“..because eternity is changeless, that which is governed only the puer does not age. So, too, it has no maturing organic face that shows the bite of time.”
(James Hillman, Senex and Puer 23-26)
Day after day spent doing paid work followed by evenings of unpaid work are not conducive to feelings of freedom and creativity. Always doing what we ‘should’ do when we don’t want to will eventually lead to some kind of break-down.
The latest studies on aging and nutrition (‘primal’ eating, calorie restriction, interval training and intermittent fasting) reinforce that humans have a universal need for freedom, play and deviation. The human body was not meant to eat the same thing every day, or at the frequency of ‘three square meals a day’ of processed, high carbohydrate ‘food’ – our bodies do not do well on strict or unnatural regimes of any kind.
We are at our best with natural, whole foods and fun. But we all know that in order to have these things, discipline is needed – discipline to overcome cravings and addictions to manufactured, damaging foods; discipline to move one’s body off the sofa and burn calories. Discipline enough to not give up and return to things the way they’ve ‘always’ been done.
Doing the same things day after day in every area of our lives is destructive – we need variety and freedom for health and wellbeing. We need to have breaks from work, breaks from exercise, breaks from the foods we like best and breaks from eating altogether. We need breaks from thinking and analysing and decision-making and getting around on ‘auto pilot’.
Routines, do serve us but they mean we are ‘set in our ways’ – we’ve over-activated the senex within ourselves.
Senex is time, death, reason – aging and restricting - the voice in our heads which tells right from wrong and pushes us out the door to the day job; risk averse, governing, law making; senex keeps us on the path. The opposite of senex is the puer archetype; the divine, ever-playful youth. Puer is the spirit of adventure and destiny that set us on the path to begin with; curious and impetuous; containing all the possibilities. This is that part of ourselves that we need to tap into in order to feel alive and vibrant and young.
Puer can be so engrossed in an adventure that the needs – the appetites - of the body become secondary; can be so involved in play that fear and time are forgotten. Puer can cause so much mischief that laughter can erase stresses and weariness. Puer can make us turn left instead of right so that we end up in an entirely new place with an entirely fresh – and refreshed – outlook. Puer can constellate heroic acts that invigorate the soul. Puer is freedom from life and death.
Maintaining the tension – the syzygy or union of opposites – can be a challenge: without discipline we are chaotic, dangerous beings – unacceptable in one way of another; without freedom and destiny and play we are not whole, not happy – not alive.
Turning the senex to good use appears to be the answer – rather than allowing this part of ourselves make us rigid with age too soon – consciously sacrificing existing patterns of behaviour in favour of new ones – disciplining our selves toward exploration; flexing ours mind-muscle with previously unheard-of ideas – holding back impulses and cravings that will lead us back to the safety of known things; pushing ourselves past the barrier of fear.
We need not be decrepit while we still have spirit, what ever age we might be.