to and killed, and yet not really die. And he offers us another kind of hope too — not the consumerist one, that all our dreams may come true, but the hope that our frustrations might lead us out of the fantasy world in our minds and into an engagement with what is. After all, “the only satisfactions available are the satisfactions of reality, which are themselves frustrating.”

While the idea that we create our own reality reached the masses back in the 1800s with the New Thought movement, it really erupted into the mainstream under the influence of Pluto’s travel through Sagittarius.  Sagittarius is, after all, the sign of faith and optimism, and when Pluto’s transformational force careened through that sign the idea that we can create our reality and achieve all of our desires reached a feverish pitch.  But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

After reading this review I wanted to know more about Adam Phillips.  Why was he so untrustful of his dreams?  Why does he insist that the soul’s desires, which in my belief system are seeds planted by our higher self to inspire and motivate us towards our purpose, are so dangerous?

Adam Phillips (born September 19, 1954, time unknown, in England) has the Sun in Virgo, a sign which is famously suspicious of anything which originates outside the material world.  But more telling, his Sun squares his Moon which suggests a split between his emotional world (Moon) and the conscious mind.  With Jupiter (expansion and faith) conjunct Uranus (innovation and new ideas) he is a brilliant thinker, but that conjunction is opposed by Chiron which bestows a fearful attitude towards new ideas.  Interestingly, Wikipedia calls him a “maverick” in his field, but this review of his book suggests that he himself is fearful of his own inner maverick.

In another interview Phillips is quoted:

 ”I’m not on the side of frustration exactly, so much as the idea that one has to be able to bear frustration in order for satisfaction to be realistic. I’m interested in how the culture of consumer capitalism depends on the idea that we can’t bear frustration, so that every time we feel a bit restless or bored or irritable, we eat, say, or we shop.

“It’s only in an initial state of privation that you can begin to have thoughts about what it is you might want, to really imagine or picture it. It’s very difficult to know what we’re frustrated by. In making the case for frustration I want to make it more interesting, such that people can talk or think about it in different ways.”

While I disagree with the idea that satisfaction has to be realistic, there is no doubt that without initial frustration very few of us find the motivation to create the changes that are desired in our lives.  But our desires go so far beyond what we WANT in the sense of consumer capitalism.  Our desires include a longing for connection with others and community.  An urge to leave behind a corporate job to provide service and healing to others.  Creative inspiration that bubbles out of us and yearns for an outlet.

To me, frustration is the voice that says “This thing that you are doing is not working for you.  Now change it. ”  My mother lived with frustration every day – the frustration that her life gave her very little joy, happiness or satisfaction.  All it takes is one small step to make a change.  Let’s not find excuses to make inertia into a positive attribute as this article suggests.

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19 Responses to “Musings on an unlived life”

  1. LindaJanuary 21, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    This is truly a brilliant piece that you have written. I am looking into this book.

  2. MarizaJanuary 21, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    Thank you Lynn for this insight.

  3. cindyJanuary 21, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I like a girl who doesn’t think satisfaction has to be realistic!

    But Phillips idea that it is very difficult to know just what one is frustrated by and even more difficult to just sit with frustration for a while and not try to shop it, TV it, eat it or drink it away is has the sound of Big Truth, at least as respects my little life. Also sounds very Buddhism 101.

    I always learn so much from you. Thank you.

  4. ingerJanuary 21, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    I don’t always read every post that comes my way–so, glad I took the time for this one!!
    Thank you so much for writing it!!!

  5. KaDJanuary 21, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    This is an interesting and important topic to address. So many people just REFUSE to do the introspection necessary to get to know who they really are, what they really want; and instead just grab another piece of cake or buy another pair of shoes to temporarily ‘comfort’, distract, and reward themselves. Western society in is desperate need of introspection and some spiritual ‘growing up’.

    I feel your fustration. I have a 10th grade drop out brother with a 141 IQ who quit his $16 an hour job (with unlimited overtime) almost 20 years ago, went through a few ‘get rich quick’ schemes, and hasn’t worked since; even letting his license expire so he has more excuses to not work. He lives with Mommie, off Mommie; which is ultimately bad for both of them. Their codependancy keeps him from growing up and her from being independant. But I came to realize there’s nothing I can do about it; no ones listening and no one wants to. Eventually there will be a big shift, probably not till she passes, then he’s going to be lost.

  6. BethJanuary 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Great blog!

  7. Kathleen SmithJanuary 21, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    I liked your article Lynn, my sister and I are dealing with our mother who has chosen not to deal with her inner demons. She wants to use prescription meds. this has been on going for almost 50 years. She is unhappy and very angry because her Dr. has taken part of her drugs away. No matter what we say she gives us an answer that a teenager would give. She won’t go to see the psychologist which is what her Dr. suggested to her. I told my sister no matter how she acts there is a damaged child who hasn’t faced any of her demons. It is so sad to come to the end of one’s life and still have so many unresolved issues. It is difficult sometimes and we remind ourselves she is who she is. We ask ourselves what is our lesson in all of this, I told my sister must be compassion and empathy. Thank you Lynn one more reminder to live life fully and well. Bless You for all the wonderful articles that you write.

  8. ednaJanuary 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Thank you for this, Lynn! Interesting about the trines.

  9. LauraJanuary 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Thank you for this post, Lynn. My mother, like yours, left so much of her life unlived and was unhappy and ill during the her last years. My sisters and I took it as a lesson learned. Life is full of possible experiences and opportunities .. The key is to know that your own choice and will to live abundantly drives your life and involves shifting to a self-responsible mode of thinking and being….opening up to your soul self. Choosing TV, consumerism, addiction or flights of fantasy will not lead to clarity of purpose or the appreciation for life. ( Sometimes it’s just easier not to wake up.) Knowing what you want and don’t want in life requires a deep honest look at one’s life with a determination to let go of what no longer serves and putting a new paradigm into practice. Change requires effort and focus.

  10. JillJanuary 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    While I am skeptical of the whole “The Secret” model which says that we can visualize our way to whatever we want, we do have more control than our mother’s life would indicate. Sometimes happiness is found in finding ways to be happy with what IS. I keep thinking of Candide, which I read in 10th grade French class, and its final line, “Il faut cultiver nos jardin” — “We must cultivate our own garden.” Learning to find joy in the small things even when you may not be doing exactly what you want with your life due to any number of considerations is just as meaningful as following all of one’s dreams. The tragedy of our mother’s life is that she was so diminished as a person that she could never muster the resources to do any of the things that existed in her fantasy world…and she could never really find joy in her dogs, her second marriage, the things she bought, or any of the other ways she tried to fill the hole inside.

    • KaDJanuary 21, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

      I don’t believe in ‘The Secret’ myself. As someone once said; this makes us too powerful. I think it CAN happen, under the right circumstances, but what usually works is doing the hard work, facing the things you don’t want to face, and when you get throught it the reward can then be had.

  11. jenniiJanuary 21, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    You know i really liked this post and i thought about it a lot last night and i know people who ” will not “- as opposed to a lot of people who will – and i have known a couple of people like this who basically, in the end, i had to leave – if only for my own sanity. I came to the conclusion that in their own warped way they are really quite happy – they get almost unlimted attention if not from their exasperated familys, then anyone else who they manage to rope into their drama. In short, even though we may not understand it, these people get a big payoff for their behaviour so from their perspective why change ? In the end these folks are in a way, great teachers ! i have read elsewhere that the grand trine mentioned is called the whine trine – is that true Lynn ?:)

  12. Lynn HayesJanuary 22, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Thank you so much for your comments – I appreciate everyone sharing their stories. These are stories that often we rarely share, and sometimes just knowing of other people’s situations can help us to navigate ours more easily.

    Jenni – I have never heard about the “whine trine” but while I wouldn’t say that’s universally true, I think it certainly is in some cases!! And you’re right about some people NOT appreciating this post, I did get a nasty email this morning from someone who obviously didn’t read the post very thoroughly and thought it was all about trashing my mother. Which certainly was NOT the point!

    • KaDJanuary 22, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

      That’s crazy! All of our Mothers, no matter how much we love them, have their faults as all people do.

  13. GailJanuary 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Thank you for this most insightful article, Lynne! As I read this I realized it sounded SO familiar. It turns out that a man I dated 30 years ago–and came back into my life again last year–was born just 6 days after Phillip. He has all those avoidance/denial/inertia characteristics down to a science. He is brilliant, well-educated, but never married (he was gorgeous!!!) and still lives at home with daddy. Though he has a Libra Sun, his 7th house Moon is in Virgo, so there is that critical and ‘show me’ attitude.

    I have many trines but have used them well, I believe, and have no regrets. I’ve been on a committed spiritual path for 37 years and have developed the awareness needed to use this life to evolve, and to help and inspire others. Needless to say, this man coming into my life again threw me, because I just assumed he would have made a success of his life. It seems like such a waste, but I have had to let go of any judgment or need to help him. We ended the relationship. I send him love and blessings, and that is all.

  14. annJanuary 22, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    I find this post and the subsequent responses helpful and touching. What I get out of it is you are trying to understand and NOT judge others who can be frustrating in their lack of motivation or ability to change. I’m a counselor and have loved my job because I’ve been able to help or support people in making the changes they want, even when I might believe they could or should do something else. A former client ran into me today and said, “I’m so happy, I dumped my boyfriend and I feel great!” She added, “I bet you wnated to tell me to do that a long time ago, but you didn’t. I figured it out on my own and I’m proud that I did.” I have a former teacher who says, “Unasked-for advice is an aggressive act.” Worth considering, usually–mostly people who want to change do so when they are ready. Some people never get there.

    I hired a business coach and fired her yesterday after 3 months because I felt miserable and disatisfied with the program she felt I should follow. She called me back this morning to tell me I am a quitter and said that I would fail on my own. Then today, i happened to talk with a peer who told me that she has plans to leave her private practice for a job that includes health insurance and other benefits. She was thrilled to hear I am reopening my private counseling practice and has as many clients as I can handle to refer to me as soon as I am ready. She also has a great office space I could move into that is close to my home.

    I couldn’t help but notice that it all fell into place quickly when I just did what I felt was right. In the coach’s eyes, I am a quitter and “too scared” to “take my business to the next level.” Maybe so, but helping 25 or so clients a week get right with themselves isn’t too shabby either.

    I guess we all

    • Lynn HayesJanuary 27, 2013 at 7:45 am #

      Personally, I feel that any professional who says something like “you will fail on your own” is not someone who can be trusted. We must learn to listen to our own intuition. So often I work with people who say “so and so astrologer told me I should quit my job and move to X place and it has turned out terribly.” Coaches and counselors (and this includes astrologers!) should encourage us to be able to succeed on our own and listen to our inner voices. NOT to become dependent on them and their advice.

  15. DanielleJanuary 25, 2013 at 1:14 am #

    This article is poignant for me. I have been consciously changing and growing for years. Parts of me still are stuck in the past. I feel frustrated everyday with where I am in life. The only way I can justify it right now is the saying “the grass is always greener.” I will probably always something different but I working on being content with where I am now with the faith My life will be closer to my desires day by day. There is no destination.

  16. OntheWayJanuary 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    His viewpoint seems almost taoist to me, and I find myself really drawn to it. Recently I was tempted to leave my marriage of 6 years, because another woman was “better, sexier, etc” after all, what I “deserve” right? Along with unlimited wealth, and dream and wish fulfillment… what an idiot I was becoming. What I found was just more of the same, somethings better, somethings worse. Luckily I decided to stick with the good one I’ve got before I wrecked the train. I loved both his viewpoint and your response to it. Yin versus yang in a way. You are both right. For me now, rather than massive change its about realizing the divine in the mundane. Sometimes big dreams are just big delusions. I’m happier now than ever now that I’ve given up and found pleasure in not doing some of this stuff and really consider how much of my “aspirations” are just fantasy. What is a real dream versus just fantasy?