Three Stages of a Human Life
There are three stages to a human life, physical, psychological and spiritual. They occur in that order. Each stage has a duration of around twenty years on average. What I am about to describe is an ideal or average model and of course no individual person will fall into this model exactly. Nevertheless I think it is useful to have a model, firstly to know that life is a progressive journey. Many people are not aware of this underlying aspect of life. We often feel like life is static, just a set of circumstances which change as we age.
The second reason for looking at life from the point of view of a progressive model is that it may be helpful for you to get some idea of where you are on the path of life.
Sometimes depression is caused when someone has become stuck in a particular phase, is for some reason having difficulty moving on to the next stage.
One reason this happens is that most of us are not familiar with the notion of progression being an underlying fact of our lives. Modern Western culture is not generally concerned with this aspect of life and the consequences are obvious in the huge numbers of the population who feel depressed, disengaged, and misunderstood.
Someone shared an image with me recently which demonstrates what I am talking about here.
The image said that we mostly live lives as if we are watching a film in which there is a succession of scenes, characters and stories but they all seem disconnected and random. We do not see the underlying plot until the end.
What I am writing about here is an attempt to give you some clue about the underlying plot.
The first stage, the physical begins as soon as we are born. The first five years or there abouts is concerned with learning to survive in the world, in a body. We learn to walk, to talk, to feed ourselves, to communicate with others and so on. This is done in the security of our homes with mother providing the necessary means of development and encouragement. It is an exciting and challenging stage. It is a time of trial and error and of the inate drive to move forward. No sooner has one challenge been conquered than the next one is looming before us.
By the time we are around five years old things begin to ease off. The intensity of the drive has lessened and now follows a period of refining the skills already learned. In this phase communication skills have moved on from making sounds, to making words, to making sentence and to learning to read and write. From walking we have become able to participate in sports and follow rules and participate in team games.
This is often a time of happiness and contentment and achievement.
By the teenage years the body has now begun to develop to a new phase of maturity. It is changing from the body of a child to that of an adult, with the capability to reproduce.
This change in the physical body is accompanied by a psychological change. The home, the place of security and support now becomes too small for us.
While for years we accepted our parents rules and regulations, in return for the security and support they gave us, we now start to need to be the master of our own lives. We want to make our own rules and to take responsibility for our lives. This is a time of conflict because while we want to be masters of our own time and lives we are anxious about being able to make it in the world on our own.
This conflict leads to the next stage. This same pattern of development first seen in the physical stage repeats in the next two stages, psycological and spiritual.
The stage starts out with struggle and novelty and excitement and intense learning. It is followed by a period of contentment and maturing of skills. Then one outrgows the container in which these skills were learned.
In stage one, the physical, the container or crucible is the home into which one was born. It is specific and intimate.
The second stage, the psychological is contained in the world or the particular culture in which one lives.
The first phase of the psychological stage begins with leaving home. One now has to learn to live without the immediate support of family. One has to learn how to live with others who have grown up in other families. Assumptions and expectations about how to behave are likely to come up.
This is the stage of learning to form relationsips within the wider community of the country you live in and indeed in the world at large. It is also the time of finding a way to support yourself physically.
Within this context it is also a time of learning to form new intimate relationships. It starts out with exploration. Like the babyhood phase it involves trial and error and setbacks.
This period of trial and error applies both to the human relationships and to the efforts to find a way to support oneself.
All going well, by the time one has reached thrity they are likely to have put some structures in place. You have a job and a steady relationship. If you have not yet achieved these it is likely that this is what you now want to achieve.
This is followed by a phase of contentment and a sense of achievement. You have made the change from child to adult. This is often the phase of contented newly weds or the young family.
You have moved on from being dependent to being independent at the physical level. However, just as in the childhood phase you were still dependent on your parents for shelter and support, you are now dependent on “society” or the culture in which you live for shelter and support.
You are part of a system, of a national society. You fit in as a member of this society, contribute to it in return for certain securities. You pay your taxes and in return you get a health care system, an education system, a legal system, an infrastructure of roads, energy and so on.
From the physical piont of view you are in your prime.
From the psychological point of view you are still developing. You may be looking at the values in your society. You may be questioning what’s right and wrong about society and about your own life in particular.
After a period of contentment and a sense of achievement for having become a fully fledged member of your society, you may begin to tire of it. You may feel some boredom and flatness. After all you have achieved what society wanted.
Of course, many just stop here and just make the best of what is on offer in the world. They take prescriptions drugs, drink alcohol, set a goal of making millions, travel the world, just to relieve the boredom or to try to recapture the excitement of an earlier stage.
Few are aware that there is another stage to go. It is the spiritual stage. It is just as real and available to any of us who are willing to investigate it, as are the physical and psychological stages.
It starts out in the same way as the other two stages, by being a period of investigation, of trial and error and of intensity.
The container within which this stage is contained is God, or The Absolute, or Universal Mother or Higher Power. It does not matter what word you use. Use whichever one makes most sense to you, the one which you are most easily able to accept.
Like the early stages of physical and psychological development, you do not have any real idea of what is taking place here. You have to trust, just as you once trusted you mother, then you trusted the state, or society, you now transfer your trust your higher power. As of yet you do not even know you can trust it, you cannot aritculate it.
But, you are driven to find some way out of the boredom and disenchantment of the pleasures of the world. The world has begun to grow dull and grey for you.
This most likely will be a time of learning about new teachings, looking at old teachings with new eyes, learning to meditate and so on. But most of all, you are on a search for something other than worldly pleasures. You have heard reports of enlightnement, awakening to your true nature and so on. You have become an explorer of the various teachings and clues you are finding all around you.
Along the way you begin to choose some of these teaching. You know you are on to something really important and you are following up on it.
A period of contentment is likely to follow your initial investigations into the spiritual world. You have developed some discernment in relations to the teachings. You have found a teaching you can relate to and decide to follow it. You implement these teachings to the best of your ability. You are becoming adept at prayer, which is talking directly with you higher power, and finding time in your worldly life for spiritual things.
Like the other two phases, this period of honing skills learned in the early part will also come to an end. Challenges will arise that now force you to reconsider all the ideas you had about being spiritual and to make committments in a real way. Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross termed this phase the Dark night of the Soul.
By the time you have reached this phase you are no longer in control of what is happening. You are in the hands of the Gods. You are in the process of being prepared for awakening to your true nature. You will be reborn as a new being. This is what you have been wanting all your life. It is what you have always been leaning towards, though you could not articulate what it was that you wanted. This is what has been called “The Pearl beyond Price”.
It is your birthright. All you have to do is to do what you can to facilitate the movement forward from one stage to the next as appropriate at each stage of your life.