When the story of the world becomes less clear, we can look for guidance at the patterns of nature as well as continue unfolding the inner life of the soul. After we grow up in life, the next turn is to grow down, to grow deeper and fuller. This is the way of the true elder.
"A village without elders is like a tree without roots." – an old proverb
Understanding patterns and the changing of the seasons has been one of the more impactful milestones of our species. This discovery has allowed mankind to evolve quicker, and to live longer and more comfortable lives. To be able to anticipate when to plant and when not to plant, along with many other benefits, gives us more stability in the constant changes of life. Much like the seasons of nature, there are seasons of our lives that can be anticipated, if we are able to observe and reflect.
Tony Robbins recently spoke about the four seasons in relationship to the various stages of our lives:
Our springtime is our youth, roughly from birth to 21 years old. This time in our lives represents newness, excitement and learning. It is the time in our lives when we are most absorbent, influenced, vulnerable and, usually, most protected. In the springtime, we notice much change as our foundation is the most fertile and new life is blossoming and budding. The dramas of our youth leave imprints on the walls of our soul. They reveal our inner story and what directions to head. There is much imagination and creativity in this time of our lives.
Next is the summer, usually from ages 21-41, and this is the time when we go off for battle (literally and figuratively), build new habits and put in the work. It is a time when we test what we know. We are in discovery mode, trying to find out who we really are. If we do the work, we learn much and have lots of growing pains. This can be a very hard time for most as we are shedding layers of adolescence and immaturity, feeling very vulnerable. Our youthfulness can be forgotten as life becomes fast-paced with responsibilities and the expectations of others.
If we continue to do the work, the fall season can have a bit more ease and, as the saying goes, "what you sow, so shall you reap" comes into play. Usually this season occurs around ages 42 to 62. Generally speaking, people in this season have more understanding of who they are, have mastered some skill sets and have run organizations, have accumulated a healthy amount of resources and have some midlife power. This is also a time for midlife crisis. A time when the dreams and aspirations of our youth come back to us and we either decided to listen or to buy something fancy.
The next season is winter, which can start around age 63. This is the age of the guide and mentor. Finding true wisdom and joy in growing down into the de eper places of our hearts and souls, the real gifts of life can be revealed during this season. If we know we are more than what we see, winter is not an ending but a mysterious beginning and a gracious gift. Those who understand this know how to keep warm during this time of life. This is usually the time when people volunteer and donate their time and resources the most, with the understanding that sharing gifts is one of the best ways to fully experience them.
Just because someone is older doesn't automatically make them an elder; it takes practice, and this is the opportunity of the winter season. The true spirit and fire of life is to know oneself and then to be able to freely and fully give it. By wintertime, we have gained loads of wisdom from the struggles of our own lives and know how to handle true power, and contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. The ways that this guidance and mentorship is demonstrated may look different than what is expected from the busy and noisy modern world. Wintertime can appear quiet and reserved, but much that is not seen is being accomplished from within. What becomes revealed during the winter time of a life fully lived is the story that was trying to surface all along. Everything comes full circle as the heart grows young again.
Observing the seasons of life can help us anticipate instead of react. Anticipation involves an inner knowing learned over a lifetime. It involves making choices from a larger perspective. Anticipation is creative and wise. It offers insight into the changes of life and reveals that which is eternal and unchanging.
True elders are making decisions for what's going to happen seven generations down the line.
For the younger generation, it can be humbling to know how far they have to go to attain real wisdom, but, also, encouraging to know that what they are struggling through is natural and required. Building good habits in the summertime of our lives is important. It must also be something we continue to do no matter our age, as each season has its own unique work. Youth may learn more reverence for the older generation and the guidance they provide.
For those further along in life, knowledge of the seasons can help them empathize and connect more with the youth, realizing that this is the necessary and natural pattern of growth, even if it looks different. It can bring meaning and purpose to all of the seasons and help us realize that we are in this life together.
Tim Hahn is a local small business owner, freelance writer and wellness teacher. His interest and connection to this topic stem from direct experience with various spiritual rites of passage and time spent with elder teachers. However his greatest teachings are coming from fatherhood.