On Becoming Sixty

John Owens

On Becoming Sixty

I recently passed the landmark of sixty years of age. Forty was sort of a rite of passage into “middle age,” and at fifty years I stepped fully into being an elder in the world. This, the start of my seventh decade, is harder for me to define with a word or phrase. But I have promised to write about it, and put my thoughts together for both my own coherence, and for you, my reader, to reflect, wonder, disagree, or learn from. I welcome your comments.

There is sweetness in this part of my life. I can explain that sweetness through my Future Self, that is, the being who I am some 20 years in the future. He is a wise and powerful ally that helps me find my way in the world. My Future Self looks on people with adoration, compassion and love. The sweetness I feel is due to the extent that I have become that future self, and have let go of judging, comparing myself, or competing. As my close friends and clients know, I can love fiercely on behalf of what I see in them as living their lives on purpose. Sometimes that means not being permissive of their smallness and hiding. I feel the sweetness in that as well. Love is not about just accepting what shows up in people, but, for me, entails calling forth that Being of Light within them that creates a more peaceful, truthful and compassionate world.

Connection. For a great part of my life, I felt my essential aloneness in the world. Being responsible, being in competition, being emotionally distant from myself were all factors that had the effect on me of feeling alone amidst the sea of people in this world. It took a long journey for me to learn to contain the paradox that I am alone in the world, and I am in community with others; that I belong to a tribe, or circles of people, and that there is a space for me; that I don’t have to create that space, that I belong in community. I am, now at sixty, able to hold that paradox in all its fullness and mystery. That has enabled me to hold a celebration for myself with a good part of my circle of friends, relatives and allies last week. Hearing each person in turn speak to their connection with me, I got a delicious glimpse of how I show up in the world and in peoples’ lives. That is a rare and precious gift for me to get in such measure, even the parts that tweaked me a bit for my younger days’ arrogance and unconsciousness (and some of which I still carry, yet to be worked on, if life permits me).

Consciousness. Many boys have no concept of their mortality until age 25 or so. They dash through life, risking life and limb, and permanent brain or liver damage, heedless of the consequences. In my own way, I was one of those guys in my youth in the ‘60s and ‘70s, undisciplined, uncontrollable (even by myself), and unreasonable in living out my passions on the world. I was heedless, for the most part, of the effect of the wake my ship of life made upon the shores of the world. No wonder, then, that I often view maturity as a process of becoming self-aware, and acknowledging the impacts one has on others and self for our actions, words, and intentions, or lack of them. I am still self-indulgent in my passions. But the intentions have changed to be more purposeful in many cases, and more moderate in others. Creating through design, food, and music still moves me as much as ever. My desire for intimacy is no longer as much through physical expression as it is through heart-to-heart connection. I can enjoy the fine wine that life offers me in the autumn of my life for its taste, its beauty, and its essential mystery as the product of ingredient, process, and art. I no longer make beer, but I do make bread, and that is just a metaphor for an expression of that conjunction of mystery and art as it shows up in my life.

There is also a wistfulness to this age for me. I wasted a lot of opportunities, and out of fear did not even think of taking on other courses that could have altered the trajectory of my life for greater consciousness, fulfillment, karma, or at least more wealth. Coulda Woulda Shoulda, those three characters that sing the dirge of regret, sometimes shame, call me out from time to time. Perhaps I would not feel as passionate about my life purpose of being a bridge that leads toward wholeness, if I had not experienced the brokenness and lostness of those many years of (mostly) unconscious plodding along the culturally-chosen path that I felt I had to buy into to survive. Now I have made it to a point of powerful and conscious choice in my life, and for Life. I am not a wage slave, nor indentured to anyone, or any idea. I am free now to choose who and how I will be in the world.

I cannot end without mention of the deepening gratitude I feel for all that I have in my life, and the gifts of the experiences that I have been able to enjoy. First among them is my close family connections, the gift to me that is my wife, Sujata, who has taught me much about love, generosity and service to Purpose. My family members in USA and India have showered me with an enormous amount of love, generosity, truth, and deep concern for my becoming a person of value to the world. My friends have bestowed on me a litany of fond memories, love, affection, and creative discovery. My work at my former employer gave me a great many opportunities to lead ideas to fruition, and bring others along. My corporate career has been a in a place that humbled me in a good way: learning the brilliance of all minds, educated formally or not, and the value of disciplined work toward a common goal.

I enter my seventh decade now with some new commitments: to be young in spirit and body (to hell with expectations of being “old”), to devote myself to being that Being of Light that lives a purposeful life. I commit to shedding the inhibitions of embarrassment, shyness, inferiority, incompetence and insecurity in service to bringing my light into the world, and lighting up a few or many lives in the process. I vow to live my life in and from my heart, no matter where that may take me. I will grow old, and I will die, that is for sure. And I intend to do so with a measure of grace, humility, love, passion, and purpose.

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