Spring Recovery Moon
Tom Crane sent me this street poet’s work, found on Maui. I wrote him back after reading it and said we could go for an epic third phase. I meant legendary, but epic appeared anyhow. He wrote back, said he’d like that, too, but didn’t know how. I agreed. Beginner’s Mind, eh? We’d have to redefine epic, Tom replied. Yes.
And, we don’t want to get stuck in the success trap. That trap can consume the second phase, career and family, but it can be set aside in the third. So the question could be, what would a legendary third phase look like? Better than epic. Epic has that Hollywood feel, doesn’t it? Let’s forget I transmuted legendary into epic and go back to the poem.
What does an open spirit look like in the third phase? What risks might we take if we had one? What risks are particular to the third phase? To get an idea of where this might go, I looked up the Hindu sadhu. A sadhu intentionally creates a fourth phase of life.* Of course in a Minnesota winter like the last one the Jain option of wearing nothing would require modification unless the sadhu phase was to be short.
I wonder if other cultures have similar ideas? Don’t know. What I do take from the sadhu is that they have an open spirit, moving toward moksa means getting free from samsara, the worldly enmeshment that the second phase presses upon us with such vigor.
Part of a legendary third phase might involve letting go, leaving the old desires of life, shaped by education, work, and family behind. But, if they’re left behind we might be left wondering, what else is there? Those desires are the ones that motivated us, got us up in the morning, out the door coffee in hand, ready to do. The old finish line model of retirement pretended that this was as easy as buying a set of Pings, selling the house in Kenwood, and moving to a Del Webb village to drive, chip and putt. Or, head out to Margaritaville, collect umbrellas in the sand next to your beach chair. Doesn’t sound like a sadhu approach, does it?
Another image, similar to the sadhu, was the Chinese scholar who would retire from the bureaucratic life, paradigmatic of the second phase in that culture, and move into the mountains to write poetry and live amongst wildlife and forests. This is a Taoist vision, one that took over from the Confucian when either work was over or changes in the political life forced a scholar out of the court. I like this one a little better than the sadhu because I like clothes.
Wu wei: “a state of being in which our actions are…effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world” is the Taoist principle these mountain hermits follow. And, a sound one, though as I’ve written before, I’m also a “take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them” sort of guy. This may be the key attitude that prevents me from fully letting go of success, of my set of Pings, that beach chair.
I’m not talking here about monastics or hermits who take to those lives, as Thomas Merton did, in the midst of their second phase. These are escapist lives, profound in their way of course, but ones that set aside the second phase much earlier. What I want to consider is the legendary third phase possible after the more traditional transition from work and raising a family.
Look forward to any ideas you might have. This preliminary look suggests some things to me. Let go. Seek spiritual liberation. Attune life to the seasons, to the natural world. Live in some seclusion from the old, second phase world.
“The sādhu is solely dedicated to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), through meditation and contemplation of Brahman. Sādhus often wear simple clothing, such saffron-coloured clothing in Hinduism, white or nothing in Jainism, symbolising their sannyāsa (renunciation of worldly possessions).” wiki