Recently a family friend gave me a birthday card. It read “Aging is inevitable; Maturing is optional”. The card is priceless just as the close relationship with friends and the warmth and joy they add to life! It was a well-chosen card and set me thinking on aging and maturing.
Incidentally, I had received another birthday message that read “Wishing you the very best as you journey around the sun once more in the coming year”! How true it is! All of us as objects of nature and as part and parcel of planet earth, continue our journey around the sun precisely once a year (excluding the small correction we need to make once every four years)! In terms of full disclosure I have thus far made seventy revolutions around the sun! It is this journey as part of planet earth and the journey around the sun that we identify as “aging”! In this respect all of us and everything we know of age with time. It is natural! There is no choice in that. It is inevitable.
What is maturing? Is it optional? Why? I believe that depends on the meaning and our understanding of the term – maturing.
A fruit bearing plant grows from its seed. It is considered “mature” when it yields a good crop of fruits rewarding the farmer worthy of his efforts. Hence in some regard “maturity” is a matter of benefits derived or delivered as a natural course of events. But it is also a matter of perspective or judgement. Excessive use of pesticides and chemicals which are ecologically unfriendly for the society at large may be seen as immature, even with the high yielding “mature tree” for the farmer. The fruit bearing trees that grow in the wild are not seen as “mature” even if they bear lots of fruits. They will be described merely as “part of nature”. This human centered view may be in contrast to the joy and satisfaction of all the animals in the wild nourished by the fruits of the mature wild tree. In other words to be recognized as “mature” both the results and the beneficiaries have to be visible and compatible? In Bhajagovindham Verse 5, Adi Sankara warns us on this subjective view on “maturity”:
As long as you are seen as a productive member of the family you are wanted and welcomed. When you become old and unable to contribute, no one wants to speak even a word with you!
“Maturity” or fruitfulness need not be limited to material things (like the trees yielding fruits in our analogy above). We are endowed with our body, mind and intellect. Hence maturity can be witnessed through our actions, emotions/feelings as well as through our thoughts and ideas. In every case seeking the outcomes of larger common good – using common sense and making adult decisions – is a measure of maturity. Hence choices with respect to maturity can span a wide range of means (physical, emotional and/or intellectual), outcomes as well as beneficiaries. Unlike other objects of nature, we the human beings are endowed with a mind that can both think (of thoughts) as well as feel (the emotions). Maturity can also be seen as the ability to deploy our mind through our thoughts to control our emotions or feelings while recognizing their inter-connected nature. This kind of maturity can evolve with age (and hence time), but it can also come at any age from our objective outlook gained through self-control. In this regard one can be mature and useful even at the ripe old age through the mind and its control towards empathy and wisdom of value to others ?
As part of nature we exist in five parallel layers (Pancha Kosham): Material objects (Annamaya), animate or living objects (Pranamaya), individuals with emotions and feelings (manonmaya), with ability for rational or objective analysis (Vignanamaya) and an enlightened or universal perspective. This final layer in which all four preceding layers (and even this fifth layer) is enabled by and exist as witness to the eternal laws of nature at work (Brahman) is described as Anandamaya.
Four of these layers are superimposed on the first (i.e.) Material object. It is the only permanent aspect of any of us, all of us. Yet, influenced by our emotions, feelings and inability for rational thinking we belabor on the notions of birth and death as if the material object (body) begins with birth, ages and ceases to exist (after death)! In reality our body even if it changes with time, but as a material object is the only permanent? Is this thought and understanding a measure of maturity? It is also our choice?
We see guidance in the scriptures on the role of our mind and its control. This is understood as a measure of maturity:
Bagawath Geetha: Through Self-control (of the mind and its engagement) one remains one’s own best friend
Katha Upanishad: The notions of death and birth are determined by the state of mind.
Buddha: Learn to control your mind. Everything you experience is determined by the conditioning of your mind!
Adi Sankara: Learn to focus your mind on the enlightened view of the Universe (i.e) everything is enabled by the same laws of nature, described in totality as Brahman.
In Hindu scriptures four stages of maturing are described. They are: Learning stage – Brahmacharyam, Engagement or Application of the lessons learned – Grahastham , Exploration of the “Experience” –Vanaprastham and Objective outlook – Samnyasam. These four stages of life are also described in terms of their literal meaning of their Sanskrit words as “Childhood or learning”, “family life”, “receding into the forest” and “monastic life”.
From birth to death we get exposed to new information, situation and circumstances. All these are sources for our experiences. It is the experience as felt or observed by us as individuals that distinguish each from the other. Then we probe and learn the techniques to decipher “Experience”. As we do, we learn that an objective outlook on any experience leads us to the laws of nature (Brahman) embedded in that event and experience. In this universal outlook we remain as part and parcel of the universe (Aham Brahmasmi). This reflective management of the mind – maturing – can occur at any age, at any time and with respect to any event or situation. In that respect maturing indeed is a choice while we age and grow old inevitably!