There are many symmetries in life but one of the least remarked on is the complementary states of early and later life relative to where we place our attention.
When young, despite ‘trailing clouds of glory’, as Wordsworth elegantly wrote, we are completely in-volved with the physical world ‘out-there’. From the wonder and adoration of our baby state, through the realisation that we can interact with what is around us, into the fumbling competence of our teens when we sense that mastery of certain aspects of life might serve us well for what follows.
Our lives then follow a familiar pattern: the responsibility of parenthood, perhaps? Most certainly the looking after of ageing parents of our own. Perhaps we take on voluntary work of some sort, eager that our developed skills should serve some other purpose than our survival and prosperity.
These things are the beginning of the ‘invested’ foundations of old age; a time in which we need the grace of acceptance, but also the ability to discern and use the great curve of outer then inner on which our life has travelled.
Any contact with meditation in its many forms will show us the immediate value and astonishing peacefulness of time spent ‘lowering the volume’ of the world and increasing our presence in our inner world that belongs, delightfully, to us alone.
The first steps might simply be to lessen the habitual power that the ‘out-there’ world has over us. We may benefit from self-study of our reactions, in particular – coming to see how much of our behaviour is automatic and even robotic.
Mindfulness is a much-abused term, but a combination of mind-state awareness plus an identity with what slowly emerges as an ‘has always been there’ self will propel us into a profound lessening of our attachment to the things of the world.
Other things take its place: that love of, say, poetry returns. We may finally take the time to learn to draw, speak French, or join a local choir. In short, the world of things is being replaced with a world of not-things; a world where the self of habit simply crumbles beneath the warm and glowing presence of a ‘higher Self’.
This higher Self owes nothing to the routine development of personality, which is long-established, but it can change the personality to suit its more gentle and refined intent. Older people can assume a ‘wisdom of the elders’ – a state deeply valued in ages gone by, but little noted in this one, where the main focus seems to be the primacy of the 30 second piece of media fame.
When the body passes beyond fatigue and begins to fail, this new Self can look with great power back at the lifetime and know that it was strengthened by its further encounter with matter. As Professor Brian Cox (who holds no spiritual beliefs) has said:
Your very atoms were once the stuff of vastly powerful suns and they have been assembled to give awareness of time and space in an age when our technology allows us to physically see the process of the ‘birth’ of the universe. What more could you ask?”
Having grace in old age – internal Self focus- is the compensation for the far away youth where we were wholly in-volved with the world; where our bodies radiated health and we drank the stuff of life from dawn to dusk.
But this final stage of life need not be without purpose other than reflection. There is a trail of the wise to be had, one that, having cast off the attraction of materialism, wants to know where this sense of higher Self and presence radiates from. The answer will lie on the trail of what ‘awareness’ actually is, and on that journey more and more of the world will fall away… leaving more and more of the Self.. smiling.
We could say that the fascination with the ‘world’ is the sign of an earlier age that wraps us in its energy. Perhaps the development of peace, acceptance and presence is the embrace of the inner age of our lives.
©Stephen Tanham 2023
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog