There is something happening, particularly with older people, which I don’t think has been commented upon.
I think that this phenomenon needs to be reported and considered, for the sake of those getting older, and for the sake of everyone who is pursuing genuine happiness. There is an actualization of self that can take place, in the later years, that brings happiness, fulfillment, and most importantly, the kind of unique perspective that can make hope a real thing.
I call this phenomenon “arrival”, and if you keep reading you’ll see why.
What I have to report is paradoxical. It isn’t straightforward, or simple; that is probably why this change, this particular form of the initiatory attainment is not well-known. If you think about what I’m describing here, you will probably know someone who has achieved this state; it isn’t new, just not widely commented upon. In some strange way, there is a taboo here. Happiness, and even freedom, are achievable — just not the way that the mainstream is invested in. There is no wrinkle cream, other than life, that can convey this particular elixir. Some of us have come to life in a way that is both an arrival, and a real departure from the norms of our society.
What am I referring to? Lately, I’ve observed, and gotten to know, people who are genuinely happy, full of life, who feel well situated and are already making a difference. These are people, which in my way of seeing things, have ripened. They have become themselves. These folks are, by and large, the elders amongst us. They don’t make a lot of noise, don’t call attention to themselves, don’t think they’ve done anything special, but they have achieved something, I think we all need to know about. They have arrived.
By arrival I mean that they occupy the very rare space of becoming themselves while being on their journey. They have a sense of becoming whole, uniquely themselves, free to be what they need to be, and they have a destiny before them. They have arrived — and as part of their arrival — they know they are departing. They occupy a truly paradoxical, and special space.
Arrival means they have become themselves, achieved true uniqueness, and are happily reconciled to this development being only half of the story. Death may come. They don’t fear it. Certainly adventure awaits them. Because they are themselves, they are ready. Their achievement, their existence, is important for us to notice. They reveal to us one prospective way to live, the possibility of actualizing ourselves, the miraculous perception that who we are, just might be what is needed.
I’m not talking about your average old person here. Though I could be, it is never too late to become yourself. I’m addressing the fact that some people never stopped learning, and going through the hopper of hardship. These folks, it appears, found a way to use hardship, pain, and loss creatively. They have made of their lives works of art, they have found ways to become themselves, to achieve wholeness.
They have a lot to teach us, but not in the school sort of way. Their knowledge isn’t something that can be transmitted in lectures, it takes the stuff of life. A part of the reason we need to know that such a thing as arrival is possible, is because to learn the art of being whole takes time, and is best communicated by absorption in the dilemmas of life. The elder best teaches by example. The learner learns best by honoring the teacher, and in this case, by noticing the arrival of those who know something important.
I keep saying there is a paradox here. I don’t say that to show off, or to make this attainment seem more difficult than it is. I say it because I’m impressed by the unlikelihood of this development, by the life-giving, character building nature of what they have been through. Life, evidently cared about them enough, to have really roughed them up. They, in turn, seemed to have cared enough on their own, to have turned that hardship into something original.
I remember once hearing a story, a part of which, went like this, “a Zen Master said to a group of his students, “You are perfect as you are, and you could use a little improvement.” I think that the paradox of our being explains what he means, and explains how elders could be arriving just as they are departing. I think we are always connected to the larger reality. For that reason, we are perfect as we are. We are after all a part of a larger whole that is also perfect as it is. Elders, as they become themselves, are little wholes who shine with the light of the larger whole, a joined part of that great magnificence.
We human beings are part of that larger whole and we are a separate piece, responsible for our own wholeness. The journey includes becoming a part of the whole and becoming whole unto our selves. That is how the Zen students can be perfect as they are (they are manifestations of the whole, whole themselves) and need a little improvement (and they are evolving, semi-complete parts of the whole). Elders too are arriving, manifesting their wholeness, and departing, manifesting their evolving partness.
Arrival is a real thing, a possibility that we cannot afford to ignore, just because it doesn’t look like completeness. Arrival is also essential to our kind. The old look like they are over the hill. The truth is that they have lived long enough to realize there is no hill, but there is the possibility of coming home, to them selves, and to the Universe. The rest of us, if we don’t notice elder actualization, live with no knowledge of the possibility of a homecoming. What is a journey that contains no arrival? Elders do arrive, and because they do, we know we can too.