Boomers, more so than any other generation before us, tend to be interested and somewhat mystified with the aging process. We like feeling young and we never thought we might grow “old.”
But, at some point it hits us and maybe even shocks us a little, to realize we are now in a different stage of life. We can’t go back, only forward, adjusting as best we can to the changes. It helps to have some guidelines.
The traditions coming out of ancient India offer some interesting and very helpful suggestions. They can be a simple framework of life-planning which can shed some more light on what can be challenging transitions. They suggest how to grow and expand, throughout each of the four, approximately 25-year-long stages.
The first stage may be called “The Scholar” and goes from birth to about 25 years old. This stage forms the foundation of our lifestyle. The focus in these years is on healthy, positive training and discipline as we study school subjects and also learn about spiritual, community and family life.
Nothing in excess is advised for this stage, and celibacy is recommended. You are asked to have self-control while focusing on learning and preparing for the adult life. It is suggested that instead of pursuing worldly desires and satisfactions, the time is much better spent learning that which will help guarantee a successful career and building a healthy family life.
The second stage is “The Householder.” From about age 25 to 55 is the time to “make a living” and move up the career ladder in order to be able to have what you need in worldly goods.
It is in this stage you create a family with a spouse and children. There are now duties and responsibilities to that family. You become involved in the community, especially in the schools where your children are educated. Religious or spiritual practices are done within the context of worldly life and while in service to others.
The third stage, which starts in the fifth decade of life, can be called “Retreating,” as you move away from outward activity.
The work life is slowing down or coming to an end (or you wish it would). Through divorce or losing your partner, the marriage may be dissolved. In relationships with your grown children, you are now more of a matured mentor. You may find you want to give back to the community and so you volunteer for a needy cause.
In this phase you begin to simplify your lifestyle and downsize your possessions. According to this tradition, you may retreat to a quieter inner space or move to a location that supports your shifting focus towards deeper, more inner spiritual practices of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.
For older boomers, the shift toward the end of this stage can be, at first, very challenging. Everything you have known that defined you in the world is slipping away and you are not as sure of yourself and your relevance. “Who am I?” is a question many of us consider more seriously now.
But with time, adjustments are made and you begin to appreciate just how far you have come and how grateful you are for more freedom to do as you wish.
The final stage, approximately ages 75 to 100, may be called “Renunciation” or “Surrender.” In this framework, the elder person now more fully retreats from active involvement in the world and seeks only spiritual goals. No longer having political, professional, or social engagements, there is a further shift towards being a wise teacher of spiritual knowledge.
Keeping our life’s path in perspective can offer great comfort. Regardless of how we may have lived the years behind us, by being aware of -- and committed to -- the current and later stages, we progress on our unique path, content to explore who we really are. According to this ancient and ongoing tradition, attaining enlightenment or self-realization is our soul’s goal.
But for now, you might begin with the question, “Who am I really?”