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Dear Rinpoche: How Do I Deal with a Mid-Life Crisis?

A Buddhist meditation master provides guidance on readers’ real-life problems. Here is his advice on finding meaning in middle age.

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Buddhist Master
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Dear Rinpoche,

I am facing a mid-life crisis. I feel like I have nothing left in my life to do. I think I know why I feel this way, maybe because I feel alone and I wish I had someone to love and understand and care for, and vice versa. I cannot see what is in stake for my future, but I wish to remain calm and not worry about it. I would like to know a way to deal with this. Please help me.

Sincerely,
Uncertain

Dear Uncertain,

It is very nice to hear this question because I think many people come to have this feeling of loneliness. What I would like to say is that life needs purpose. This purpose needs to be unselfish. In order to be unselfish, we need to be calm.

Mid-life crises happen in part because we have no tools to be calm and clear. We have no tools to feel joyful and of service to others. Without these tools, we might watch our life move by and then have this sudden feeling that it is empty. This is when we develop the motivation to be of benefit to others, directly or indirectly, in manner and in thought and behavior. We need to know that we are helping others. This is an antidote to loneliness. This is healing.

During a mid-life crisis it can be useful to find a spiritual practice, or to find some type of meditation to get a fresh look into our experience. Among the great spiritual traditions of the world and especially our Buddha-dharma practice and the practice of the Enlightened ones, there is always the emphasis to continue our effort to generate loving-kindness and compassion toward all beings. Loving-kindness and compassion are crucial to my practice. This means continually wishing for the direct and indirect benefit of everyone.

I really feel that when we have the motivation to be of benefit, whether in a relationship, a family, or in some other situation, then we begin to fulfill different subtle needs of our minds and our emotions. Some people want to take up a spiritual life in times of crisis, and they should. But it is important to remember that the purpose of spiritual life should be the dawn of compassion and selflessness. We all continually have access to this compassionate aspect of mind. But to develop it we must first have a calm mind. Please persevere in calmness, loving-kindness, and compassion in this way.

As a last note, something that you might understand to be spiritual but that is actually harmful to yourself or others is actually dangerous. We need to always watch our minds and see how our spiritual practice affects our actions and the people around us. If we are healthy in mind, we are able to handle both our negative thoughts and our positive thoughts.

I really wish that you will find a nice companion, whatever companion you need. But you may not need a companion, and if you don’t need a companion, I wish you happiness in that way too.

With compassion,
Rinpoche

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