midlife crisis?
November 24, 2007 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Recommended reading for midlife crisis/moral quandary?

I am having persistent misgivings about my place in the world. I have spent most of my life avoiding issues that cause me discomfort. I try to do no harm and for most of my life that has been enough. Now I am overwhelmed at the state of the world; my country, my job and how little I have done to change anything for the better.
I alternate between wanting to retreat and to join and work for change.
It has manifested as a mild anxiety, not quite depression.
Can anyone recommend any reading that might help direct me.
posted by InkaLomax to Religion & Philosophy (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The following books showed me different ways of looking at one's situation and how one relates to the rest of the world:

Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life by Gail Sheehy and The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. (Not just for people in "creative" fields because Mr. Pressfield directly addresses the universal issues of resistance and self-doubt.)

Not to suggest that I've got it all figured out at thirty-two-years or that these books cure all ills; however, they improved my approach to life and continue to assist me become a better human being than I was. A few more books impact me strongly, but they concentrate on personal organization or making art.
posted by bonobo at 12:17 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

George R. R. Martin's sequence of fantasy novels called A Song of Ice and Fire depicts a world that's falling apart and the struggles of many different kinds of people to survive its harsh troubles. The misery the characters endure is oddly bracing.

Ursula Goodenough wrote a book called The Sacred Depths of Nature that might appeal to you, although this is a very open-ended question, so I'm flying pretty blind.

Another direction might be online: Try How to Save the World, Dave Pollard's website. There's an extraordinary breadth of information and a bleak but not hopeless attitude that I at least find helpful when I think about what a mess things are now.
posted by cgc373 at 12:19 PM on November 24, 2007

Atomised by Michel Houellebecq.
posted by fire&wings at 12:23 PM on November 24, 2007

I think its best to work with the things that caused you to avoid these things. When they are taken care of, it will be easier to make this decision. I suggest any number of cognitive behavioral theapy books by David Burns or Albert Ellis.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:34 PM on November 24, 2007

I loved Eat, Pray, Love. It's a really intimate first-person account of someone who found herself wanting profound change in her life, and her adventures in finding her way. It's not a how-to guide, but Elizabeth Gilbert is easy to relate to, and it's a great story. It may inspire you.
posted by nadise at 12:34 PM on November 24, 2007

I don't of it will help you in your situation, but a lot of existentialist writers explored the same kind of issues of moral responsibility and personal accountability. Existentialism isn't easy to define, but at its heart its about making choices and being accountable for those choices. Existentialist writers don't propose easy answers but reading their works might give you more insight into the sorts of difficulties that we all face in the world.

Two existentialist novels I would suggest reading are The Stranger by Albert Camus and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Other existentialist writers include Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:45 PM on November 24, 2007

I found the book "How to be an Adult in Relationships" by David Richo to be helpful. Even though it's about relationships, a lot of it is about figuring out yourself and does so in a kind way so you don't wince when you come across one of your blind spots. If you understand what brought you to this point, you can figure out how to move forward. There is also a book called "Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart", with subtitle "a buddist perspective on wholeness, lessons from meditation and psychotherapy. I liked that book less than the first one I mentioned, but it really depends on where you are on the midlife crisis continuum. I also think a sudden unexpected trip out of the country does a lot to jar you out of general malaise and paralysis. Maybe a drastic change of scenery, if only for a week, could help you shake it up a little and see what the core issues are you are grappling with. Good luck.
posted by 45moore45 at 1:17 PM on November 24, 2007

I know you asked about what words to read, but in my opinion that is not going to do it. It's too passive. Think of something that is active and will relate you to the world in a new way. It can be a very small thing like help someone that could use your expertise. Pick a spot in the world and volunteer (they can't turn you down!). This will give you real and personal information on how you can proceed.
posted by JohnR at 1:32 PM on November 24, 2007

Seeing from your profile that you are female, you might like Women Who Run With The Wolves and Warrior Mothers. I'd read them together. Warrior Mothers is amazing -- the author interviewed some of the most incredible and powerful female women around and tells their stories from their point of view. And Women Who Run With The Wolves might help you find that same strength for yourself. If you relate well to male archetypes, you may also draw strength from Iron John.
posted by salvia at 2:08 PM on November 24, 2007

Here is a better link for Warrior Mothers that lists some of the featured women. (By the way, it doesn't matter at all whether or not you're actually a mother.)
posted by salvia at 2:11 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Join and work for change! Don't hide or let them talk you out of it. No book or comment can do justice for starting to act. Pick something you're concerned about and reach out to people who are doing something about it and see how you can get involved.

You don't have to travel around the world or make any great sacrifice to get started. My favorite quote this year is
"Every individual, I would argue, needs to feel a connection to community, to a history, and to a human project larger than his or her own life. Without this connection, we are bereft of a concern for the future or an investment in the fate of our community. Nihilism is the result; and we see abundant signs of it all around, from the unchecked frenzy of consumption that ignores its likely long-term effects to the anarcho-libertarianism that is rife in the corporate United States at all levels and that values only immediate individual desires."
posted by history is a weapon at 2:54 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Feed someone who is hungry, care for someone sick. Listen to someone who is lonely, talk to someone shy. Retreat to regroup, not to surrender.

Read the Bible. Read Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian". Read the Bhagavad Gita. Read the Lotus Sutra. Read Richard Powers. Read Lester Bangs. Read people who've written about those people.

Realize that you are that part of the universe capable of observing other parts of itself, and be driven by that necessity. Realize that friends and family are the only things that ultimately matter.

Rise above paradox, and be happy despite it all, or bet yet, because of it all.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:47 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think experience with the real world rather than existential philopsophic self-justifying drivel is a much better bet for you. Try "Coping with the Real World for Dummies," or, if that is not subtle enough, try reading "Nickle and Dimed" for a look at real problems and try to appreciate how easy your life is if these are your big anxiety triggers.
posted by bunnycup at 8:45 PM on November 24, 2007

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Usually read in your twenties, only understood in your forties.
posted by baggymp at 5:05 AM on November 25, 2007

I found Proust's In Search of Lost Time answered nicely for mine. Its also long enough that something must have changed by the time you are done with it.
posted by shothotbot at 6:48 PM on November 25, 2007

Albert Camus opened his philosophical tract The Rebel with this statement: "What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion."

The Rebel is very cerebral, and I've found it a difficult text to get through, but I've also found a lot of meaning in the parts that I understand -- words that really do speak to me, even though I am fairly young and still have a lot to see of the world. A lot of it (as well as a lot of The Myth of Sisyphus) just seems to "make sense" to me in an elemental way. I think some people (particularly in the modern world) have it ingrained in them to be dissatisfied, or to search for something that seems missing from their lives, or just to be bewildered at the chaos of all that is happening around them. I think Camus felt that way too. Granted, many people certainly feel that all this is "existential philosophic self-justifying drivel" with no practical capacity, but some of what I read in The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus really has given me resolve during painful, unpleasant times. That's just me, of course. Some people need new pursuits to devote themselves to, or new places and experiences to take in; others need a new way of thinking about things. Some need all of the above. Camus is hard to digest, but if you give it a try you might find it's worthwhile for you.

(As for the quote up there, it's sort of enigmatic, but I take it to mean that life is best lived in "rebellion" against the world's chaos and absurdity. We have the chance to "say no," to refuse to accept the world as it is, even though we do not renounce it or our own existence in it.)

On a much more quotidian level, you could try The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns. It's one of the best cognitive-behavioral self-help texts.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 4:20 AM on November 27, 2007

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