Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Contentment or Bitterness - A Choice
Some time in my early 20’s I recognized that older people seem to fall into one of two categories or states of mind. There seemed to be no middle ground. Older people seemed to be either happy (contented) or extremely bitter. It was just a simple observation by encounters with a few “older people” and especially with Mr. Stanley Jackson (Galiano Island, BC, Canada) who was an extremely contented older person . In the 40 or so years that followed I found no exceptions to this polarity in older people. It seemed that people either developed a world view that enabled them to accept themselves and others “as is” or not – and the “or not” manifested itself as bitterness. Some were able to accept the tests of life much like the sentiment in the poem “Mountain Dreamer” by Oriah, “I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!” It is a great joy to be around people who are “older” and are contented.
Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst describes this seeming polarization as the “integrity versus despair” stage in his theory of psychosocial development. He says that late in life people reflect back on the life they have lived and come away with either a sense of fulfillment or a sense of regret and despair over a life “misspent”.
I think this is related to the concept of “detachment” that is described in many religions and philosophies. The “being in the world, but not of the world” which is implied by the teachings of Confucius and by Christian scripters. Abdul-Baha reflects the Baha’i view in part of a talk, “Our greatest efforts must be directed towards detachment from the things of the world; we must strive to become more spiritual, more luminous, to follow the counsel of the Divine Teaching, to serve the cause of unity and true equality, to be merciful, to reflect the love of the Highest on all men, so that the light of the Spirit shall be apparent in all our deeds, to the end that all humanity shall be united, the stormy sea thereof calmed, and all rough waves disappear from off the surface of life's ocean henceforth unruffled and peaceful.”
You cannot control all the things that you will experience in your life, but you can control how you react to them. From this perspective part of our job in life then is to learn how to react to the fast-flowing and often unpredictable events in our lives. Living one’s life according to such a pattern as this will result in the stage where “…the individual views their whole of life with satisfaction and contentment. The ego quality that emerges from a positive resolution is wisdom.” (Erikson)
This also seems very related to Maslow’s self-actualization written about a few blog posts earlier.