HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 25, 2016 – 12:00am
Often, we look at children and wish they would never grow up. They seem perfect as they are — cute, lovable, with innocence so pure you wish you could protect them from the world so that they remain so forever. We want them kept safe from the turmoil and tribulations of life. We wish it could be possible. But life is not meant to be lived that way.
Every grown-up has a clear memory of when and how their innocence was broken, when their childhood came to an end. We have all experienced that primal pain of being kicked out of Paradise and thrown into the circumstances of our own space and time, our own reality with all its pain and suffering.
I lost a chunk of my innocence at age five when my dad died in a plane crash. Many more events happened after that which made going back to Eden an impossibility.
Something had to “break” us to drive us out of our safe cocoons and force us to be vulnerable to pain. Today, as a much older person, I can say that this is the only way. Otherwise, what gifts we were born with will never come to fruition.
Childhood is a magical place. We all have some good and bad childhood memories. But this stage doesn’t last too long. It gets rougher especially when we inch into adolescence. The teen years escalate our angst and insecurities as we evolve into grown-ups.
But being grown-up does not necessarily mean being an adult. We may look like adults because of the size and development of our bodies, and because we have reached a certain age. But in truth, adulthood requires so much more from us. One of the things it requires is control over our selves. There is an entire range of emotions we must rein in and/or indulge when needed. We also must learn to delay gratification and get socialized, meaning we must learn to live as productive, peaceful, law-abiding and generally good individuals, parents, citizens, bread earners, members of the community and the society we live in.
We must learn important traits like compassion, decisiveness and discernment. There are also lessons like accountability, grasping complexity, humility and the taming of our ego from the autocracy of our infantile stage to a more functional one that does not sabotage our intentions. Many leaders make mistakes when they cannot control their insecurities and their toxic need to have their egos massaged.
Adulthood is about being in control of oneself, and making conscious, well-thought-out decisions that affect others aside from ourselves and taking responsibility for them.
I am in awe of how the most powerful man on earth, Barack Obama, can stay calm and focused and do his job well without being ruffled or intimidated by the cruel politics, crises and problems he must deal with every day, and how he can still manage to smile and stay inspired and inspiring. When he deals with his adversaries, it often seems like he is the only adult in the room.
The modern-day philosopher Ken Wilber wrote that every man must learn to balance and manage five areas of his life. These are: money (earning, spending, saving and being trustworthy and honest, living within one’s means); career or work (knowledge, learning, passion, reliability); bodily intake (food, drugs, alcohol, substances that affect physical, mental health); inner work (character building, self-control, spirituality, esthetic appreciation); and relationships (love, sex, obsession, affection, fidelity, compassion).
Most people are weak in one area but are functional in the rest, which is, generally, still manageable. But when we fail at two or more areas at the same time, our lives become too dysfunctional and we need intervention.
If, for the most part, we can handle all five areas at the same time, one might say we have reached a high level of adulthood.
Everyone goes through the childhood phase, and if we don’t die early, we grow up. But not everyone who grows up becomes an adult. Just look around and observe many grown-ups and older people.
So what happens when we get to old age and have not reached the level of adulthood? I am not a psychologist but I see people as either happy or unhappy.
What I observe is this: Grown-ups and old people who have not learned the ways of adulthood become trapped in an unhappy life of their own making, pulled and pushed aimlessly by unsettled personal issues, and uncontrolled emotional outbursts. Where they should have generally made peace with their past and present, they have unexplained bursts of anger, regret, bitterness and a feeling of being lost in a largely unexamined life. They are cynical and angry and often lash out at the world without realizing that in order to control the world, one must first have some degree of self-control.
On the other hand, there are people who seem happy, calm, who have grown in wisdom, age and grace. They have the passion to do things and dreams to accomplish, even at an older age. They are not lacking in purpose. Every day, they discover new meanings and connections that make their lives richer. They have a calm, cool and serene way about them, too.
More importantly, they have a great sense of self-acceptance. They can move on from the past and are at peace and accepting of who they are in the present. They can move on when they commit mistakes and look back at their blunders and folly and embrace them as teachable moments.
It is not easy being an adult. It takes conscious and deliberate inner work. But not achieving adulthood as one gets older guarantees an infinitely more difficult life.
As we age, we realize more and more that we are spending more time alone. We might as well start growing up and learning how to be good, pleasant company.