I came across an article on Arts and Letters Daily which I really enjoyed. Upon reaching sixty years of age, an older gentleman reflected on the ageing process. While I’m just a tad over half his age, he made a statement that I myself relate to when I’m around people much younger than myself.
One of the surprising symptoms of getting to be 60 is that I now can’t tell how old anyone under the age of 40 is; you all look 16. And don’t believe the beauty page gush that you are in fact only as old as you feel. It’s a nonsense, based on the assumption that ageing is primarily a physical process. It isn’t, it’s a maturing one. It’s not a feeling, it’s an experience. You are as old as you can remember.
Ageing is a maturing process. There are certain lessons life simply teaches people as they get older, though some learn a lot more than others. I want to write down what it means to be mature. What sort of processes go on in a person?
The best way to tackle this would be to give a vague overview of the human mind and what motivates a person to do the things they do. Once we accomplish that, it’s not too hard to give a person the direction and general character of maturation.
We human beings all have these inner compulsions, drives, and desires which compel us to do the things we do. There is a sort of hierarchy to these drives, and that’s what I want to first discuss.
There are higher and lower drives, and as each lower drive is satisfied, “higher” drives begin to manifest themselves. Each “higher” drive is more quiet than lower drives beneath it, so unless you satisfy the lower drives, or learn practices that quiet the mind and allow you to experience the higher drives, you simply will not hear them. Also, higher drives are more complicated than the lower drives beneath them, and they also connect you more to the universe outside and beyond yourself. Each higher drive is harder to satisfy and even understand, and if you study people, very few people ever go beyond the first tier or two within this hierarchy of inner drives.
The most primary drive is for food, shelter, and safety. It’s a survival instinct. It’s by far the strongest inner drive within human beings, but once it’s satiated, it quiets down and weaker drives begin to manifest themselves. In the modern world we don’t really think much about these things because very few of us struggle to find food, stay warm, or evade predators. It’s quite an accomplishment for our civilization. But if you were placed on a deserted island, you’d soon find your thoughts consumed with survival and safety. Other “higher” desires and thoughts would be pushed aside.
If you manage to secure food, shelter, and safety, your mind will start to seek out relationships and associations with other people. You will seek out a place where you belong, where you’re accepted, where you’re part of the group. Desires for love and being loved will start to manifest. Along with this there will be worries of whether or not you’re worthy of love. You’ll worry whether you’re able to contribute to this group you belong to (or trying to find), and you’ll want to be as self-reliant as possible. You’ll desire respect, crave self-esteem, and try to find a place where you believe and trust in yourself.
If you’re able to find some group of people to plug yourself into, you’re going to desire a feeling of ability. You’re going to want to be competent and even excellent at the thing you do, whatever that is. You’ll want to be strong, to excel, and maybe even be a leader in your field and area of life.
Very few people ever move beyond this stage. I may have met a few people who have moved past the stages mentioned, but they are rare. That’s not to say each “higher” drive is better. I’m just saying they’re quieter, and also, higher drives are far more capable of satisfying a person.
If you quiet your mind, or you’re able to satisfy the desires to belong, to be loved, to play a part in society, etc., the mind start to undergo various changes.
For one, a new curiosity will develop. It will start asking questions about the universe itself. All sorts of things. What is this universe? What is time? Has the universe always been here or will it one day end? Was there a creator? It’s part of the mind’s quest for greater connection and understanding. You’ll also begin to question everyday experience and just feel how weird and strange it all is. All of this will feel very childlike and interesting. It’s a fun, pleasant experience.
Along with this new curiosity will arise a sense of beauty, symmetry, and thoughts on perfection. There’s an increase in your perception of connections between things and events. A sense of values and ethics becomes very important because you crave beauty and for things to be done “right”.
The more you quiet the mind, the more capable you are of quiet joys, calm serenity, and an enjoyment of small things. That’s because they’re no longer small or simple to you. You see and feel more from everyday experience. And because these things are satisfying you more, you need less from other people. You can also endure greater hardship and isolation because of this satisfaction.
You become more capable of discovering truth. Since you’re more satisfied with existence, you’re less prone to project your wishes onto it. You can see things and people as they really are. Your thinking becomes clearer. Your intuition becomes better. Increasing feelings of connectedness lead to mystical experiences. A greater appreciation for art, poetry, music, wisdom, and science starts to take place. You take more pleasure in things that are complex. Your worldview, personal philosophy, and religion becomes more inclusive, less narrow, and further reaching.
You feel more and more comfortable being you, and irrational fears begin to leave you. You become more open to new experiences, for the novel, for things that are unfamiliar. You’re less afraid to fail.
Those feelings of connection make you think about other people a lot. Empathy is enhanced. You become more friendly and thoughtful. You desire democracy and respect for all human beings. It may go further, even for animals too. You think about children and future generations, and desire to leave a better world behind for them.
You become the opposite of being petty. You have a sort of “bigness”. As they say, you don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s an increased tolerance of people who are different than you, who have different beliefs than you hold. Old prejudices leave you. There’s an increased feeling of brotherhood and a realization and knowledge that you’re all in it together. That’s not to say you don’t stand for things. You just are “bigger”. Black and white thinking is replaced with complex, nuanced thinking.
There’s a sympathy and passion for the rights of minorities and those who are oppressed. You become a better citizen, a better neighbor, a better parent. There is a hopefulness toward the future.
You become more relaxed. More honest. More genuine and straightforward. You’re not fake or putting airs anymore. You express yourself as you are. There are less feelings of shame and you are more welcoming of other people’s love. You’re less prone to self-destructive behavior and instead have strength within you to serve, protect, and help others.
I guess that will serve to give a general idea of higher and lower drives. So how does this relate to maturity? Let’s begin by discussing younger people. For concrete examples, I’ll simply discuss the young women I met at my university who I went out on dates with.
They had no idea who they were, what they stood for, what they were about, or what they wanted to do with themselves. I saw very little indication that there was direction or purpose. They had superficial relationships with all sorts of people, but no true bonds with anyone. They were very fake, hiding their real feelings, putting on a sort of show. “I’m interesting, I’m fun. Look at me.” They were caught up in a lot of self-destructive behaviors, such as their drinking games. I would sit and talk with them for hours and got no sense that they were aware of the those quieter, subtler, higher drives within their mind. They were almost entirely consumed with petty things, such as their phones and other things that don’t really matter. They were completely self-absorbed. As I mentioned, many of them never even thought to ask about the man sitting across from them. They were so preoccupied with random noise within their own mind, they couldn’t even see anything around them.
Those are some of the things you see in immature people. It’s hard to pin down precisely what that means, but in general, they have a very low awareness of this hierarchy within the mind, and they live on the bottom-most rungs. They have a long way to go before actualizing their full human potential.
Don’t think I’m looking down on these women. I’m not. These are difficult problems. It’s difficult to find a place in the world, to feel fulfilled, to find a real purpose for your life. It can be difficult to find people you relate to and to understand yourself. To really believe in something is the hardest, especially when you think about this world and our place in it. All of this is a long process. Since older folks have had more time, they’re normally further along.
In my own life, I know how to bring peace to my mind, and I’ve tasted the joys of the higher drives. There’s nothing like them. But in many ways, I’ve never fully finished with the earlier rung of finding a place I belong, and I get strong feelings of being lonely. It’s sort of like hunger or thirst. If it’s not continually satisfied in some way, it pops its head back up, and if you entertain it and let it continue in your mind, it’ll just consume you. That happens to me. They’re very strong feelings and they’re in us because we humans are weak creatures. Our only strength lies in working together with others. Those feelings are there to impel you to join up with others and work together. I’ve never done that, and because I haven’t, that part of my mind can be very loud and drown out everything else.
I remember reading about mystics long ago who tasted the joys of these higher drives, and as they’d sit to meditate, they’d have this moment of serenity, but soon afterwards they’d have strong recurrent desires and thoughts surface which they could never shake off. Their minds would just wander and they’d find themselves daydreaming about squeezing a young woman’s breast, and other sexual fantasies. It’s not like you can ever shut off any of the lower drives. If you don’t eat, your brain will be screaming at you, “Eat something!” It’s painful for anyone to be rejected by society or live in isolation. We’re social animals.
I know who I am, but honestly, I’m not really in an environment where I could really thrive. I belong elsewhere, but I get conflicts because I’d miss my family, who I love. One of the biggest factors leading to neurosis is when you have different deeply seated inner drives conflicting with one another, and there’s nothing you can do to satisfy them both. You choose one at the expense of the other, but the other never goes away.
In me, I have all kinds of skills. I’m competent in many different areas. I have drives saying, “Use those skills and do things for the world.” But that conflicts with other parts of me which doesn’t want to leave my family behind. I’d miss them so much. Every time I research where all the projects I’d want to be involved in are located, I’d have to go off to Tennessee, or California, or someplace else. But the longer I’ve stayed here where I am, the more life seems to be prodding me saying, “It’s time to go.”
Realistically, I know myself too well. I’d love my work and probably the people I work with on the project. That’s fine and good. A home life is going to be my problem. If I work a research job, I’ll probably be alone a lot. Then I’d come home and be alone even more. I have a vivid imagination and can see it. I pull up, it’s dark, I come inside, flip on the lights then move around in total silence, hearing each footstep and the hum of the refrigerator. Eck. Then I think, “What now? I’ve been reading, studying and working all day. Now what? Read more?” Then I sit down somewhere. I don’t know what I’d think about. Maybe work. Would I que up Netflix and watch documentaries or some television series? Play video games?
That’s not a good picture. It lacks any connection to community or a love life. I like beautiful things, not diversions. I really need to get married or something. She doesn’t have to be like me at all. There just has to be a genuine interest, love, and respect for one another. There has to also be a real connection. Someone you can really talk to, discuss things and understand one another. The rest would work itself out. If I had that, I think I could relocate somewhere else in the world and be alright. Maybe I could without it. Hard to say. I really don’t know. I’ve sought that out, but as I’ve mentioned, so far it hasn’t worked out. But most people will tell you that dating is a trying experience.
I have some sense of purpose. I want to work with a team of scientists on some important technology or area of research which moves our technology and understanding forward in some interesting way. My interests are really wide, and there are a lot of different things I’d love to work on. I’d best like to do that with computer modeling and theoretical mathematics, but just to be involved in something I really believe in is what matters. I still have some formal schooling left though, so I have to attend to that first. I’m nearing the end of that tunnel though.
Before ending this, I should say that this maturity and growth process never ends. As I said, all the higher drives only get more complicated to satisfy and understand. Most people find a lover. That can be quite an accomplishment. But then you move on to finding some meaningful purpose within society, finding a place within a large social structure. Think of all the ways people can work together and be together. That’s really messy. But, then you move on to understanding the universe and your place in it with all other life-forms. The tree of life. You understand that, and then think of the entirety of space and time, the evolution of the cosmos, and all that’s out there.
You’re never done. It never ends. There’s always more and that’s a good thing.