We have often read about the stages of life—how we change as we age, how our perceptions change as we live through childhood, the adulthood stages of marriage, child-rearing, and then the freedom of the empty nest and finally retirement and old age, for instance.
The various descriptions of how we grow, mature, and age are interesting, but they leave out some important facts and fail to give much insight into how someone might avoid the worst aspects of the ordinary life and instead live a life of vibrant joy and practical advantage.
Most of the studies about human stages of life probably are closely observed and valid descriptions of how most people live in a particular culture.
But we don’t really want to live like most people live.
We want to live a poised life, and the popular descriptions of life stages aren’t going to be much help to us, if at all.
For the warrior, there are two possible life stages, even though most people, living the ordinary life, never leave the first stage.
The second stage, the poised life, begins after we make the big 180 degree turn from looking back to looking ahead.
Why the ordinary life of looking backward cannot sustain vibrant joy and practical advantage
Most people spend their lives looking back, regretting, worrying the past over and over, interpreting the NOW through the lens of what has been uncomfortable, painful, or even devastating in the past.
Here is how life is experienced at this stage: Life is lived primarily in the mind, worrying and obsessing about what has happened in the past. The “past” may be what happened: my business associate has missed our scheduled call an hour ago to discuss a very important problem. She didn’t call and she didn’t let me know that she needed to reschedule. Has something gone wrong? Is she mad at me? She was upset with me yesterday over something I said and maybe she is so upset with me that she doesn’t even want to talk to me today. This could be really bad. Should I call her now? Or should I await her call? Should I text or email? Should I apologize for yesterday, or should I just brazen it out? After all, what I told her yesterday about her recent behavior was correct! Why should I back off now?
Thus, the mind rages on and may obsess until the situation is finally resolved. And the next situation will arrive soon.
Or the “past” may be years old. But for the mind, a long-past event, situation, or relationship seems current and keenly relevant. The mind, ever defending the ego, unearths and drags the stale, repetitious details of past situations into the now once again, blocking out any focus on what is happening in the moment. The mind can look backward, reliving a painful experience a thousand times or more. Well, easy for you to say, the mind argues: we (the mind/ego partnership) are hurting; these old wounds never heal and never stop giving us suffering.
Facing the past and unable to make the turn into the future, the mind roils the painful details. My son hasn’t spoken to me for three years. He claims that I didn’t give him money when he was desperate and needed help But he was careless in those days. I didn’t think he was doing his best. I didn’t have extra money then and didn’t trust his judgement. I sacrificed: I loaned him the money but he didn’t pay me back. When I told him I wanted the loan paid back when it became due, he topped speaking to me, angry that I wouldn’t simply give him the money. He calls me stingy and selfish. I can’t get over this unfair treatment and feel great anguish over our rupture. This is my son! I can’t stop thinking about how he has hurt me. No contact in three years. Should I now contact him and try to make peace? Should I send him some money to prove I love him? Should I apologize? Should I try to talk to his wife and ask her to help me? Each day I hope I will hear from him, as crazy as that seems after he said that he doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore.
Facing backward, the ordinary person is crazy, out of control, unable to be happy much of the time. Joy can be found only in the present, so joy is out of reach for the person looking backward.
Self-pity and victimhood are the key themes at this stage. Facing backward requires that the mind be locked into self-pity: somebody is doing something to me. I am a victim of unfair, uncaring, cruel people. Life is not fair. Feeling sorry for myself, I have to grind over the details of the various betrayals that I have experienced. I have to continuously examine how it was that I was hurt and how I might get even somehow. Those who hurt me should be made to regret what they have done to me.
There are degrees of craziness, of course. At this stage. we have varying lengths of time living sanely, our consciousness alive in the current moment. For some, these periods of sanity may be quite long-lasting—days and even longer periods. These semi-happy people are able to live some of the time within good explanations for what is happening. But then something challenging happens, their good explanations are abandoned, and they slip back into self-pity and victimhood, swallowed by the past once again.
In the worst cases, people are locked into obsessing about the past all of the time. These people suffer a great deal, depressed or permanently morose, looking forward to death. They are convicted that life as we know it is intolerable. Other people are intolerable. The mass killers of our time are in this category, unable and unwilling to understand the world. Their victim case is air-tight. No light can get in. Loving others is not possible. They live and kill in very bad explanations for what is happening.
Looking backward, we cannot be poised. We can’t live in the present. We don’t feel connected to others or to the earth. We don’t feel grateful, but the opposite. Our creativity has evaporated or is used to create bad explanations for what is happening. We are unable to feel lighthearted, but instead are heavy and earnest.
The warrior has made the turn toward the future
Think of the warrior’s big turn as a deliberate turn from the North to the South, reversing direction completely, in other words.
This is a transformational change from looking back to looking forward.
It is intentional.
The turn is made in full consciousness, and the impact of the turn is exhilarating, liberating, and full of wonder.
The warrior is in the present! No longer looking backward, the full impact of the future floods into his or her being. In the present moment, the warriors feel the allurement of a future drawing them forward.
Present, there is no self-pity as we look forward. Present, our ego mind is not cooking up a victim story any longer.
The warrior is a fearless agent, engaging with the marvelous current moment, looking, looking breathlessly.
The warrior’s life is unpredictable and fluid. What will happen next is a marvelous mystery and the warrior is able to welcome all things, as LaoTzu said.
Looking forward, the warrior has no regrets and no complaint.
The warrior takes full responsibility for whatever decisions he makes and whatever outcomes he achieves.
The warrior’s cup is filled to the brim, and her only enemy is her death, the end of her consciousness.
Does the warrior ever look backward? Yes, but intentionally in order to recapitulate items in life that have not been resolved. The recapitulation is undertaken in order to remain free and facing forward. Examinations are done quickly and efficiently, requiring only a minimum of energy and time. Once an incident is examined, the warrior turns back toward the future and stays there until the next incident that requires scrutiny.
Facing forward, how do we relate to our fellow humans who look ever toward the past?
Poised, we’re keenly aware that most of the people in our lives have not made the turn.
We know that as we listen to the outpouring of complaint. Most people in our life are continuously asking for our support for their self-pity and victimhood. People looking backward want and need allies, people who will agree with their bad explanations.
We don’t play that game.
Warriors save their energy. They need it to engage with the future cascading into their life.
After we make the turn, some people in our past life will have to go on without us. They may feel abandoned unfairly by us when we stop giving any of our energy to their victimhood.
They will be fine without us, and we will be free.
Those who have made the big turn to the future are the human species’ scouts, pioneering on the frontiers of human emergence, spreading consciousness into the universe and bringing back tales of glory.