Which stage are you at right now?
The First Two Stages of Life (Body Stage)
In Hindu tradition, there are four stages of life. I think it’s interesting to compare with Western culture to unpack the differences. The first stage is ‘the student stage’ or Brahmacharya. It’s ‘the children’s’ stage. Kids take everything in. They’re like sponges, absorbing, learning, and growing and as such, are completely self-centered. They are totally dependent and require much attention. This is a universal experience since it is our children who keep humanity going.
The second stage, Grihastha, is ‘the householder’ stage. This is when we become independent, engaged members of society, often get married, and expand our family. It’s a time of finding ourselves as a person, building our business, building our relationships, our friendships, and learning how to create a life for ourselves.
Many of us are in that stage or have been through that stage. We raised our children and accumulated lots of stuff. Maybe we bought a house and filled it (I sure did!) with furniture, clothes, electronics, pets– all kinds of things, right? All the things we believe we need for a good life. In this stage, we usually seek the company of others like us as a support system and to share our abundance. Again, this is common in most societies.
The third stage, Vanaprastha, is the ‘people, not things’ stage. So now we’re getting older. The kids are grown up, they’re doing their own thing. We’re feeling more freedom to be, to do the things we put off while we were busy gathering stuff. I’m certainly in this stage of wanting to lighten my load in terms of decluttering my home and only doing things that are meaningful to me.
Big Changes in the Third Stage (Mind Stage)
As we get older, we might start to have physical problems. Hopefully not. Hopefully, you’re taking care of yourself and doing the things that I talk about every week: how important it is to exercise, eat real food, and release stress so that you can maintain good health into your golden years.
So, we’re slowing down to smell the roses and reflect on the wisdom we’ve gained over the years. And now we want to share our wisdom (and perhaps our free time if we’ve retired) by offering our services in our community. Perhaps we’re mentoring young people, maybe sitting on community committees, or helping people with no homes or abused women. Many of us may be entering this stage which is also quite common in Western culture. I’ve been here for a while!
Ageism is a Thing Here
This is where we start to diverge from the Asian model because here in the West, we have a youth culture, right? So, it’s all about staying and being young. There’s a lot of ageism going on. We see this in a corporate culture where they are eager to eliminate the people who’ve been there 25 or 30 years to bring in “fresh blood” for whom they can pay less. I don’t know that that’s a bad thing to want to bring in young people with fresh ideas- it does help to keep a company going.
It’s All About Attitude
But what I find disturbing is the attitude. That’s what concerns me– the attitude toward the older person. In this society, we do not honor our elders, unfortunately, because it is a youth culture. And so, we don’t honor their wisdom. Anyone who’s lived 50, 60, or 70 years has learned a thing or two that certainly is worth sharing with the younger generation, and they could certainly benefit from knowing those things. But that’s not what happens.
In most cases, there’s a tendency to discount the older population (that word makes my skin crawl!). The idea that goes with it is the sense that we’re useless, we’re not productive anymore. We’re losing our minds; our bodies are falling apart. And while that may be true for some people, I don’t really think it’s true for many people. I see so many 80- and 90-year-olds who are vibrant and full of life and willing to offer their wisdom and yet it’s not really appreciated.
I’m in that stage, so that’s why my skin is crawling. I don’t feel old. I feel great most of the time. I’m active and totally engaged in my world. I care a lot about my family, friends, and neighbors and am willing to help however I can.
A Neighbor Caught In-between
I’m bringing this up because of a neighbor who’s 76 and must move. She is not in good health. She’s been doing everything by herself and is very nervous about the whole situation. People like her, with little or no family to help them, fall in between the cracks in our social circles because of our lack of compassion for the people who did their part in the householder stage and now might require some assistance, maybe only emotional if not physical, or maybe a bit of both.
East vs West
Eastern societies are more amenable to respecting and appreciating their older members and their wisdom. It took a lot of years, a lifetime in fact, of striving and failing and getting up again to keep going. We’ve learned resilience, forgiveness, patience and so many other traits that we can teach our youth.
If you’re my age, you’ve been around the corner a few times so you know certain things to avoid that you learned from your mistakes and you can share that. You could say, wow, when I was young, I didn’t realize I should be taking care of myself and eating well because now I’ve got aches and pains and things are not going so well in my body. As far as I’m concerned, this is the purpose of getting older–we can teach the youth and say, hey, don’t make the mistakes I made. That’s incredibly valuable.
Letting Go (Spirit Stage)
The last stage in Hinduism, Sannyasa, doesn’t apply in the West at all. It is the stage of renunciation and devotion. Possessions are meaningless and given away. The decisions of daily living become so simple because there is no interest in conflict or acquisition. The only desire is to commune with the divine; to be in that state of universal consciousness, of community with God, or Spirit.
Is a Western Fourth Stage Possible?
I’m somewhere between the last two stages of life. But it isn’t easy because I still must maintain myself financially. Yet, I’m starting to give away things that are no longer meaningful- getting rid of stuff I don’t use anymore and making more time for the things that I’m passionate about.
Of course, younger people can do this too. You don’t have to wait to be 70 to do this. You can do this at 50. You could do this at 30 or any age, really. Look at what’s important. Really weigh and measure what’s important in your life– what’s meaningful to you. What do you really, really, really want to do and what influence do you want to have in your world? And give that a lot of energy. Please don’t say, I can’t do it now. I’ll do it later because I have this thing to do.” Really make time for yourself. So, you want to notice how you are taking care of yourself and your own desires because when you do that, you stay healthier.
Self-care is the Way
Again, this is going back to the self-nurturing that too many young people don’t do because they’re so busy being outwardly directed. Their focus is solely on the householder stage.
My belief is that we are Spirit, with a body and a mind. All three facets of our being need to be valued and attended to to lead a truly successful life.
Love and Peace Always,