Saturday, July 05, 2008

From Formlessness to Form and Back Again

For obvious reasons (being in my 65th year), I find contemplating the aging process to be interesting. I don't buy books that promise the secrets of El Dorado (where endless youth is promised instead of endless wealth) as I am not sure I'd want endless youth even if it was possible. There is something about aging and knowing the end is closer than the beginning that adds value to every day, every minute.

Aging, despite problems all along the way, is part of the vitality of life. I'd be lying to say getting old is always fun, but it is definitely interesting if one makes the most of each of their years, fulfilling their individual life purpose in a culture that only limitedly enforces rules for how each age must be lived. The ones who get here are also fortunate as so many do not.

In the past, I have written on my belief that one of the tasks of old age is to find peace and alignment with what happens after our bodies cease functioning. This is a spiritual task and whether someone believes in a creator, reincarnation, dust to dust, heaven or hell, it still is important in old age to find acceptance and be comfortable with the ending of physical life. With the uncertainty of exactly what comes next, there is one sure thing. This flesh, that we think of as everything to us, that often defines and explains our whole identity, doesn't last forever.

One of the concepts I found interesting in Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth, was how he compared the creation and story of the universe to the same pattern in the human life cycle.

Tolle writes how astronomers have observed the current universe began with the Big Bang probably 15 million years ago. As it expanded, it became more complex. That is not the end of the story. Astronomers believe that someday this universe will reverse itself. The expansion will stop and contracting will begin. It will return to the formlessness from which it began. Perhaps then the process will begin again. Perhaps it has before.

Why this happens is what religions are created to answer, but in the end, it is mystery which mankind tries to understand and must accept through submission if nothing else.
"The outer purpose of the universe is to create form and experience the interaction of forms-- the play, the dream, the drama, or whatever you choose to call it. Its inner purpose is to awaken to its formless essence." Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth.
We are born and grow, expanding our sphere of experience as we learn about the world and our place in it. We love, give, take, hate, and our lives grow in complexity as we mature and take on adult responsibilities. That part of aging goes on a long time-- or so it seems. (Sometimes, when you get to my age, it seems it all happened to someone else.)

It continues that way until another process begins. For most of us that comes with old age as our physical form begins to deteriorate. Our body loses powers. We adapt to these changes or live with constant dread and frustration. Our choices, of necessity, change and can seem to dwindle with our physical abilities.

Tolle writes that with old age, we will have begun a new part of that path from formlessness to form and back to formlessness.

Although humans like to have a firm date for all of this, establishing specific times for saying someone is old (senior discounts, retirement from careers, Medicare, Social Security), in reality aging (contracting) will happen at different times and rates for each of us.

Each of these stages-- the becoming more and then the becoming less-- have purposes. Tolle writes that the purpose of youth is doing; the purpose of old age is being. It is unfortunate that our culture has little respect for the old age part of this cycle. In some cultures, it is the aged to whom others go for wisdom, for spiritual guidance, for the telling of the stories through which they have learned. The elderly are a repository of wisdom regarding the changes they have witnessed. The elderly also can be the ones who have time and experience to delve into the spiritual realm and come up with truths that help those younger.

Regardless of the life stage, some humans resist their purposes. Some youths refuse to grow up, resist taking on responsibility for their own lives, don't want an education, or to have life experiences that would stretch them. Perhaps they put it off believing there is will be time later or they darned well won't do what their parents did.

Generally speaking, humans aren't governed as much by instincts as other animals. At least in our culture today, there aren't firm guidelines for how to ideally live a life during growing years. Have children early. Don't have children at all. Experience adventure early. Get a meaningful career. Stick to easily changed jobs. Get married. Don't get married and so it goes with options that vary for the individual as to which best expand their life experience.

Arriving at the elder years, it's the same thing. Some elders don't want to think they are old. They look around, think they don't look so bad, have seen how the aged are disrespected and by golly, they do not want to become formless or invisible.

Face lifts, hair dye, lots of exercise with a trainer, youthful clothing, constant rounds of activities,and doing anything possible to deny that the path ahead is back-- to formlessness. This wouldn't matter if there had been no purpose to this contracting stage of life, but what if there is?

(The first three pictures were scanned from 35mm slides. 1966 was reading in bed; 1979 was hiking in Arizona, Seven Falls behind me; 1993 was reading at a campsite on Miller Creek in Montana; and yesterday was here at the farmhouse. All photos taken by my husband.)

9 comments:

Sylvia K said...

Love your pictures! It's interesting to see how we age over the years, how we change. And it's not just the physical changes, but the mental, emotional and spiritual changes as well. I like to believe that in spite of the white hair and the wrinkles, the best part of me is still young and growing.

Ingineer66 said...

That is fascinating to see the changes over time. Rain you have such a beautiful smile, but you chose photos that do not really show that smile. I think your next post should have a photo of you with a big happy smile. It makes people wonder what you have been up to.

Mary Lou said...

Interesting how you did not chose a baby picture as your first one. But I did enjoy watching you grow older with each picture. You age well! as well we all should! I feel so sorry for those people who put all their stock into their looks. THey will be so sadly disappointed when they lose those looks and are only left with the silicone implants and platypus lips!! So very sad. Aren't you glad we are SMART!!! ?

Rain said...

I didn't include baby pictures because I am doing a timeline and it will go from one to today; so this was more about a face aging than just me. I didn't smile in the last one because I wanted the aging to show and smiles cover up a lot of things which is a good reason to smile. Also I personally prefer somber pictures and work to get good ones because it's not hard to get good smiling ones but the others are tougher to shoot. I had put off doing this particular blog because I hadn't found something to do a timeline; so it's coming soon.

Today we went canoing for the first time with our new canoe; so just home and not much time to do more than drop a not in here. It was great. There will be pictures of that next :) and then the timeline

Parapluie said...

Smiling in all photographs is the current style but the other emotions are far more worthy of the creative photograph. In these photos I am struck by Rain's eyes.

robin andrea said...

I like the progression in these photos, rain. And your discussion of aging is very thoughtful. At 56, I am feeling some of the affects of time on my body, but I would never trade what I know about life for youth again. I think our generation is showing the world how to age with beauty and grace. Your pictures are a perfect example.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Very interesting post Rain...At the stage of life that I am now...Well, I want to say that this is MY 77 years....Remember when Gloria Steinam said"This is what 50 looks like"..?Well, I'm saying is a little differently...This is what my 77 years of life looks like....! I don;t dye my hair---never have...Why it is still mostly dark? Who knows? My two Siblings had grey to white hair by the time they were in their 60's! My oldest sister,---Her hair was more like mine, though she certainly was grayer than me. Do I feel my body has betrayed me? Well, yeah, kind of...But, I am who I am. I dress the way I feel like dressing--Comfort is my "middle" name. I don't compare myself to others because what's the point. Do I wish I felt better than I do? You bet! (lol)
How I feel inside really is the most important thing. And, in truth, I often feel about 12 years old.....I am confined to my home because of Health Issues....I try to make the best of it and the MOST of it, too. Things interest me and I hope they always will....!
I LOVE seeing these pictures of you, Rain....the different stages of one's life reflected in 'The Physical'....!
It is ALL a big big mystery in so very many ways. One day at a time. Keep putting one foot in front of the other....Enjoy as much as you can...all the rest? I have no idea!

joared said...

Intriguing to see how our looks change over the years and enjoyed seeing your photos. Liked your explanation about why you posted photos of a more somber rather than smiling face -- attractive either way, I'm sure.

Yes, we do age in so many ways. All these changes I find so fascinating in myself and others. I no longer give much thought to the unknowable about what comes once the body ceases to hold life as we know it.

Chaos theory makes more and more sense to me. I am inclined to think life's events are random with many forces impinging upon their outcome. Our choices have some influence and bearing to a varying degree, dependent upon so many factors beyond our control.

Perhaps what is important is our adaptability, attitude, and interpretation of events.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, this was very interesting, but I think I'd have to read it again to maybe fully comprehend it.
On a first reading, I have to say I'm not sure I agree with this "formlessness"....From my own experience since turning 60 and my interaction with those age 70 to 90plus.....I think for many people their "form" only increases, becomes stronger, branches out more, goes in directions that at age 40 they never thought possible. In other words, they develop MORE substance as they age, rather than less.
Terri
http://www.islandwriter.net