On Growing Old
by Roland Stahl
I was going to say that growing old and dying are inevitable facts of life, but that is not right – dying is the inevitable fact of life, but growing old is an experience not given to everyone. I do not want to mention here by name all of those very dear friends of mine who have left the company of the living “way too soon,” but some of them have left big, empty holes in my life, and they will live on in my memory for as long as I live.
Sometimes people ask me how old I am, and I long ago considered that a more relevant question was how many years of life and health do I have left? There are plenty of people in their twenties who seem to have less vitality remaining than I have, which is not to say that they will die sooner – I am very grateful for every morning in which the Sun rises yet again, covering this glorious earth with its warmth and sunshine. It is easy to see why the Sun has been the earliest aspect of nature worshipped as God. But we do not know the day or the hour of our own death, so we stop short of any such speculation.
But in the present essay I am not so much concerned with the physical deterioration of our body – I have observed that there seems to be a corresponding waning of life spirit as we grow older, and, just like the physical deterioration of the body, this waning of the spirit seems to be more accelerated in some than in others.
What is the single most defining characteristic of Youth? It is the Quest for Novelty, to discover or learn something new. It should not be necessary for the schoolmaster to force his pupils to learn; a good teacher need do nothing more than provide the resources and guidance for his students to pursue their own quest for learning. Rudolph Steiner understood this, and it is the basis of his Waldorf Schools. This is not to say that the teacher leans back and speaks only when spoken to! There are many ways in which a clever teacher can inspire his students on their paths of discovery, by introducing ideas and concepts to them in accordance with their interests.
And what is the single most defining characteristic of Age? Well, if I say that it is the waning of that interest in novelty, it must be understood that there are many wise men and women who retain their open and inquiring minds throughout their lives. I do not assert a cause and effect relationship for growing old and losing this interest in Novelty, but it might be suggested in either direction – that growing old causes one to lose interest in Novelty, or that losing an interest in Novelty causes one to grow old. They may both be effects of some common underlying cause, but there is certainly a close relationship between them.
I have looked on with shock and sadness as some of my friends, many of whom I have known for a great many years, find themselves with their feet to the fire, hanging out with their old cronies, talking about “the good old days.” They do not want to go anywhere new, or do anything new. In some cases, of course, they do not want to go anywhere or do anything, but at least they do not want to go to a restaurant to which they have not gone before; they do not want to eat any new foods; they do not want to meet any new people; and they most positively do not want to encounter any new idea!
This is what it means to grow old, and I do not know if it causes the deterioration of the physical body, or if it is the other way around: that the waning of physical vitality of the body causes the spirit to wither as well. Nor is it necessary for these two trends to advance at the same rate; in many cases, the trends completely diverge. Plenty of people suffer some degree of physical impairment, accident, or ill health without giving in to the deterioration of their life spirit as well, retaining an interest in life, learning new things constantly, and always open to new ideas.
All of my life I have been very strongly attracted to young people, and I have finally been able to put into words why that is. According to my understanding of metaphysics, this Quest for Novelty, the reaching Out from the Center, is one of the two aspects of God (as just one of any number of expressions which represent the same idea, Tao, for example), both of them of equal importance. The other aspect of God is the movement In towards the Center.
It is no coincidence that I have expressed the same idea before: it is the only idea there is (relating to the Second Arcanum, that is). I have also tried to emphasize, at every opportunity, the equal importance of both directions. The movement out and away from the center starts off as Novelty, Creativity, and Complexity, but, if it continues without returning to the Center, it goes off towards Error, Confusion, and Chaos.
In fact, the path of spiritual advancement is exactly this convergence back at that point of Origin, where all good things come together in Perfection, Clarity, Balance, Harmony, Peace, Joy, Health, and Love. The process towards that goal is described by the Hermetic Alchemists as the alternation between SOLVE et COAGULA, “to separate, and to unite.” The alternation between movement outward and movement inward.
Completum est quod dixi de Operatione Solis.
The Evanescent Press