Yoga acknowledges four distinct stages of life. Roughly 25 years each; first youth, then the householder stage (with the key concern being gathering stuff, doing things and finding a means of survival), the third stage, sometimes referred to as the ‘forest dweller’ stage, is where I’m at.
I think something happens when the number of days in front of you is undeniably less than the number of days behind you. And, it’s a beautiful thing. That ‘golden butterfly’ I’ve always been going to become sometime in the future, this ideal that I’ve been chasing, when one day I’ll be fully myself and achieve ‘what I’ve come here to do’, suddenly seems dangerous, and far too risky, to keep held off into the future. It needs to be captured and fully inspected now!
The long brewing dissatisfaction with the treadmill, and the accompanying resistance and resentment at having to conform to dominant social ideals and norms can no longer be denied. Reminiscent of that last struggle in the transition from youth to the householder stage when my lofty ideals, born from a fresh view of the construct I’d been born into, gradually gave way to having to ‘tow the line’ for the sake of survival – my own, my kids, and so as not to risk being an ‘outsider’. I find myself at the other end of that now.
I love the term ‘forest dweller’ for the third stage. It conjures up images of a slow walk through a densely green forest, exploring all the textures, shadows and shades of green. A gentle ambling walk. My children are grown. Long gone are the ideals of what I would achieve as a parent. Only the love remains. The home is all but finished (if that’s ever possible). Death, that moment of my departure, while always unknown, is undeniably closer than it ever before was. It isn’t as easy to become consumed by the latest project. There is a deeper longing for meaning that transcends this life.
A change of pace
I notice a particular change of pace, often in contrast to the people around me. Having made the transition from being a salary earner to a small business owner as I ‘entered the forest’ has privileged me the exposure to many dynamic, motivated women. Women firmly established in the householder stage, where the pace is a little more amped. These women, impressively carving out their own route through a period that demands progress, growth and a healthy generation of income. I’m in awe of their ability to adapt the rules and demands of the dominant culture during this householder stage to allow their craft to provide their means to traverse this stage of life. I remember that drive, in fact in many ways, I lament its loss. But, evaporated it has, and I cannot muster that sort of motivation and drive any longer. I’m not sure whether it’s burn out or just a characteristic of this ‘forest dweller’ stage. Perhaps a bit of both. Either way, I know my well-being is best served now by moving more gently.
Having the hard labour of a 30 year career where I played by the rules of the construct of our society and I embraced the drive of the householder, I now find myself in a new land, with new markers and signposts. And it is a surprise! I guess you don’t reach it until you do. Looking on to people in this stage when I was younger didn’t reveal to me what it might be like. I guess I just wasn’t interested. These later stages of life were irrelevant during the earlier stages when my sole focus, and all of my energy was consumed with ‘getting ahead’ – getting stuff, raising the kids, forging self definition.
Relinquishing ‘dollars earned’
My transition into this stage has been pretty bumpy to say the least. In those middle years, the seemingly important years according to our culture, my self-worth was largely determined by the amount of money I earned. Educating myself, climbing the corporate ladder, these were the determiners of success.
A departure from all that, to pursue what I love and hold most dear. To have a crack at generating an income from it was accompanied, unwittingly, by the hitherto unacknowledged determinant of self-worth – how much money I earned. It has taken several years for that hidden determinant to come fully to the surface so that I can see and understand it for what it is.
Plagued by a sense of failure and ‘not being good enough’ my long awaited transition into doing what I love has been more than a little agonising. But as always, the struggle has revealed a deeper satisfaction. It’s only been very recently that I’ve been able to trade currency. Perhaps from sheer exhaustion. Despite my best efforts, having to accept the reality that the dollars I’m earning doing what I love are simply not enough to buoy my self-worth on those terms. Only recently have I traded dollars earned with joy as my new currency. I’ve traded an external indicator of success for an internal one. And one, that is appropriate for my stage of life. Now-a-days, having relinquished ‘dollars earned’ as the indication of my worth I seek out sources of joy to reflect the value of my being here.
Youth as the dominant value
It’s quite the transition within the dominant culture that values dollars above all else. A transition not aided by the prevailing values of our culture. There is not a great deal of respect or reverence for the later stages of life in our death phobic culture that values youth so highly. It feels a little like I’ve been spat out the end of a machine. But, happily so.
I’ve not abandoned completely the desire to earn decent money doing what I love, it is just no longer the primary driver. Now it is secondary to joy. It is more a means than an end. Trying to establish a business over the last four years has been terrifying and greatly rewarding. Initially, the first peg I wanted to drive into the sand was to replace my salaried income. Now, gratefully, with the failure of that pursuit, it is a new set of questions that guide me. How does this make me feel? Is it satisfying or depleting? Does it make my heart sing? Does it align with my deepest values? Does it feel authentic?
Joy is my new currency, and I am so much richer for it.