Generations, Aging, Staying Awake
I recently gave a talk and a book signing (for my most recent book, The Three Dangerous Magi, a comparative study of three radical 20th century gurus) at a venue in London. Early in the talk I noted how about 90% of the people seated in front of me seemed to be between the ages of roughly 45 and 65. That is, Baby Boomers, for the most part.
Perhaps it's my imagination, but it seems to me that the main body of 'spiritual seekers' is, well, aging. I don't encounter a great deal of young seekers these days. The vast majority seem to be too lost in their social networking sites (or in bringing down the entire Middle East) to be concerned with the 'inner path'. This is entirely speculative, but it's interesting to consider the 'leap-frogging' idea of generational trends. Baby-boomers seemed to have a relatively high percentage of seekers, perhaps because of the 'me-first' emphasis of the counter-culture revolution of the '60s. That was preceded by the war generation, which had less time for such navel gazing. Before that, we had the 1920ish era, a wild decade (prior to the hangover of the Depression) in which the first wave of the new age was really born (something many who lived through the '2nd wave new age' explosion of the 1970s-80s often don't realize).
Now the hippies and Boomers are all getting long in the tooth and have grey hair (if they have hair at all -- indeed, most of the avant-garde musicians of the '60s and '70s, many of whom were influential upon seekers in one way or another, are rock n' roll pensioners). Not long ago I saw an amusing adverstisement played prior to a movie. It featured an aged hippy father having a dispute with his 25ish year old son. The father was decked out in his jeans, vest, beads, and grey beard, and the son was dressed in a business suit. The son was griping to his father, 'but Dad, I don't want to be a musician! I want to be a lawyer, damn it!'
Generational trends are a reality, but as with all things on the journey of awakening, they ultimately enable the alchemical process of 'separation', whereby elements of the sincere get separated from the less sincere. We see this outwardly in those who become interested in awakening for motives that are other than clear. We see it inwardly in recognizing our own lack of sincerity in our practice, contemplation, and study.
Once recognizing our sincerity (provided it is there), we then become faced with another matter, the question of our narcissism. I'm not here referring to the clinical idea of narcissistic personality disorder, but more to the generalized archetype of Narcissus, the Greek hunter who in the myth encountered his own image in a pool, fell in love with it, and drowned. What this means in the context of the awakening process is taking note of our deeper motivations for desiring liberation, and in particular, beginning to note that no genuine liberation can free us from the reality that we are part of an evolutionary process.
By evolutionary process, I'm not referring to Darwin's natural selection, or stuff like that. I'm referring rather to the idea that we are part of a collective, the human race, and exist in body on a planet, all of which is in a state of change. In short, we do not awake up just for 'me', but for all of existence. We are growing along with this existence. Accordingly, there is the need to adjust to the outer changes that we are part of.
Timeless principles of non-duality are, well, timeless, and so they have no business with 'evolutionary change' and such matters, but the question always remains to what exent we are embodying our understanding. We have to guard against becoming aging, subtly bitter, mere spiritual intellectuals. The middle-aged and the elders of any society have always typically been associated with impatience with the foolishness of youth. As a 60-something friend of mine once said, 'the best time of life is the decade of the 20s -- but you have no brains then to realize it!' All our non-dual philosophy will not seem very non-dual if we merely scorn the 'stupid' younger generation for having more 'facebook friends' than books on Advaita or hours of meditation or satsang attendance under their belts.
There is also the matter of 'reaction-formation', a psychological concept that refers to a developmental phase we undergo (typically in adolescence) where we unconsciously assume a contrarian position -- 'if you say white, I say black', 'if you say up, I say down', 'if you say no, I say yes', and so forth -- all with the intent of establishing our identity as distinct. Adolescents typically do this to differentiate from their parents, so as to make an identity for themselves (instead of being a mere outgrowth of their parents -- 'junior'). This is relevant in the area of generational transmission, because if you were a Baby Boomer parent who more or less forced your kids to attend satsang when they were young, you may find now that they are interested in anything but satsang. It becomes to them what Church was to us, a thing that our parents did and attemped to foist onto us, and thus, perforce, a thing to be opposed. Not because it is 'bad', but simply because I need to build my own world rather than inhabiting yours.
Of course, the worlds being built are an illusion -- whether it be the world of Churchs, satsangs, or social networking. It all gets torn down in the end, as we get stripped naked by either biological breakdown (aging) or the fires of direct inquiry. I prefer the latter myself, but doubtless will also partake in the former.
Now I need to go check my facebook page.