Episode 125 – The Provisional Life: Redeeming the Real

Aug 20, 2020

The provisional life might be defined as a vague malaise: current relationships, work, and lifestyle feel like placeholders until the ‘real thing’ arrives—someday. If early life circumstances made over-conforming to others’ needs and expectations necessary, persona can be over-developed and shadow denied.

The person may orient to external sources for self-definition, acceptance and direction, because deep roots in shadow’s dark, fertile soil of authentic feeling and experience are lacking. The recovery and discovery of the true self comes from engaging the inner world: dreams, reverie, creative endeavors, service to something greater—and perhaps a wise guide on the road to wholeness.

Jung says, “If the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is somehow violated, and the whole future is condemned to helpless staleness…” Or we can be alive while we’re alive. 


“I find myself in an old abandoned church. I am climbing up a ladder and next to me is a being, half-bird & half-human. I feel attracted to her; I kiss her. In the next scene, I push her away from me. Now she is a bird. Another person helps me to get the bird out of the church. The bird wants to come back in. I have a guilty conscience because I try to push her away from me. Now the bird person is back in the church. And in the last image, I find myself with her walking around the church and the being tells me “people can’t fly because they don’t have wings.”


Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki).

Mary Oliver. When Death Comes and other poems. 


  1. Todd

    Michael Meade talks about the cinderbiters… the young men in Nordic time who demonstrate aspects of the puer …a hesitancy to cross the threshold of the next stage of life…and so they dally next to the fire in the ashes held in a state of limbo or in a provisional life. And while i agree here that the provisional life is detrimental when it lasts too long we can also learn to recognize and tolerate this same provisional dynamic in people that are mustering their courage to step over the next threshold.

    • Lisa Marchiano

      Yes, that provisional dynamic is appropriate early in life — and possibly later in life as well!

  2. Nikola Novak

    I was blown away about how your description of this “provisional life” resonates with what I have found out about myself on my inner journey. I have in the past had thought exactly the thought that everything I have or do is only temporary. However, my expectation was not that things would come to me eventually and I would be absolutely taken care of. What I was waiting for was a way or an opportunity to leave everything behind and get away. That opportunity never came.

    What I find lacking in this episode, however, is what I can do to turn this around. I feel inside me a tremendous pressure to go and do something, but when I look at things I could do they all look gray and uninteresting to me. Nothing stands out, as if that thing inside of me that is supposed to identify my values in the external world has broken down. I have often wondered if the right way is to just pick anything that I find at least remotely interesting and force myself to think of it as my life’s purpose?

    I’m seeing a Gestalt therapist at the moment and I will certainly discuss this with him, but I would more than welcome any information, or resources I could consult further. Thanks.

  3. Todd

    There are some good books about this issue of provisionality which–although broadly experienced at times by all people– seems to be a recurrent theme especially with those persons identified with the “Puer” or “Puella” archetype. One classic is von Franz’s “The Problem of the Puer Aeternus” …Von Franz seems to have an ax to grind..but the book is enlightening. Another view is James Hillman’s work on the Puer… “The Puer Papers” which offers a complimentary and more friendly view.

    Of course…Jordan Peterson has been tackling this theme for some time now..albeit for younger men i think.

    There is alot of good stuff out there on initiation …esp Michael Meade and Robert Bly… who present the process of initiation as a key to helping people (these folks are mostly concerned with men) move through changes at the various stages of life. Initiation is understood as more than a ritual but a constellation of actions that occur to help pull/push people through the cycles of life’s stages. Meade’s water of life and Bly’s “Iron John” deal with these things.


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