The famous line from the Simon & Garfunkel song “Old Friends” has finally come upon me (LINK). I was 18 or 19 the first time I heard it, on the “Bookends” album on 8-Track cassette as a student at the University of Maryland. Seems like yesterday, or earlier this morning, to me now.
We are funny about aging in our culture. We deny it, ignore it, fear it, loathe it, and sometimes, we long for it. When it comes, as it inevitably does, we are surprised by it, as I was at the number of old men who attended my 50th high school reunion two years ago. I was even more surprised by the twenty percent of the graduating class of 1969 who were on the in memorium board. I looked it up and the statistics were about right.
We are funny about a lot of things in our culture, as Lillian Schneider points out below. While we have our individual quirks, preferences, and tendencies, we tend to be more a part of the collective than we may want to admit.
If I have any wisdom to impart due to my longevity, it would be to pay attention to what Joseph Campbell said in that opening quote. The fates he speaks of are our own inner fates – who we came here to be as Dr. Gary Simmons puts it so uniquely and so well. When we fail to be who we came here to be, either because we never really discover who that is, or because we do discover it and resist embodying and expressing it for some reason, it makes for an unhappy life. Campbell speaks of living joyfully in the sorrows of the world, and he is right about that, too. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can learn to live in joy – not by ignoring the suffering, but by realizing our own worth and making ourselves able to do something about it. That’s a tall order, but an increasingly essential one.
The main influences on me, aside from relatives and friends, have been Joseph Campbell, Ernest Holmes, and Carl Jung. I would include the branches which have emerged from each of them, so others as well. They helped me to realize my own power and my own limitations and gave me ways to heal what needed healing within me (still a work in progress). For me, the greatest healings have come via teaching and writing, ostensibly for others, but for myself most of all. We do teach what we need to learn if we are wise enough to realize that path. An elder once told me that the purpose of the Science of Mind teaching was to learn how to die. He said that the teaching did that by teaching us how to live fully by realizing our divine nature and that we have everything we need within us.
Now, at 70, I am very healthy for my age, on no medications so far, fortunately. I am noticing general aches and pains on a more regular basis, my memory is becoming a bit less dependable than it was earlier in life, it’s time to get new glasses, I wear hearing aids, and I have never been happier. Well, I was pretty happy as a young boy, blessed with imperfect parents who were perfect about letting me know they loved me. But I know that my memories of those times are selective.
Ernest Holmes wrote that there is no such thing as a mistake, an often-misunderstood idea. What he meant, I believe, is that every choice we make has consequences and that we are always at choice to move in a different direction. This idea was reinforced in the book “The Power of Decision” by Raymond Charles Barker. We are always in the flow of life and each decision is a choice as to how to move forward. Also, to know that indecision is a decision to stay in place (which is actually impossible). We are best served by combining being decisive with the deep inner work necessary to support making wise and compassionate decisions more of the time.
I have come to believe that if there is a secret to a fulfilling life, it is to find ways to live authentically, in joy, AND to be a force for good in the world. To live joyfully in the sorrows of the world is to find your inner, authentic sense of self and to develop meaningful ways to contribute to the greater good. When we sacrifice ourselves to too great a degree or when we live selfish, detached lives, we are out of balance.
Another bit of wisdom from Joseph Campbell which has also been misunderstood, is to follow your bliss. Joseph defines bliss as that inner authenticity, the divine nature at the depth of our being. When we bring that forward and live from it, our lives have meaning and purpose. It takes lots of inner work to find and follow your bliss.
I hope that you continue to evolve – to grow in your capacities for wisdom and compassion. That is the goal, if there is a goal in this life: to be fully expressed as an authentic version of yourself, living from a being state of connection and a healthy self-concept. That has been my path, imperfectly trodden to be sure, but my north star has been what Holmes, Campbell, Jung, and others have described. You will know when you are on the path and you will know when you have strayed or gotten stuck. Pay attention to those signals, which come from your soma (body) and your emotions.
How terribly strange to be 70. How terribly wonderful to come to terms with the aging process; to learn how to die by learning how to live fully. To release the striving for money, fame, respect, attention, or anything else. To be in what Carl Jung called the second adulthood – a place of being, not a place of striving.
As always, your comments are welcomed. Please share this post with others who may be interested.
Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard