Fourth Phase American Style

Yule and the Moon of the New Year

Monday gratefuls: The gathering of the Ancient Brothers, a cyber miracle every Sunday morning. Ode’s question: “If there is one thing you want to get better at this year 2022, what is it?” Writing Ancientrails in the early evening, seeing the Lodgepoles in the back, the verdigrised Arcosanti bell. The outdoor table and chairs. That hammock chair that Kate bought for Ruth several years ago. A fading sky rather than an emerging one. Jon’s entries into not one, but two major print exhibitions. His work as an artist. The early days of a New Year. Hearing aids. Phonaks and the Roger. Noticeably better than the old ones. Grief. Kate, always and still. Seoah and Joe and Murdoch.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: The LG washer

Tarot: Ten of Vessels, Happiness


The fourth phase. What is it? What signals its onset?

The Fourth Phase. Quite a while ago I identified three broad stages in life: I. Education¬† II. Family and Career. III. The phase often called retirement. Never liked that word because it identifies this period of life with a negative. Not working. Instead I’ve tried to find markers that make it as unique and special as the first two.

Since a lengthy life with a decent health span after a career and building a family, then letting go of children (yes, not all go through a family phase in the traditional sense), is a recent phenomenon, we have few cultural expectations of what a good third phase might look like. All golf. All fishing. All travel. Seeing family more. Hanging out at home a lot. These are extensions of the past and don’t allude at all to the freedom, the potential for creativity available when we put down the employee security badge and wave good bye to the kiddos as they head off to college or a new job. Neither do they acknowledge the onset of illnesses, the knowledge that death has become closer. During my brief period as Dr. Leigh Thompson’s patient she told me one thing that’s germane here: You don’t get healthier as you get older.

The III phase then is a mix of unexpected opportunity and a collision with Dr. Thompson’s truism. I lived an intentional and intense third phase. I wrote novels, became a horticulturist with flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and bees, moved to Colorado and the Mountains, got prostate cancer, participated in Kate’s third phase encounter with Sjogrens and interstitial lung disease. No, not all pleasant, but all real, here and now. Not living up to worldly expectations. Not denying the approach of death. Leaning into life.

Then Kate died. Huh. Mourning. Grieving. Wading through paper work unfamiliar except to those who’ve experienced a recent death of a loved one. Coming home to a house with Kep and Rigel, but not Kate. No Kate in the bed next to me. No partner deciding about our next vacation, our budget, what’s for dinner. No years of experience as my beloved to inform me when big questions hit. That cancer recurrence. Then, the next one. Jon’s illnesses. No one at home to hug, to kiss, to share reflections on the day.

Made me think. I remembered reading I’d done about the four life stages in Hinduism. This time after Kate’s death no longer felt like the III phase. It felt like new, unfamiliar territory. It was new, unfamiliar territory. Widower. Widowed. Single. Death had a new presence, a palpable one.

Sanyasa.* Was I in a fourth phase? The sanyasa tradition in Hinduism would be difficult to replicate in American culture and not what I want anyhow. But the idea of a fourth phase focused on spirituality, on the inner journey, on the realization that death is the next big journey seemed right to me. That’s how I ended up with the neon Hermit, Herme. An odd ball way to say, yeah, this is different for me now.

This morning the Ancient Brothers focused on the one thing we wanted to get better at in 2022. A common them did seem to emerge. Creativity. Or, said another way, concrete self-expression, a way of bringing the inside out into the world. One of us wanted to corral an unruly life in order to have more and better creative work time. Another dove into his creative place, programming. Specifically programming for a collaborative project in which he believes. Another wasn’t sure what it might look like but he knew he wanted more creativity. Another wanted self-acceptance. It occurred to me these things were similar.

The corraler of the unruly life wanted to husband his time for better creative work. Programming was anothers creative juice. Settling back into writing, a desire to create, and self-acceptance. Creativity brings the inner outward. Including false images of our self, perhaps images created in the service of others expectations. When they come out, have form in a life, get reshaped as they get reworked, they can inform the lives of others and free us from the overburden of the past. A definite spiritual path.

This strikes me as fourth phase work. The sort of work that those of us who are about to die need to die calmly and without regret. This is a sort of resignation, a sort of renunciation, but not one as distant from society as sanyasa. It’s American sanyasa. I invite you to consider what fourth phase work you might need.


*”People who follow the path of sanyasa or renunciation are expected to lead very austere and ascetic lives, setting aside all desires and comforts and acknowledging no relationship whatsoever, including the relationship with God and oneself. One has to forgo all acts of self-preservation and self-advancement and the need to further one’s ego and identity.”

This entry was posted in Asia, Feelings, Fourth Phase, Friends, Great Wheel, Health, Myth and Story, Shadow Mountain, Tarot. Bookmark the permalink.

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