Maturing and Maturing:
Alternative View of the Life Cycle
There are several distinct phases of human development: child, maiden, mother, and crone for women and child, warrior, chief, and elder for men. As we grow and mature physically, so can our consciousness and emotional maturity grow. As children, it is natural that we are bundles of desire, ego, and intense emotions. It is important if we want to encourage emotional and spiritual growth that our early experiences aren’t stifled but nurtured and allowed to come to their own fruition at their own time. Obviously, this type of parenting requires multiple people (a tribe or community) for support, since it is difficult without physical abuse (spanking) to maintain discipline and the only real way to do so is to exemplify another way of interacting through being a role model of patience, kindness, and sharing.
Children’s demands and outbursts easily wear upon adult role models, so it is crucial that adults take space from children when they lose patience and need to regain their grounding and energy. That is where the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” comes from – the presence of multiple role models allows people to rest and recoup and gives children the best each adult has to offer. If a constant state of trust and openness is maintained, then it naturally follows that children want to grow up and get respect by acting like their role models. (This is why “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work.) If you smoke and tell your kids not to, they are much more likely to smoke than if you don’t. This is part of the gift children offer adults – the challenge to be a healthy role model. As children grow up and experience the world in a context of nurturing kinship, they gain a sense of security and trust as they grasp how the “natural” world works through exploration and experimentation with the rest of the community of life.
Eventually, hormones shift and physiological changes rock us away from childhood. If our bodies are healthy the transition can be relatively painless. At this time, people are ready for a rite of passage ceremony attended by the majority of people in the community/tribe and often initiated through a grueling experience to mark the psychological and emotional shift into adulthood. In some cases, our ancestors did this through a solo vision fast (four days alone), sometimes a month-long walkabout alone. Sometimes the rite involved an elaborate circumcision, teeth-pulling, tattooing or scarring, all of which require healing and mark a major transition time in life. After this benchmark, initiated individuals are expected by everyone they care about to put away childish behaviors and act differently.
There are major benefits to passing this transition: respect and social standing for demonstrating the courage and fortitude to pass the test, and admiration from the opposite sex for our adult status and for our ability to contribute food and other necessities for the benefit of others (everyone wants a capable mate). Equally important, our self-worth is bolstered through accomplishment, newfound strength, and acknowledged capability at food gathering and other life skills. In a very real way, we demonstrate our co-creative abilities. Perhaps we made a bow, waited in the right spot at the right time, and hit what we were aiming at, then shared it with our people. Or we made a digging stick, went to the place we know roots are gathered, dug them, and cooked them for our kin. In both these examples, the young adult displays that they understand something of the great mystery and have a place in the world.
As we feel more secure about our place in the world, we grow and evolve into the next stage: mother/chief. This is also accompanied by a rite of passage ceremony, perhaps a wedding or a birth or a gift-giving party. These are all ways to mark the transition to the next stage, when we are again expected to put away youthful displays of pride and ego and are respected more for our patience, wisdom, and humility than for our bravery in hunting or beauty in dancing. This period is marked by increased effort and interest in caring for children, setting up rites of passage and seasonal ceremonies, and taking a more refined and subtle approach to developing skills (learning the subtler art of designs in tapestry, for example, as opposed to utilitarian fabrics or predetermined patterns).
In a nurturing culture, there is the final progression to crone/elder. This is marked by a person’s children being accepted into the tribe as adults, and when others recognize it as appropriate. In this stage we delve deeper into the great mystery, have learned a thing or two about how to keep our harmony and patience through the trial and joy of childrearing, and contribute to the tribe/community not in our own food-gathering or risk-taking (for the benefit of the tribe) but in our kindness and wisdom in our example and through storytelling and childcare.
Each of these stages supports the others and the quality of life is high for all. There is no reason we can’t follow this ancient guide and apply it to our own technological society. We could view food gathering as our 4 hours’ work each day and spend the rest of our time experiencing the world through song, dance, and support of our loved ones as we move through the phases of human development.