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May 18
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Awakening to the Stages of Life

Facing up to the trials and transitions that face us all, at every stage of life

by Ann Cason 

“The clouds pass and the rain does its work, and  all individual beings flow into their forms.”   (from the I Ching)

By the year 2030, if you live in South Korea you can expect to live on average for 91 years. In the United States average length of life is projected to be 83.2 years.   But it is not stated whether that means that people are really feeling alive, or are more like the walking dead. We have good intentions. Have we been successful in furthering our goals? Flowing along with life instead of being stuck.

What is the flow? How can we find and share what is unique to each of us? We set out with a vision of how to proceed. We pack our bags and make our reservations for heaven. Meeting someone in the bar at the airport while waiting for our connection leads to “wild anticipation,” and then distraction. Before we know it a few years fly by–until we suddenly notice this isn’t where we wanted to go. How can we recalibrate our life to better match with our intention?

One thing that helps is to look at life as a grid of stages. Each stage of life from the age of 20 through 100 has its own unique challenges for learning and growth. At the same time obstacles can arise leading to despair and giving up. For instance, around the time you turn thirty, you might fall in love, marry, have a child, work in a company that furthers environmental issues. Your life is surrounded by mindfulness and love, and you feel like you are in your skin. But gradually contentment grows into laziness, and you begin to sink. Fortunately, when you reach 40 it scares you a little; it wakes you up. You put your car in the garage, get on a bike, and venture out into becoming more observant, more generous, more disciplined, and  more patient. You feel more joy. Your windhorse circulates; possibilities arise.

Marveling at your good fortune, you forget to share and dedicate the merit to others. You get a little stuck.

Finally, you turn 50. It was a tough transition. Your children left the nest, your work has grown humdrum, your fire for life has weakened. You feel a longing for the wind on your skin and the fearlessness; you know that fear has crept in. Longing leads you forward, you know you need help, and you sign up for a workshop.

There is an exercise to help you explore the possibility of death. You have to sit in a chair at the front of the room, give your name and your place of birth, then tell the others that you will die. “My name is Ann. I was born in Kansas. I will die.” It is as if you are practicing for the worst thing to happen. But after acknowledging the worst, you can move on, expand the mind. When that happens, equanimity arises.  It is as if the north star had appeared in the sky; you get oriented. The hot air in your balloon swishes out, leaving you steady in empty space. You meet people, you breath out, and on retreat you see and hear and feel.  And then you think, “Now I have the hang of life. I am getting greater.” At that thought, you freeze into a rut of secret doubt. You ask, “Is this what I am meant to be?” It is hard, when you think you are on the road to freedom, to feel your wheels fall into ruts.  Now is the time for the perserverance that leads to wisdom.

We may need a ceremony of support  to find and stay with the oompf needed to get past our creeping doubt. Have we really made friends with ourself, turned the flower outward, and trusted basic goodness? In the midst of society have we been able to celebrate aloneness?  Sometimes we think we are lonely instead of wise.  Did we miss it?  And what is it anyway? We know and yet we doubt. Right here, we are in danger of falling into regret.  What is needed, according to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, is a chance every 10 years or so to explore where we are, to see where we’ve been, and to recalibrate with the larger world to benefit our good human society.  We have to work together, we people of different generations and different views.

Editor’s note: Ann’s essay was written for the Portland Shambhala Center blog, in anticipation of the first adult rites of passage ceremony in the northwest, Awakening to the Stages of Life, held March 31 – April 2. 

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2 responses to “ Awakening to the Stages of Life ”
  1. Gisèle Laberge
    May 25, 2017

    Hi Ann,
    Hope you are very well.
    I just read your article.
    I got specially interested by the last part. Thank you for bringing the subject.

    I turned 71 few weeks ago.
    I have recently moved in a small condo, becoming a close neighbour to Amélie.
    I wish to live here as long as my body and mind allow it.
    This lovely place makes my life easier and iI feel like being in a village, although it is in Montréal.
    I often see Amélie and her familly.

    The question that inhabits me now is how to live the rest of my life.
    What is life asking from me.
    In my heart mind, there is a white chalky ground, sparsely adorned with short little dry branches
    standing up.
    I stand at the entry of this white ground, with respect.
    Then, I do not know more.

    I know I want to find “la parole” arising from that place and I know I want to communicate with people meeting such a place.
    I have shared that image with my friend Julie Soquet. She brought up your name, having heard you explore this forgotten avenue of life.

    How was your workshop in Portland?


  2. Dan Peterson
    May 19, 2017

    Thank you Ann!

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