Traditional wisdom has it that an individual should spend the first half of his life as an outward journey and the second as a return to the self. What does this mean in reality?
Up until middle age life is an outward journey of discovery. One discoverers ones own values, acquires new skills and learns about the opposite sex. Life is a process of exploration and discovery but also of struggle.
The second half of a successful life was held to be a reversal of this process. The individual would become less egocentric and learn to see the big picture. He would make amends to those he had injured and forgive those who had injured him. Eventually he would become entirely unselfish and live his life through the next generation.
I have known people who make this transition. They are a paradox in that they become more happy with each passing year and yet they fear death less. This state resembles that of Buddhist enlightenment in that the old person realises that their concerns are not all that important and 'life goes on within and without you' as the Beatles sang.
The basis of this transformation is a very interesting question- 'Who am I?' or more usefully 'Who am I not?'
The man in middle age realises that he is not the things he has been chasing. He is not fame or prestige or money. He is the process of life. This causes him a degree of pain but it also gives him the opportunity to remember the lost ideals of youth and to capture some of the intensity of youth as well.
We are all the process of living and nothing else.
In olden days a man would find meaning in middle age by immersing himself in religion or in his own growing family. In this way he could shift the focus from his own mortal life and immerse himself in something greater than himself. This option is not open to many modern men because it is impossible for many of us to believe in God and because we are no longer heads of our families. This means that the mid life crisis hits us harder than it did- but it also offers us more wisdom in return.
One substitute for God is the Internet. By means of the Internet our thoughts become immortal. The Internet takes our jumbled lives and purifies them. Each of us is a mix of correct and incorrect notions. We muddle our way through life in this way trying to sort one from the other- and always slightly too late. The Internet takes this mix and strips everything from them that is not useful. Nobody links to notions they find muddled or unhelpful except to criticise them. In this way only the good survives.
I have asked the ancient question of myself 'What am I?'
The answer I have come up with is that I am my own Avatar. An Avatar is intellectual and financial capital built up over a lifetime. Prior to the Internet I would have believed that my life was the position of my body. In other words I would have fretted that I was forced by poverty to work on Saturday and as a result could not enjoy my life as others do.
The Internet has taught me that the position of my body is really not that important. I can talk to you, dear reader, wherever you may be in the world. I may learn about any thing that interests me or I may speculate upon the price of gold. I may do all of these things without leaving my chair.
I say that 'I' may do these things but this is not really true. The person who is talking to you is really an image of myself who was created some time prior to you reading this. It is a sort of intellectual snapshot of a particular moment in time. My Avatar.
If I were looking for something greater than myself that I can really believe in I would choose my Avatar which resembles a feeble god. My Avatar will continue to influence the world long after my physical body is dead. It is the nature of the Avatar to be free of both space and time and so it is quite possible (and this is a spooky thought) that I may be talking to you from beyond the grave right now.
Two hundred years ago an aging man might put his faith in god and thus believe himself immortal. Today we build Avatars that (we hope) will act upon the world in useful ways and achieve a form of immortality that has some basis in reality.