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Time Is on My Side

by Juliette Jones

                      

“Time always moves; no force can stop that. It is quite a mystery. So we have to go according to time movement. What we can do is to use time meaningfully minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day week by week, month by month, year by year, decade by decade…This is

how our whole life becomes something meaningful. Whether or not you accept or believe

in life after death, it is important that life is lived meaningfully.”  

                                                                                                —Dalai Lama

 

The ancient texts of India (fifth century BCE) identified four stages of human life which are still widely recognized in modern Hindu society. These four stages, known as Ashramas, offer a template that encompasses both the practical and spiritual evolution of an individual in a socially embedded context to form a foundation for the understanding of human and cosmic norms.

Although this ancient system is far removed from the modern West in time and cultural context, it resonates a universal wisdom lacking in our present social order where the society is charged with institutional uncertainty, upended ethical conduct and confusion. It should be noted, the Ashrama life cycle system arose from a spiritual culture founded on the internal observation of cosmic law and the achievement of Dharma, an experience of human life within the eternal and inherent nature of reality.

Each stage of life (Ashrama) was originally determined on the basis of what was considered the ideal, and then structured to accommodate a 100-year lifespan. Young adults had flexibility in determining which of the other Ashramas that would be pursued. In brief, the stages can be summarized as follows:

 

  1. Bramachcharya (The Student): This was a period of education up to around the age of 25, wherein the student obtained both the skills of life and spiritual education to prepare for a future profession, responsibilities to family, and social and religious life. This stage included a one-to-one relationship with a wisdom teacher.
  2. Grihastha (The Householder): This was a period that began at marriage, wherein a person undertook the responsibilities both family and professional life, inclusive of material pursuits and pleasures. This stage lasted until around the ages of 50 or 60.
  3. Vanaprastha (The Retreat): This was a process of gradual withdrawal from the active social order. One’s children had established lives of their own. Retirement occurred, and one began to renounce their physical pleasures. The individual adopted a more solitary lifestyle, focused on prayer, meditation and spiritual disciplines. At this stage, one assumed the role of elder and teacher on behalf of the family and community.
  4. Sannyasa: This stage is least familiar to our Western material culture. The previous stages all served many purposes, but during this time, worldly cares were completely released, and one’s entire life path was devoted to spiritual evolution and a focus on Divine Presence. When physical death occurred, the funeral ceremonies were performed by heirs.

 

In my present life cycle (age 71), I have started to witness myself emerging into an eldership role, and it is fascinating to experience the collective unfoldment of the preceding life cycles which are demonstrating through the appearance of circumstances, people and eventualities. In my own life, the student cycle lasted well into my 40’s, and I basically skipped the conventional householder cycle.

In our society, the standard dictionary definition of the word elder is strictly related to the aging process such as a senior citizen or person of advanced age. In my view, however, this is only the external expression of eldership. The internal component is more grounded in what we have done with our time on earth, especially the drive toward self-actualization.

In other words, this revolves around the practice of maximizing one’s potential and striving for the best one is capable of doing in previous cycles—in terms of both practical accomplishments and spiritual evolution. Most people in the modern West do not even come close to embracing the Sannyasa cycle. Our material culture is not spiritually structured. Our goals remain primarily material. Our diets, fast-paced living, education systems, concepts of community and other social institutions do not support the goal of spiritual realization.

We are a modern hunting and gathering culture, and those who become old are often cast aside. Aging simply brings about vulnerability, loss of identity, and the fear of uselessness and abandonment. When I was in clinical training for the chaplaincy, one of my fellow students from rural South America was shocked to see the way elders are warehoused in the modern world. He told me that, as a child, he envied his grandfather and couldn’t wait to become old because his grandfather, the eldest male, had become the centerpiece of family life, and was treated with great honor and respect.

Of interest was an article I once read in Fate Magazine, citing a culture that was reported to have some of the oldest living people on planet earth. These elders were cared for in a sacred manner, and people gathered to meditate in their presence, understanding that unusually powerful spiritual energies can be embodied in the old, and this indeed was the purpose of becoming as old as possible.

 

Goal of Spiritual Evolution

In the modern West, most people don’t embrace conscious awareness of the goals of human life with the objective of realizing the Sannyasa cycle. But if one has followed a life path of having found their core strengths, abided in their center and discovered a practical way to live in the world—while at the same time, satisfying and honoring their inherent creative gifts—the universe starts to use what they have gathered. So in a sense, one becomes the harvest.

 

The Cosmic Questions: Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here? Where Am I going?

Finding and following this life path starts with the deepest sort of desire to find the answers to cosmic questions and eventual attainment of a level of self-knowing not found in mainstream circles. This journey is often fraught with mighty difficulties and challenges.

But if accomplished, it leaves the door open to a deeper understanding of reality. For the person who has accomplished this, life holds profound meaning, a fulfillment of purpose and a path leading to spiritual liberation. All of these benefits will result as a consequence of what the universe—not the ego—will arrange.

 

The Fruits of the Golden Years

More frequently, I find myself living out of a meditative state in deep relaxation—a natural disengagement from the surface mind, while still abiding in the body. My sense of the real self has become larger, somehow connected with the Infinite.

I no longer need many possessions, and I find pleasure in giving items away and arranging for what will happen when I drop the body. There is a decreased amount of fear in facing unknowns due to growth in self-realization. Despite challenges or external social problems, I tend to find enjoyment and gratitude for life as it unfolds.  

 

Dream of Dying --- An Event Horizon

Not long ago, I dreamed that I was dying. I wasn’t afraid because I was being guided from within. First, I had to release my possessions—not a particularly difficult experience as I watched them all fall away. Next, I was told to relinquish my physical body. Again, this wasn’t too difficult, as I had done that so many times in sleep and meditation.

In fact, it felt liberating, like taking off an old, worn out robe. Finally, my emotions and my mind were released in rapid order. So what happened next? The experience of pure blissful awareness! But not for long, as I soon found myself back in the body. It’s not my time yet—I still have work to finish.

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