Older and Wiser?

When we start talking about men in the 47-65 set, we’re talking about the maintenance of the lives we’ve created, and then the declining of strengths. But it’s not just how you can mitigate the difficult effects of aging, but also, how you can take advantage of the experience you’ve had in order to augment and transform the way you relate to life! This is so that you can continue to be a viable resource for your family and friends, but also so that you can become a more viable resource for the culture at large.


Men in this age bracket are generally at the height of their mental, emotional and financial resources and their spiritual resources are emerging. The questions that are coming in are “What’s it all mean?” or “What is my place in all of this?” Since we live in such a materialistic society, it can feel like there is not a lot of support when these questions of the soul start emerging and a man can feel confused and at odds with himself. In the face of a lack of clear direction for the movement into this next phase of life, a man’s options often seem to double down on the strategies that helped him build the life he is now living, or to retreat into depression, drugs and alcohol or an existential nihilism.


The truth, however, is that this transition into the latter years, with it’s lessening of testosterone, drive, muscle strength and stamina, is as normal and predictable as the transition into adolescence for our boys and girls. It may not seem as radical a transition, as the outward changes are more gradual, but the inward changes can be just as profound if we know how to enter into them.


Somehow, in our emergence into the Modern era, we lost sight of the totality of what a human life might look like. In today’s world, with the digitalization and the reduction of everything into smaller and smaller bits, adulthood can seem disconnected from adolescence and elder years can seem even more disconnected from both of the earlier stages. This can have the effect of having us disconnected from ourselves, as few of us carry an inner narrative that embraces what the totality of a life looks like, and therefore can place oneself within a coherent map that can be orienting at any stage of the life journey.


In pre-Modern cultures people lived closer to the ground and there was a knowledge carried within the culture about how to navigate these changes in the life cycle. Rites of passage for youth were expected and offered for all youth within a tribe and, similarly, there were passages into elderhood which provided a place for men and women who had passed their physical prime but who were honored for the fact that they carried the stories and lore of the tribe and also the connection to ancestors and to the otherworld – which included nature and all the creatures and spirits which resided there .


Living in the fast-paced, consumer-oriented culture that we do, when a man is moving through his productive years, he can be working so hard to provide for himself and his family that he may not have the time to consider these questions about how does he fit into the global human community, or into the Earth matrix, or what is his relation to the realm of spirit. The question of religion is addressed in institutionalized forms if one is a member of a church or synagogue or mosque, but often, even these don’t necessarily address the deeper questions and yearnings of the soul that emerge as one advances in years.


So, what’s a man to do? An old idea is that, since our wounding and confusion is born in our communities, that that is also the place where the transmittal of deeper healing and knowledge can occur. Men, getting together can explore these questions, and come up with more precise questions together, as well as a felt sense of what it is like to come into our wisdom together as people who might then come to be able to offer that wisdom to a culture in great need of it.


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You go on line today, and there are a million sites offering information about how to get acquainted with and grow spiritually. These range anywhere from traditional systems that have been around for thousands of years, to New Age expressions that often borrow from the older tradition, to totally whacky stuff that makes very little sense at all. This “spiritual marketplace” can be extremely confusing, unless you have a guide who can help interpret things for you and help you sort out how these techniques and information are going to mix with the life that you’ve got going on for yourself.


Part of what a man often encounters when he hears the call towards something greater or deeper in his life, is the feeling that he needs to ditch what he’s already developed. The classic example of this is the 45 year old man having the “mid-life crisis” who wants to go buy a sports car or trade in his wife for a younger woman. I guess these actions are in some way sanctioned by the culture but they show no understanding of what is actually going on in the man, much less any awareness of how to skillfully respond to the call. The red corvette or the 30 year old woman may help the ego feel better about itself for a while but it just kicks the can down the road and negates the opportunity to work with one’s situation in a way that brings greater self-awareness and distills wisdom that can be of use to oneself and others.


I believe that this is what we’re actually looking for when we start engaging in questions of greater meaning and purpose when we hit our 40’s or 50’s: We’ve had lots of experience, gained a ton of knowledge and even more information, but it’s time to transform that knowledge into wisdom.


So what is Wisdom?


The great mythologist and story-teller, Michael Meade says that in traditional cultures, when it was time to pick an elder for the tribe, any man who might be viewed as a candidate had to cover his face with ash and sit in a circle and have all the members of the tribe come before him and talk to him about all the ways he had screwed up in his life. These were people who had known him all his life, so they had lots of stories about how he might have short-changed them at his store, or treated his wife or children unkindly, or participated in community gossip or belittled members of other tribes who came to spend time with their community. If the man could sit there and take it and not erupt in anger or excuse making, then he had passed one of the tests towards becoming a community elder. Not a really glamorous thing! He had to be able to take the ugly reflections that people were throwing at him as well as the projections that they were pummeling him with for good measure.


This surprised me when I first heard this story and it made me think a lot – about what it might mean to be an elder in this culture. I was approaching 60 at the time and I was thinking that my age might make me a candidate for the Elder position. Not so fast. The idea that you had to be so humble had not occurred to me. But this story illustrates a principle that I’ve found to be true in every teaching I’ve received about how to grow spiritually, how to compost the experiences of our lives into wisdom, how to expand our hearts so that we are better able to show up in love and compassion when our reptilian brain is getting triggered and the “normal” response would be to respond with anger or violence. It’s to learn to calm the sympathetic nervous system and to stay awake in the situation and not go into trance, into reactivity or automatic pilot, so that you can maintain the ability to make a conscious choice.


There is training required in order to show up in your life in this way.

What is required in order to embark on that training?

You need to have exhausted the belief that the good life means that you deserve to “get yours”, and that if things are “right” then they are comfortable or even easy.

You need to get in touch with a deeper part of yourself that holds a bigger view.

Most importantly, you need to be moving into a place where you’re seeing others needs as equal to your own, and acting from that place of compassion.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 18th, 2018 at 12:12 pm and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


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