There is a change in one’s mind that accompanies the process of getting older. This change doesn’t occur in all cases, but it is indicative of a new outlook on life. With the ripening that comes, when one isn’t looking, when gray and wrinkles seem to be breaking out everywhere, something else, something far more mysterious is happening.
The world is both growing more complex and simple. How can that be? How can things get so solidly more complex and, at the same time, those same things become more fluid and melt into each other?
The world has fairly dripped with paradox for a long time, and it is only becoming evident now, during these latter years.
There is something fluid about consciousness. It changes as one ripens. What consciousness perceives, the perceptions that look like the world morph as one grows into a truer experience of the whole. For many people this is so troublesome, confusing, and demanding that they close their minds and shut out what they cannot deal with.
Fewer stick with it and are rewarded, if you could call it that, with a sight that is always moving around, with things — including less palpable, inside things — becoming their opposite, and shining with a new light. All of this is quite disturbing and heralds a new phase in the growth of human awareness, the advent of elder awareness.
To be fair, I think it is good to point out that this kind of awareness can pop up at any age. It isn’t exclusively a phenomenon of age, but it is more usually accompanied by a long lifetime of experience.
This development is more commonly the product of a lifetime of plot twists, some of which have left people breathless, like those organisms that first came out of the water onto dry land. Yes, evolution is behind this change, too. Some people are busy integrating this new perspective, which comes with growing into the world.
Paradox is a sign on the trail. What trail? The one left by the Mystery of what breathes us. Following this two-faced guide, one enters deeper into the wilderness. Here things have a nature that changes, a vitality that merges with the whole (giving an impression of unity) while maintaining a discreteness that conveys the creativity and unique profusion that makes it all even more o a miracle than one can imagine. There is a holoscopic beauty embedded in reality — like a pointillist painting with each point reflecting the whole, while simultaneously being the unique point that is needed for the pattern of the whole to reveal itself at a larger level. Strangely, the humbled mind embraces it all.
Such a change doesn’t happen overnight. An older person begins to realize that the more they know, the more they know they don’t know much. This dawning, paradoxical awareness reduces certainty and arouses humility. In fact, if you are looking for a way to distinguish elders from the merely old, look for humility. When an old person begins to see paradox everywhere, they tend to no longer give advice. Now, they prefer to listen.
One of the qualities that makes this kind of awareness more likely amongst the aged is loss. Life softens many up. By blowing certainty away, and forcing the practice of “letting go,” Life sets the scene for new awareness. Those who know the humbling effects of the rollercoaster called Life, have a greater likelihood of becoming aware of paradox. They have learned, often the hard way, that Life sets one up by knocking one down. Pruning may seem harsh, but only to those who haven’t experienced the new life that follows. No one knows the freeing power of aging like someone who is growing older, like someone who has been aged for just this awareness.
Does it sound like I am ascribing a kind of personal relationship with Life? I don’t know if I am or not, but what I seem to think is that the old are drying out — about to shed their rheumy and watery eyes, stooped bodies, intermittent attention, loopy memories and thin voices — like an old, dry, wrinkled husk. There is a seed forming inside some old folks, a seed that reflects another possibility. That possibility is more paradoxical than most of us are accustomed to.
The longevity revolution is revealing that human life is probably only a stage in a greater arc of Life. What assails us here, and what we make of it, prepares us for another, more complex and simpler stage, one where paradox is the coin of the realm. Lao-Tzu said “the way to do, is to be.” Paradox says, “the way to live, is to die,” pass from one form into another, become the life-form that is capable of becoming something else.
Elders are doing just this. Elder awareness goads them on. They live, knowing they’re going to die; and, luckily for all of us, they are spiritually energized. What they are at the core, is what we all are: potential — set free, alive in a new way.