Part IIA: How We Live Today - The First Half of Our Life
“[Man] cannot stop the flow of his thoughts, he cannot control his imagination, his emotions, his attention. He lives in a subjective world of ‘I love,’ ‘I do not love,’ ‘I like,’ ‘I do not like,’ ‘I want,’ ‘I do not want.’ He does not see the real world (which) is hidden from him by the wall of imagination. He lives in sleep.”
G I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949)
Russian mystic, writer, and teacher
In the last post, we talked about the two halves of life and how the transition between the phases is neither automatic nor age-related. We also saw that one of the key indications that we are still in the first half of life is the feeling of discontentment, loneliness, or emptiness that has been our companion throughout most of our lives. The level of anxiety we feel is directly related to how far away from the centre, our inner essence, we have drifted over time. So what caused this drift away from our inner essence?
Let me explain what I mean using psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the three forces that guide and drive us through the two halves of our lives— (1) instincts, (2) our conditioning (patterns of identification, tendencies, and our accumulations), and (3) the force of creativity.
Maslow’s framework of the hierarchy of needs, or our innate urge to expand and grow, provides a blueprint for moving sequentially through the two halves of our lives. Maslow represented this theory of motivation as an internally driven six-level pyramid, moving from our basic needs at the foundation to our highest needs at the apex
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Even though many of us have met our basic and psychological needs, we are reluctant to explore the higher growth needs and realize our full potential. And so, we spend our lives trying to survive the best way we can and in the process, we create suffering for ourselves and others.
As our basic needs are met, we are pulled up the “pyramid of life” through the first four levels of the deficiency needs by the subconscious, internally driven process of instincts and conditioning.
Survival Instincts: We are born with powerful instincts for self-preservation and survival. We react instinctively and automatically to whatever happens in the environment. Fear and desire drive us to satisfy our basic needs.
Our Conditioning: Our conditioning or pre-programming starts on the day we are born. To experience the world in relation to ourselves, we have to develop a separate identity—our ego. This developing identity is reflective of our upbringing based on parent-societal expectations. It is our personal point of view, our individualized thought system—a subconscious framework of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours on how to think and behave so that we can fit into the society in which we live. It reinforces our survival instinct. And so, we move from the physiological and safety basic urges to the psychological belonging and esteem-fulfillment needs of the ego (false self).
Up to this fourth level of satisfying the ego’s needs, we are dependent on others to make it in this world. Everything we need to do in our lives is planned for us by our parents, society, and popular culture. The plan is structured and well laid out with approximate timelines of what has to be achieved, when to achieve it, and how we have to go about achieving it. Most of us follow this plan to a tee—creating our identities, getting educated, accumulating knowledge, building careers (and climbing “ladders”), establishing homes and families, and then retiring.
When our internal reference point is the ego, we live with a survival or deficiency mindset. This causes our self-image to be fragile and delicate and in need of constant feeding and defending. The voice of our reactive, conditioned thinking—which I call the voice in the head—tries to pre-empt the unfolding of life. This is because, most of the time, we tend to respond automatically from our established and memorized habits, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours, thus we are unconscious of our actions. Failure to adapt results in the daily stresses and struggles that we experience. Our conditioned thinking (the ego) likes to judge everything that it perceives. It splits the world into either-or dualistic thinking— “I like,” / “I don’t like,” “This is good,” / “That is bad,” and so on. For most of us, our world is scary and one of scarcity. The only things we are concerned with are our own welfare, personal safety, and security. And by “our” I mean family, friends, country, and so on—nothing else matters. As a result, we tend not to trust anyone and fear everyone and everything.
Even though there is an undercurrent of anxiety, restlessness, unease, fear, and feelings of dissatisfaction and frustrations with everything that is going on in our lives, we seldom pay attention to these signs of mental disturbances or inner turmoil. We feel unfulfilled and unhappy, no matter what we do, how much we struggle, how hard we work or how much money we accumulate. But, as long as we are mired in the what-about-me kind of survival thinking and keep avoiding paying attention to the inner restlessness, we just get older without awakening to a whole new world of unexplored possibilities of the second half of our lives. The triple heads of anxiety, fear, and loneliness become our default state of mind, gnawing at us throughout our lives. Then, just like Robert De Niro’s character in the movie, The Intern, we will keep searching endlessly for new challenges, excitement, and creative activities to fill that hole or emptiness. Unfortunately, as we get older, our window to do something about it becomes smaller because we may be dealing with health issues and other challenges of old age.
However, there is something we can do now. Maslow calls it the reconnection with our creative or natural state of being, something that is beyond the ego consciousness and that is what we will be talking about in the next post.
The following post is Part IIA in a four-part series that touches on The Secret of Aging with Grace and Wisdom. For more information on what you can expect for this series, take a look below.
The second part of Part II: How We Life Today – The First Half of Life will be available next week. This section will talk about the force of creativity, which is what connects us to our true natural being and awakens us to the discovery of new pathways of experience for our lives.