For many people at midlife, perhaps especially those who are retired, gambling can be an extremely seductive—and destructive—activity. The ending of a career, the death of a spouse, or a change of roles within the family are life events that can lead to feelings of loss, sadness, loneliness or anger. Many older people turn to gambling–or increase their gambling–at these times for the sake of distraction, excitement, social interaction or just “something to do.”
But gambling doesn’t speak to everyone; it doesn’t have the same allure for everyone. For those who are drawn to it, it is likely that the theme of gambling resonates with their inner psychological process in a way it does not for others. To be more specific, they are people who may need to take some risks or gambles in their life. This is part of why they are drawn to gamble. It is an outer, symbolic representation of an inner psychological need.
But the gambles and risks that were appropriate during the first half of your life, e.g., dating, starting a business, placing a down payment on a house or car, etc., are not the same type of risks that may be asked of you in life’s second half. What nourishes your soul in your 50’s, 60’s, and beyond is not the same as what nourished you in your 20’s and 30’s. You’ve “been there, done that” and your psychological needs have changed. In the first half of life you must find your place in the world, pursue a career, provide for yourself, perhaps start a family. But in life’s second half, your psyche pushes for a rounding out and completion of the personality. Spiritual concerns, such as reflection upon life and its purpose, often take on increased importance. A deepened and more vital relationship with the core of your personality is pressed for with greater intensity.
For many people in life’s second half, the unmet need which drives compulsive gambling may be an inner hunger for a new spiritual viewpoint. When old ways of looking at life and relating to your inner self and God have grown stale–or perhaps were never really nourished in the first place–you might be called to take the risk of a new perspective. To let go of the familiar, to see and perceive in new ways, often requires courage for it involves greater openness to the unknown.
For someone with a strictly scientific worldview to consider the possibility that there may be a deeper spiritual fabric to the universe would be a risk. It would involve suspending certain beliefs long enough to allow the glimmer of another reality to break through. For the Christian to explore the teachings of Buddhism or Native American spirituality (and vice versa) involves risk, for what she once believed may be transformed by a new or broadened perspective of life and God. To expand a narrowly religious understanding of God through the study of transpersonal or Jungian psychology could be an important and rewarding gamble for those who are called to it. Likewise, to embrace the magic, wonder and mystery of life could be a necessary leap of faith for the individual who enters his later years certain, but bored and perhaps spiritually dead, with all that he thinks he knows about God.
So, the next time you have a hankering to part with your money in a casino, maybe it’s time to part with certain beliefs that no longer serve your relationship to your soul.