Fulfilling The Task Of Life

Fulfilling The Task Of Life

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The other day on Good Morning America, I watched Diane Sawyer interviewing Joan Anderson, author of a recently released book, A Walk on the Beach. The title of the book would not have piqued my interest and I would have switched over to another morning show, had the author not mentioned the name of her mentor, "Joan Erikson." The name "Joan Erikson" rang loud in my ears. She was the wife of late "Erik Erikson" one of the worlds' greatest psychologists who introduced the concept of "identity crisis" in the western world.

Nowadays we don't hear much about identity crisis or its impact on in the lives of young people as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. However, to indicate how important the concept of identity crisis was in the 1970s and 80s, let me share a joke that used to circulate among counselors in those days. The joke went like this: A young man enters a counselor's office at the university psychology clinic and throws himself on the chair with a deep sigh and says, "Help me1"

The counselor asks, "Why do you look so unhappy young man? Broke up with your girl friend or are your parents pulling you out of college for those bad grades?"

"Nothing of the sort," the young man went on to say, "I don't know what's wrong with me? I am 19 and I haven't had my identity crisis yet?

All grownups can relate to a time during the passage to adulthood when we ask ourselves such soul-searching questions as, "Who am I? What do I really want from my life? What are my values and priorities? What do I believe in? "

Confusion, clarifications and directions that emerge from these questions shape our lives, affecting our relationships, career, life accomplishments and our place in society.

Eriskon's gift to the world is the delineation of eight stages or markers of personal development that cover the entire span from cradle to grave. Each of the eight stages in our lifecycle presents a specific task for us. How well we complete that task determines the degree of success and happiness we enjoy in our lives.

During adulthood, our life-task is "generativity," such as raising a family and being productive at work. If we don't do that job well we feel stagnated in our lives.

In the senior years our life-task, I believe is a combination of generativity and self-realization. If we help and prepare the coming generations for their life challenges, we will feel we have fulfilled the purpose of our life as the creator intended.

If we don't do perform our task well, we might end up unhappy, cynical, depressed, lonely or anxious.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Erikson once visited the center In India where I worked and presented a workshop to discuss their ideas related to the eight stages of life. Joan is a creative artist who helped her husband to present his psychological concepts through art forms and down to earth images. They were a couple that complemented and supported each other, in every aspect from kitchen to the professional workshop.

After the death of her husband, Joan Erikson practiced and taught the concept of generativity,.all by herself. Anderson, aforementioned author of A Walk on the Beach, relates an incident of the time when she was standing at the crossroads of her life. Somewhat lost and depressed by the turn of events, she takes a walk on the beach. A total stranger, an elderly lady in her 90s, is also taking a walk on the beach, meets Anderson and soon becomes her friend and mentor. That stranger is Joan Erikson who takes it upon herself to lift Anderson's spirits and coaches her in the art of living.

Below are a few of the pearls of wisdom that Erikson offered Anderson. Perhaps, you may want to string some of these pearls that personally appeal to you and make your own "wisdom necklace."

Get out of your head and do something physical. Move your body. Do something even if it means collecting pebbles. It's always the doing that leads to becoming.

Welcome each day like a good meal.

If you keep on passing to others what you know and what you've learned, your life will never go limp. Instead of focusing on your weakness, work with your strength.

Overdose on the sensual pleasures. Go to the woods, mountains and beaches and feast your eyes and ears with the visions and sounds of nature. Feel the breeze in the entire body. Smell the fragrance in the air vividly. Touch the rocks and plants and feel the life pulsating through them. It's all in the touch. That's where you find the most in life.

Keep you hands on the plough and push. Never stop pushing.

Let the unknown be born. Let the change occur.

Passion is the life force, but you find it when you are open and vulnerable.

Deep in the heart of me is the best part of me.

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Copyright 2004, Mind Publications 
Posted July 2004


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