In a recent column, I talked about the 4 stages of life that make up the Hindu varnasrama system. As a refresher, during the second stage, we pursue social, professional and financial growth. And while some people get stuck there, many of us move on to a third stage where we begin to focus more on our spirituality and faith.
A slightly different system comes from philosopher Daisaku Ikeda and his book Unraveling the Mysteries of Birth and Death, a Buddhist View of Life. Instead of 4 stages, Ikeda breaks down life into 3 stages. But just like the Hindu system, this Buddhist sees the third stage as a time to “value something in your heart besides prestige and social position.”
In other words, by the time we reach the age of 50, plus or minus a few years, it’s time to step away from the continuous upward striving that is common to many of us in the West. . No more need to improve your possessions or try to progress socially or professionally. It’s time to take a step back and focus on what really matters.
Your happiness in stage three may depend on your outlook.
Ikeda tells us that we have a choice. We can view our old age as “a downward path to oblivion,” which is obviously no fun. Or we can view our third stage of life as a more meaningful period in which we “achieve our goals and bring our lives to a rewarding and satisfying end.”
For some, letting go of life’s accelerator is easier said than done. The author says that aging gracefully can actually be harder than dying. He includes a poignant quote from Dr. Norman Cousins to make his point:
Death is not the greatest tragedy that happens to us in life. What is far more tragic is that an important part of ourselves dies while we are still alive. There is nothing more terrifying than that. What is important is to accomplish something in life.
There are 3 paths that can lead to a more spiritually rewarding life.
It is perhaps not surprising that we need to find real purpose and meaning in our lives as we age. But how? I took some of Ikeda’s thinking and created three “buckets” that your lens could fall into. I feel like one of them suits you. They are:
- Path 1: If you can help those in need, volunteer.
- Path 2: If you have knowledge to share with others, learn.
- Path 3: If you are creative, then write, paint, weave, sculpt, create.
What is your background ? Regarding the last point, know that creativity comes in many forms. I have a friend with a green thumb and every year he grows an amazing garden full of fresh fruits and vegetables. He does it for his own pleasure, but also for the pleasure of his friends and relatives who receive a “goody bag” at each visit.
Five tips to navigate your way.
Whether you choose to volunteer, teach or create, or a combination of all 3, there are other steps you can take to stay spiritually vibrant throughout your life years. Ikeda offers the following pointers, the benefits of which, according to him, are proven by scientific research. They are:
- Stay socially involved. Those who withdraw from society tend to deteriorate faster mentally and physically. So: Say hello to your neighbours. Gather with friends. Stay active, both through exercise and community involvement.
- Be mentally active. Continue to pursue intellectual interests. Take part in challenging activities like chess, bridge or learning a foreign language. Read stimulating books. Keep growing and learning spiritually.
- Have a flexible personality. Be willing to try and experience new things. Keep your mind and your options open.
- Keep a sense of humor. A positive mental attitude accompanied by a life that includes laughter can help the secretion of endorphins, activating the feeling of happiness.
- Put death in perspective. Like the practice called memento mori, Ikeda asks us to remember our death. He reminds us that “death is inevitable, so it makes sense to look at death in a positive way and as the starting point for new life”. Remember that life is eternal and this life is a stepping stone to another.