This post finds us very much in the bleak midwinter with temperatures of minus 5 and snow falling: the days of taking off a layer of clothing seem remote as winter takes its first full bite. How strange then that my thoughts turn northward to Scotland where the hours of daylight, scarce and precious as they are here, are even fewer. And yet somehow there is attraction in the almost-Arctic. Increasingly, the idea of hibernation for the winter appeals yet perhaps this is a mis-reading of a nostalgia for the warmth and security in the face of adversity that we tend to associate with childhood: the idea that, however hostile the outside world may be, there is somewhere that we can feel safe, comfortable, protected.
I wonder if this may go some way towards explaining the explorers and adventurers (of both mind and material worlds) and what it is that drives them: that their incentive is not so much to leave the security of the home turf but rather that their adventures carry with them the prospect of coming home again afterwards and that it is the return rather than the outward journey that holds the real allure. Perhaps the extremity of this may tip into the agoraphobia of Clifford Simak’s story “Huddling Place” in which a distinguished figure is unable to leave home even to come to the aid of his dearest friend.
What has happened here and has been seen to happen to so many – especially amongst the elderly – is perhaps a circumvention of the exploration process which goes direct to the end-game of security at home and the isolation that so often accompanies it. A lifetime of “adventure” finds its concluding phase in a remainder of years in which the individual ventures out progressively less. We assume this due to infirmity but, in an increasingly healthy senior demography, it seems that we need to question this assumption and ask whether or not it may be due to psychical rather than physical change. A former neighbour retired from work at a local factory to which he had cycled the 5 or so miles every day for many years. To the best of my knowledge, he never left the sanctuary of his home again, living there for another ten or more years but never again passing through his front gate save, of course, for one last journey
A chapter in a biography of C G Jung was entitled “Back to the Rhizome” a title that, for me, describes this process eloquently. It seems that many of us embark upon a process of more-or-less gradual withdrawal from adventure back into the elusive security that we think we remember from childhood. Disappointed, we find this security not only elusive but ultimately illusory: we discover no warm, secure, protecting environment but reveal, all too often, little more than cold and poverty. This poverty may be real and physical or it may be a poverty of spirit, a thinning and wasting of aura but it is no less real for all that.
So we put another log on the fire, curl up in a favourite armchair and hope to be comfortable but the icy wind that howls may not be beyond the door. For all too many people, as we approach midwinter, the real cold may lie within.