To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child , a garden patch, or a redeemed condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, May 27, 2013

Phases in the journey of life...

It seems that, while carrying on with our day-to-day life, we pass through at least three distinct phases of life (there could be more, but maybe these three are easier to perceive).  The first phase is mostly concerned with the physical reality.  This seems to correspond with the early stages of working and family life.  Here, one focuses mostly on the material aspects of life: one relishes good food to satisfy the palate, one exercises to keep the body fit, one gets a job to 'bring home the bacon' and satisfy the physical indulgences, one marries for physical intimacy (in most cases), and so on.

In the next phase of life, we move a bit beyond the physical reality and crave emotional satisfaction.  The role at the workplace has to result in 'job satisfaction' and challenging content.  The marital relationship has to mature more towards emotional support rather than purely physical.  One starts looking for 'mind satisfaction' beyond bodily fitness.  And in the next stage, many among us move into the spiritual domain (or at least try to).  Looking at a job 'making a difference' in the larger context.  Looking to satisfy our curiosity on 'meaning of life'.  Wanting our spouses to support, or even join, our spiritual quest.  And so on.  

Maslow's famed hierarchy of needs, though devised mostly from a workplace perspective, seems to have a resonance with these phases of life.  The 'physiological' and 'safety' needs seem to be in the physical domain, 'love and belonging' and 'esteem' on the emotional plane, and 'self-actualization' points towards spiritual portends. 

There is also something to be said for the 'aashram' system devised in ancient times in India.  Moving beyond the education stage with celebacy (brahmacharya'), the 'grihasth aashram' (householder) stage seemed to correspond to the 'physical' reality.  The 'vaanprasth aashram' (pre-renunciation) stage may be seen to roughly correspond to the 'emotional' phase, while the 'sanyaas aashram' (renunciation) stage probably helped the 'spiritual' quest.

Important thing to note is, there seems to be no hard and fast rule as to the bodily age when someone may progress form one phase to another.  It may depend on a multitude of factors - conditions of life (especially at early stages), education, social conditioning, peer pressure, family & other responsibilities, et al.  And there is no issue as long as the concerned person is fully aware of and reconciled to these factors and their effect on the journey of life.  The problem seems to arise when, while one's 'inner being' is yearning to break free and move on to the next phase, one is constrained to latch on to an earlier phase.

This may happen due to both internal and external factors.  Internally, one may struggle to hold on to a set of beliefs or way of being which is contrary to one's deeper tendencies towards a next phase.  One may be so hooked to the physical indulgences as to refuse to let go of them even while the mind says otherwise.  One's ego may be so big as to preclude forming emotionally satisfying relationships, whether at work or at home.  Externally, to earn a livelihood and make ends meet, one may be forced to do mundane jobs, while the mind yearns for more job satisfaction.  Or the predominant behavioral patterns (for instance aggression, or unscrupulousness) in certain job roles or in certain industries may be contrary to the inner needs of contributing to a 'bigger picture'.  One may wish to foster more emotional relationships, but lack of maturity of the partner may be a constraining factor.  One may even want to renounce certain ways of living and move on to the spiritual plane (akin to 'vaanprasth' or 'sanyaas' stages of yore), but family and other economic responsibilities may not provide the leeway.  Could it be that many of the ills, of society as well as in individuals, are a result of this 'inner conflict' between what one yearns to do and what one is forced to do?  The essential selfishness, the sense of rootlessness, the cynicism and loss of moral values...

But then how is it that our fathers and grandfathers (mother and grandmothers as well) seemed to manage to transit more smoothly between the various phases of life?  One answer may lie in the level of 'connectedness'.  In earlier times, the adage 'no man is an island' was perhaps more true.  Everyone seemed to be part of a large family (even if not living together), of a community (with shared value systems), of a nation (bound by patriotism).  Even if a person was madly busy at the workplace, for instance, s/he would usually find some time and space to connect with the community, either on the religious plane (by visits to temples or 'satsang', for instance) or social (as harmless as 'gossip groups').  But it seems that in our relentless quest to make the 'best use of our time', we've just exiled any space to connect with others, on any plane.  So while we have the means to instantly connect to anyone across the globe, we don't feel it necessary to connect to the next person (at best we just 'do our duty' by sending him/her a text/instant message!).

One possible solution (and there may be countless others) to this conundrum, the resolution of this inner conflict, may lie in two concepts: 'vasudhaiv kutumbakam' (the world is one family) and 'solitary journey'.  These two may seem contradictory at first, since one concerns the self while the other concerns the world.  But with some thinking, one may realize that one could be at peace with the world only when one is at peace with himself/herself!  The path to self realization is essentially a solitary journey.  If one is lucky, one may find co-passengers on the path, or even a guide, but all the effort required to 'know oneself' has to be exerted by the individual oneself.  

And when one is reasonably 'at peace' with himself/herself, one may realize that 'we're all on the same boat' - self realization by its very nature expands the consciousness to include all within its fold...

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