By Orna Ben Dor
“As long as you have not attained it, this, ’Die and become! ’You will only be a gloomy guest on this dark Earth.”
V.W. von Goethe
The midlife question is the most meaningful one in human life, and its understanding opens up a wide gate for us to better understand ourselves, others, and the world.
In order to deepen our inquiry into midlife, we must first ask – who is Man? Who is the human-being whom we observe from infancy to old age?
In the book of Genesis, the story of Man’s creation is described in chapters 1 & 2, each one providing a different description of the human-being. In Chapter 1 it is written: ”So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 27).While in Chapter 2, it is written: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis Chapter 2, verse 7).
Man is therefore a spiritual being in God’s image, but at the same time he is a being of “dust of the ground”, a being of matter; and between matter and spirit lies the “living soul”.
Man’s unique role on earth is to carry out a dialogue between spirit and matter, two strikingly different entities, and to enable the spirit to transform, change and elevate the material-mental being of man. In Judaism, man is described as ‘Lords of Creation’; the cosmos watches with fear and trepidation – will he succeed in this impossible mission, a mission that is solely his – to bring together these two entities?*
This is man’s mission and also his uniqueness – combining spirit and matter together in a single entity – the human-being. Matter and spirit need each other reciprocally; not only does matter require spirit in order to revive itself, but spirit needs matter, in order to recognize its reflection through it. Any notion or idea that remains within the boundaries of thought, is in a sense, one-sided.
The process of integrating the spirit within matter and lifting matter back to its origins is a two-step process in both humanity’s biography as a whole, and the individual human-being.
The first step: from birth to midlife (age 33 up to about age 42)** – the incarnation of the spirit within matter.
The second step: excarnation and the return of man and humanity to their original source.
The First Half of Human Life: Creating the Tools
As human beings we devote our lives, until midlife, to the mission of materializing spirit in matter. This process is called incarnation, in Anthroposophical terms. Once born, the first thing a baby does is, breathe. Breath is the entry of spirit into the human body, and the beginning of its continuous ‘affair’ with the body. During labor the eternal spirit of the baby incarnates, and begins to learn and experience the world and its rules, as it incarnates within an individual human being. This is a process of differentiation, emerging from primordial unity, in order to recognize the self as a differentiated and free individual.
In the course of the first half of our lives, we form ourselves as earthly human beings. In western society, Israel included, this manifests itself in growing-up, education in kinder-gardens and schools, finding our place among our peers, having intimate relations, studies, trips, raising a family, building a home and career. This is the general path into which each of us fits, according to our life and personal destiny.
These are the years in which we meet our destiny through the people we encounter, and also through our experiences, illness, crises, etc. We establish ourselves as distinct independent beings, that do not identify with humanity and the cosmos as a whole; this process leaves us with a sense of alienation and loneliness.
Our friction with the world, assuming we did indeed experience it and not evade it, enables us to create cognitive, emotional and other tools that enable us to acknowledge ourselves and the world – tools that will serve us in the second part of our lives to fulfill our destiny and purpose.
Age 33 is called in Biographical-Anthroposophy terms: the Age of Inversion***. Inversion from what to what?
Inversion from my identification with the external layers that envelop my life, leading to finding my true and meaningful Self.
What is the nature of our layers?
The archetype of leaving the old and heading toward the new and unknown, is exemplified in the biblical image of Abraham.
In the Book of Genesis, it is written:”Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee:” (Genesis, chapter 12, verse 1).
The commentators suggest: Get thee out of thy country…unto the land that I show thee – get out to the place the Lord shows you, go to the unknown.
Away from what should the person go? “And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” (Genesis, Chapter 15, verse 5).
And the commentators explain: God pulls Abram out of the tent, in order to induce within him a new approach leaving behind the past, and as a result open up new possibilities that are connected to the spirit, to eternity.
Get thee… unto a land that I will show thee. Abram must go to an uncharted land, but he is granted private supervision, God will show him the way.
Get thee- search within to correct yourself, reach-out to who you really are, within your divine nature, before it was covered with clothes.
And what are our clothes?
From thy country – away from the effects of the geographical location, the influences of the environment and culture into which we were born.
From thy kindred – away from our genetics, heritage, and the psychological influence of our parents.
From thy father’s house – from the parents’ karma: if my father’s karma is to hold a certain profession, it is not compulsory for me to do the same. I must find my vocation disregarding other’s expectations of me.
And he brought him forth abroad – going outside cannot happen on its own, it occurs only with grace. A person is responsible to create the tools so that grace could be bestowed.
Abraham took a step that bequeathed grace: he left the old for the unknown only because God told him so. The story of Abraham is the story of all of us – the way we liberate ourselves from patterns that hold us back; the imperative of “Get Thee” is an internal divine, spiritual imperative, one of self-rectification and rehabilitation; we are committed to be individuals with all body and soul****.
When a person follows the path to his true self, divine wisdom is revealed to him; he walks to a place with no beginning or end.
Age 33 – the Age of Inversion
According to Anthroposophical spiritual-science, age 33 is the age in which the seed is planted for that: Get thee.
Following the first step in the first half of life – the incarnation of the spirit into concrete life – a new question arises within us*****. In midlife we reach a crossroad. At this stage in life many of us start to feel emptiness and even despair, even though from a materialistic-mental-emotional perspective we may have reached our goals: we established ourselves career-wise, are financially secure, raised a family with a spouse, etc.
A yearning starts to build-up inside, first subconsciously, undefined or named. A yearning to return to our origins, to our true self, which is the eternal spirit, to the essence and purpose of our life. This is manifested in questions that begin to surface: who am I? Do all my achievements thus far truly satisfy me? What should I relinquish from now on? And other similar questions related to self-fulfillment.
This midlife point is critical, and in a sense will determine the rest of our lives; this is the “Period of the Desert”.
When the Israelites left Egypt from the ‘house of slavery’ (and aren’t we all slaves to our habits and old behavior patterns?), they had to go through a period of the desert, in order to reach the Promised Land. The trial failed, and they complained to Moses and asked to be taken back to what they called “the pot of meat”, back to the past, to Egypt that seemed from the desert perspective, a place worth returning to.
Since they did not persevere through that interim period between old and new, they were sentenced to remain in the desert for 40 years and die. The slaves’ generation perished in the desert and only the next generation, the one freed of Egypt******, could have entered the Promised Land.
In order for us to be able to enter the Promised Land we must “die to the old”. This always requires sacrifice; we are required to renounce a large part of who we are, what we identify with, and how we live and define ourselves.
Without death, no revival is possible; the old must make room for the new. In order to reach the new, a transition must take place, a passage through chaos, “nothingness”, death.
Creation itself was generated out of chaos and disarray: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth.And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 1-2)
In human biography as well, release from chaos, from the abyss, from the wasteland and all that it arouses in us, can happen only through “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” – namely, through our spiritual essence, much like the phoenix re-emerges from the ashes. The process of death and rebirth occurs starting from midlife.
Dr R. Steiner described a similar process that humanity as a whole went through at a certain point in its consciousness evolution.
The Sacrifice & the Grace
In the course of many epochs, humanity was more connected to unity, to the spiritual worlds than to the material world (much like a baby is connected to his mother and only gradually separates from her). Humanity, that gradually incarnated in the material world, had also reached its midlife; it occurred at a certain period around 0 A.C. At that point the spiritual and material forces were in equilibrium. In the Greek era, there was a growing danger of decay to decadence and materialism and loss of renewed spiritual development; without spirit, without God, hence, without hope. Humanity that identifies itself with its materialistic side and operates only to feed that entity, loses connection with its source, and is condemned to despair and self-destruction.
At that midlife stage of humanity, a higher spiritual entity that was operating throughout time from the worlds of the spirit, took action in order to enable humanity to lift itself to the worlds of Spirit, something humanity could not do by itself with its own limited forces; and this was done in order for it not to deteriorate, dwindle and disappear altogether.
This entity is mentioned in the Bible only once by the name: ‘God Most High’, at the meeting between Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High, and Abram.
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and Earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything”. (Genesis Chapter 14, verses 18-20).
‘God Most High’, who operated for ages from above, was sent down to earth and materialized in a human body in order to help humanity ascend to the worlds of spirit. In different terminologies, ‘God Most High’ is also named: Joshua-Immanuel, the Christ, or, the Sun-Being.
This point in human development is humanity’s “midlife” and also its turning-point.
The high Sun-Being, that was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, died on the cross in Golgotha, and was resurrected for the sake of all human-beings. In his revival, he revealed to humanity a great secret, which was: the possibility to rise from the ashes and continue to evolve. This is the secret of resurrection, the understanding that without dying, no revival and development can occur.
“A strong heavenly force had to radiate into physical matter and sacrifice itself into this matter. What was required was more than just a God wearing the mask of human appearance; what was needed was a true human being with human powers who was carrying the God within himself. The Event of Golgotha had to happen so that the matter into which the human being was placed could be readied, cleansed, and ennobled. When components of matter are cleansed and sanctified, this will make the comprehension of primordial wisdom possible again in future incarnations. Mankind must be led to a true understanding of how the Event of Golgotha has really worked in this sense. How important has this event been to mankind, and how incisively has it affected the essence and the being of mankind”.(1)
The Christ Being spent three years on earth and at the age of 33 was crucified. During those three years he grew weaker and was slowly dying, as his spiritual forces gave in to the forces of matter. Similarly, in human individual biography we call those three years: the Test of the Earth. These are considered to be difficult years. Jesus-Christ died on the cross and then was resurrected; age 33 is the archetype of death and revival in human biography.
The descent of ‘God Most High’ into a human body, linking its destiny with that of humanity’s, was an act of cosmic sacrifice. Much like Abraham’s sacrifice, we must relinquish our identity with the old. This does not mean we must throw away all that we have acquired up to that point. Rather the opposite, we must use the tools we created during the first half of life and transform them, direct them toward self-fulfillment, give-back to the world through continuous evolvement to the highest possible level. That’s how we can overcome our necessary differentiation from the whole, a step that was required at the time in order for us to develop an individual self.
“Mankind proceeded from a unity, but Earth evolution up to the present has led to differentiation. In the Christ-concept an ideal is given that counteracts all differentiation, for in the human being Who bears the name of Christ live also the forces of the exalted Sun Being in Whom every human ego finds its origin. … Disregarding all separate interests and separate relationships, the feeling arose that the inmost ego of every human being has the same origin.” (2).
The incarnation of a ‘God Most High’ in the human body of Jesus of Nazareth bestowed for the first time in every person of our era the possibility, as well as the responsibility, to find the divine within oneself.
As of midlife, a person can no longer search for God externally. He is required to search and find it within himself, while transforming his lowly parts and bestow them as a gift to the worlds of spirit.
Now I am diminished into a tiny eternal spot,
I will watch with amazement how it all fades out.
The remains of my being,
Fall away like bits of mud
That stuck to me on my way.
I will let the rain wash it all away,
And purify me.
I must part now
From all holdings.
Fear toys with me,
Imploring: take only that!
No, I declare,
Not this time!
This time I must peel-off my white skin
Let the darkness infiltrate.
Empty myself completely
Trusting that tomorrow too
A new light will break through.
*Animals were not granted with a spirit, only body and soul, and the Higher Hierarchies are body-less.
**The age of inversion, death and re-incarnation. Biologically, the equilibrium in the body is tipped toward processes of erosion and decline.
***From a biological perspective, as of age 33, destruction and deterioration processes outweigh metabolic and building processes.
****“body& soul” or ‘254 limbs’ equals Abraham in Gematria (assignation of numeric values to Hebrew letters).
*****Age 33 signifies the seed that is planted in a person regarding that question. As long as a person is striving to live his life beyond merely satisfying basic needs, this question will burst in all its might at the age of 42.
******Egypt in Hebrew is derived from the word strait: something that narrows and limits us.
- R. Steiner, The Principle of Spiritual Economy. (1909). The Event of Golgotha. The Brotherhood of the Holy Grail.The Spiritualized Fire.GA-109, Lecture 8.
- R. Steiner, An Outline of Occult Science, Chapter IV.
- Yael Armoni (a teacher & biographical counselor In Hotam School). Taken from her poem book “White In A Dark Night”, Published by Hotam Publishing House. 2015.
All English translations from the Old Testament (Bible) were taken from King James Version.