January 20, 2020 Lippin Blog: Contemplating the Intersection of Aging and Dying

By Laurie B. Lippin

My Personal Journey, Through the Lenses of Personality Type and Archetypes

Perhaps it was the writing of this topic, the openness and introspection it was requiring of me, that put me in touch with themes I was living but had not quite recognized as part of my ongoing story. Living synchronistically is to get what you need even when you don’t know it. It goes with the territory for my Jungian personality type of ENFP (on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). Both my personality type and the archetypes are essential lenses for me to understand my life in this body at this time. I call it my “borrowed body for a lifetime” because I also include in my contemplations what part of the now “me” continues “after death.”

I had started this blog weeks ago, and, in fact, had been thinking about it ever since I accepted Carol’s invitation to write it. That’s how an ENFP works—contemplate, ruminate, actively (talk to lots of people about it) and inactively (in meditation, and in the hot tub), write a bit here and there. But it’s when the deadline looms close enough that I sit down and pull it together. There are many archetypes that have had a hand in these words, as my life shifted during this time. Ordinarily captivated by my own Magician and Revolutionary energy, I am in charge, actualizing my dreams, blissfully lost in my own transformations. Also, I knew the Seeker would speak strongly, as I am enjoying the inner journeying much more than the outer these days.

But added to my repertoire now is an old and familiar Orphan that had been finding her foothold in ways less than obvious to me. You should know that I live in a beautiful river and redwoods area of Northern California where floods and fires and power outages have become our reality these last few years. Gradually, during and in recovery from these crises, my safety and sanctuary sense of my dream home here has been eroded. Eclipsing my genuine excitement of giving new perspectives to the aging process and dying and death matters,has been a persistent, gloomy, low energy tethering my mental wanderings. This waif, this Orphan, has been betrayed and sobered into a new reality. Her wonderland and playground has become dangerous and threatening. She sits with me still, even as I move to complete my assignment. She creates some drag on my forward thrust.

That being the context for the writing to follow, I am living proof of how powerfully the intersection of archetype and personality type can illuminate our personal journeys, influencing each other in their particular manifestations. 

Once a Seeker, always a Seeker, at least for this ENFP. I have always described ENFP as a “triple whammy.” As an extravert, psychic energy comes from engagement with the outer world of people and things, extraverting one’s dominant intuition to all the possibilities imaginable, but always guided by an inner compass of idealism; and as an NP, there are no limits to the input one seeks. So, my first half of life represents the quintessential wandering Jewess. In archetype terms, that wanderer (now Seeker) included physically moving myself from origins in Boston down the east coast every time I sought another degree. Until finally, after receiving my Ph.D. at age 50, and having gotten as far as Maryland, I made the move to California—Oakland, initially, then further and further north to find country quiet and natural beauty.

I had clearly been exploring my outer world, and testing myself out in it. When asked what brought me to California, my answer was always that I was “seeking” a different geography, a different extraverted world for my senses, and I wanted to live under the influence of a different consciousness. So even there I was dealing with both inner and outer. Also, in archetypal understanding, that Seeker in me may have moved me geographically but in the deepest meaning of the archetype I was clearly looking to find my true self. I was also aware, from mid-life on, that the other side of my personality was calling me. I was seeking environments that nurtured more introversion, and thus the new terrains I seek now are all internal. As I am still an adventurer, and still a magician and revolutionary, my journey is including psychedelics and other forms of alternate realities.

So a central theme for my life becomes my relationship with my inner and outer selves, or which one I privilege. But the inner doesn’t come easily to this very active ENFP. The curse of this type is also its short attention span, or, more sympathetically, the draw of attention to multiple arenas, and yet another wonderful possibility. I can pay close attention and develop content/programs/articles when they are deeply connected to my life’s passions (introverted F). And I can easily discard the noise of the outside world, and all of its demanding activity.  

The extraversion remains helpful when intentionally pursuing and sometimes facilitating in the environments that cater to my new interests: Death Cafés, an Elder Salon, Revisioning End of Life, a workshop I’m offering next month at my toney health club titled: Ageing Dying, Death, and After-Death. My archetypes are thrilled that I am engaged in changing the perception of death and challenging rules about our rights to die. I also have a new app, We Croak,that offers daily quotations about death. It’s popup reminder is: “Don’t forget, you’re going to die. Open for a quote.” Today’s, from Samuel Butler, is: “If life must not be taken too seriously, then so neither must death.”

When I entered my 70s, I knew I was in a different period of aging, which, by the way, has many different stages, but is usually just seen as old. Maiden, Mother, CRONE. I asked Siri. She thinks crone means an old woman who is thin and ugly. It is impossible to avoid internalized ageism in an ageist, misogynist culture. As with other highly educated and privileged women, much of my identity was wrapped up in how I looked, presented, performed, inspired, and accomplished. But life is a series of letting go’s, and old age is the time of letting go our physical selves as we’ve known them, our professional identity in most cases, loved ones who leave their bodies before us, and much more until our own ultimate letting go of our own life itself. While Crone has never had a very positive vibe in our outer society, feminists know differently, and many of us are reclaiming her now in all her wisdom.  

I have always loved what Joseph Campbell had to say in The Power of Myth about our aging:

The problem in middle life, when the body has reached its climax of power and begins to lose it, is to identify yourself, not with the body, which is falling away, but with the consciousness of which it is a vehicle. And when you can do that, and this is something learned from my myths, What am I? Am I the bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle? And this body is a vehicle of consciousness, and if you can identify with the consciousness, you can watch this thing go, like an old car there goes the fender, there goes this. But it’s expectable, you know, and then gradually the whole thing drops off and consciousness rejoins consciousness. I mean, that’s it’s no longer in this particular environment.

After many years of maligning myself for nature taking its course, and identifying with the vehicle, the worst of that internalized ageism was over in the seventh decade. I was finally able to turn my creative curiosity to the aging process itself and noticed the first new interesting question emerging: “What does my soul want?” 

In fact, there are a lot more questions. What is the difference between my mind and my brain? Where does consciousness go? These lead me to my interest in after-death and to the transitions that take place as we enter the dying process and the transition to the final letting go of death. Death—the next big adventure.

My experience two years ago walking that dying journey with a beloved friend and former lover showed me just how much I didn’t know, how ignorant I was, and how much was available for me to learn. Up close and personal is very different than the abstraction of the question. And if you have been there, you know what I mean. And how unprepared we are for the finality of death regardless of preparation.  Something most definitely dies and is gone to us, but I do believe that something most definitely continues.  

But until I get to that next big adventure I need to live in my questions. What does my soul want? And, indeed, what is my soul, and what is my soul’s path? I am learning that the soul’s path is often in the dark places, the shadow of our lives, the grieving process itself. My Orphan? For me, I am catapulted back to empowering possibilities (NF), transforming my understanding of this life to include a part of me that will transcend this life. What does my soul want? If my essential pilgrimage is inner, it is a move from my head to my heart and to a very different way of knowing, feeling, and being and a relationship with the very core of myself. The Seeker come home?

Laurie B. Lippin, Ph.D. specializes in training, consulting, coaching, and team building in the areas of diversity and cultural competence. She holds a doctorate in adult education and is a former faculty member at the Univeristy of California Davis, where she taught a popular and award winning diversity class. She is the co-author (with Judy Helfand) of Unraveling Whiteness: Tools for the Journey (Kendall/Hunt, 2011), is a frequent conference presenter, and works with corporate as well as not for profit clients. Dr. Lippin believes that we will not end racism until white people are just as committed to ending it as are people of color—and that to do so will remove barriers to a truly multicultural society.