The life of man is like the seasons of the year: each with its peculiar beauty. . . .
Whatever be the season, choose the life that is noblest, for custom can make it sweet to thee. — Hobart Huson, The Pythagoron
Seasons are the consequence of time. It is said that change is the only constant — as time passes all in the universe moves on and, with that movement, change is inevitable. Things change in relation to everything else, yet spiritually growth takes place as the external vehicles decay. In the worlds of form, time is measured in minutes, days, years — in eternity, unbroken duration exists.
For us time is measured in recognizable stages — baby, toddler, adolescent, adult — but what of our journey through life as we pass through these stages? Just as the first knowledge of pregnancy awakens an image of a baby, and we anticipate the birth still months away, so by keen observation of life's patterns and seasons we can prepare ourselves for life and its many phases.
We take doorways for granted, but they mark the boundaries that make each new area unique. Doorways form the links between manageable units of space. As our lives unfold in stages, allowing us time to blossom into our full potential, we have the illusion of a gradual transition between one phase and the next, yet the course of our life is not linear. As we wake and sleep each day our expectation is of tomorrow being much the same as today — the surprise is that the realization of change is sudden. From day to day we are not aware of the passage of time as regards the physical aspects of our lives. Each cycle in life creeps up on us: we don't notice our strength and sexuality burgeoning and, although undoubtedly anticipated, we find the reality of puberty far different from our expectations. Similarly, we look in the mirror each day not noticing the growth of wrinkles, then, as if by magic, the veil suddenly lifts and one day we really look and are shocked. The image we have carried of our face suddenly has to be updated.
With each phase changes take place unnoticed by the brain-mind — there are no visible fences to cross between each "age of man" — our recognition of having crossed over into another arena in life seems to burst in on us! With this new awareness we realign our focus. It is in the mind where the real action takes place, transmuting experience into wisdom. Truth is the armor which can protect us from all harm; if we can honestly assess our lives in relation to the eternal rhythms of nature there is no hurt — we are sharing in the common experience of all manifested beings.
There are two interesting Hexagrams in the I Ching:
64 Wei Chi — Before the End (Not Yet Across) and
63 Chi Chi — After the End (Already Across).
Wei Chi, "Before the End," is like the mountaineer near the summit having put all his energy into the climb with the peak in sight; now, the last few yards become the most intense and difficult — then everything changes as he confronts Chi Chi, "After the End." Having attained his goal a new road begins; he has to descend. Muscles used to climb up the mountain have become strong; now other muscles will ache and strengthen.
The inherent danger in change is that, having put all our energy and thought into the current circumstances, we get comfortable and think we know it all, only to find that the new arena has different needs. Coming down the mountain takes new skills and a different path. Chi Chi speaks of the disarray of the final ending and the care to be taken with the new road. We have crossed one river; now small careful steps need to be taken until the road is understood and other abilities are developed. A close parallel would be the discomfort at the end of a pregnancy followed by the birth pangs that propel a baby into life — once born, an entire rearrangement of life takes place as parents and baby adjust and learn what it entails to be a family.
Technical inventions have radically changed how we live and what we do with our time — still, we are no different in essence or basic needs from all past generations. This should be no surprise since history was peopled by ourselves. The rhythms of life — from conception to death, and rebirth — go along age-old patterns, laid down and perfected during the dawn of our humanity. Yet more than ever we seem to be ill prepared for the changes that take place during the course of our lives. Families and communities have ceased to be the closely knit units they once were and, as a result, an intimate contact with every facet of life is lacking in our lives. Unfortunately, a compassionate understanding of each unique aspect of human develop- ment is thereby also lost. We no longer seem to anticipate the inevitable changes that occur throughout the course of a life, leaving us unready to deal with the realities of the many rites of passage undergone during life's natural progression.
As ritual and religion have become passe, so the recognition of transitional episodes has been undervalued or completely ignored. Growing up, growing old, and finally dying, are all real events that need to be dealt with and supported in a positive way. The turbulence of the teenage years is a very good example. Dealing with it takes skill, patience, and great wisdom on the part of all. Going from the householder state to the retired state also requires the same thought and compassion. We grow and do not notice the gradual changes that take place; however, surprisingly, new phases in our life seem to come suddenly and are always accompanied by an inner turmoil and realignment.
Transitions take many forms — birth, first days at school or on the job, changes in occupation, marriage, divorce, disease, unexpected good fortune, tragedies of all kinds — the loss of a job, a house, possessions, the death of a loved one — the combinations are as varied as there are people on the earth. It takes time to adjust to each new circumstance and, to the person undergoing such a transition, it is a new and vital experience that needs gentle support. Our own passage through similar experiences does not invalidate the newness and exquisite anguish of one now passing through a like experience. Such times ask of us a kind and sympathetic ear as we recognize this experience as unique to them just as ours was to us — no matter that millions have walked a similar path before. Our pain then does not alleviate theirs now, but letting them know we care does help.
By mentally preparing ourselves for every eventuality we become internally forearmed. What is expected is never as overwhelming or frightening as the unknown. Knowing the course of nature's rhythms, understanding that they are reflected in all living things, builds compassion. Further, knowing we have traveled the road of life over many eons, time becomes an ally — we can avoid false hope or pride in physical prowess or shame or guilt at infirmities that come with the passage of time. Material bodies, possessions, worldly esteem are ephemeral; by placing our focus on the eternal realities we can surmount all difficulties by cherishing each new challenge for the growth potential hidden at its core.
To everything there is a season: a time for sowing, a time for growing, a time for reaping — then rest and regeneration — winter will blossom into the spring of a new beginning. Each rite of passage is in effect the death of the "old" and a birth of the "new."
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press)
Behold, how fitly are the stages set! . . .
And how they us receive without one let,
That make the other life our mark and home.
What novelties they have, to us they give,
That we, though pilgrims, joyful lives may live.
They do upon us too such things bestow,
That show we pilgrims are, where'er we go.
— John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress