Happiness, no bitter chasers

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I am a 60-year-old never-married man who, despite major career successes, has never quite felt as if I fit. I was raised by doting parents, did well in school, have dated, have loved and been loved, yet I feel as if I have missed something vital and central to life itself. Am I neurotic? I do not wish to be told to seek therapy. I would like your advice.

You have stumbled upon one of the core truths of being fully human. As the psychologist Erich Fromm once wrote: “Man is born as a freak of nature, being within nature and yet transcending it.” To exist is to belong, and yet to exist without fully belonging to this world is the awakened awareness of a person devoted to the spiritual path. Or it is, at minimum, the inspiration felt by a person rising to take the first step. Is that where you are?

You have a heart open enough to appreciate your copious blessings: family, education, opportunities and worldly success. At midlife, rather than finding fault with your discontent, let it lead you toward completion.

Here is what is missing from your life: The you who is yearning to be born. No amount of happy family life or academic achievement or career success is a substitute for the real work of life. We are here to round the rough corners of our own personalities and to push out innovative ideas or creative projects that transform the world. We are here to grow in our individual capacities to love and be loved. Yes, that is the meaning of life.

Of course, the drive to ensure a cherished family life or to build personal success can be a container for changes in personality and creative expression that result in spiritual growth. So, no, your sense of something missing is not evidence of neurosis. It’s confirmation that you are human and that you are on a spiritual path. Here you are at age 60, being born again. Welcome home.

I have suffered from depression for most of my life. About five years ago, I fell in love with a woman. Prior to this, I only dated men. I thought that my depression was tied to the revelation that I had been a lesbian all along but had completely submerged my sexuality, because I feared my parents’ response. After being in a loving relationship with my partner for five years, I realize that my sexuality was not the issue. I still suffer from depression. I am on medication, and I see a therapist. But it doesn’t help me with my greatest fear. I am convinced that my depression will become too much, and my partner will leave me. What should I do?

Realize that you are afraid of being happy. You’re not alone. A lot of people assume that if something good happens or if an exquisite joy suddenly permeates their life, a bitter chaser must follow. Some people are so committed to the belief that it’s not safe to be happy, they never fully savor the sweetness of their blessings. Treasured experiences, like falling in love with the right person, provide strength, self-awareness and growth in selflessness. These are among the qualities needed when difficulties strike. So, allow yourself to rest in the reality of the love present in your life. When you do, your fearful thoughts will be drastically reduced.

Let’s talk about the depression. You are a woman who sometimes battles, sometimes succumbs to depression. Can you begin to see depression as an occasional experience, rather than a way to label yourself? After all, your partner loves you as you are. It’s time to join her embrace of you.

Meditation of the Week

I was mesmerized by 16-year-old pianist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner, who performed during the Sacramento Philharmonic's <i>Here to Stay: The Gershwin Experience</i> program. Sanchez-Werner, the youngest musician to graduate from The Juilliard School, defines genius. How do you nurture your capacity for the extraordinary?