Struggling with third age?  "Try easier..."          

By William Idol                                                   

Last year, I wrote: ”Learning is the heart of First Age.  Doing is the heart of Second Age.  Being is the heart of   Third Age.”  A year later (with a lot of help from my 87-year-old Yoda, Ed Paul), I see this attempt at neat categories was inevitable but mistaken.  Learning, Doing and Being are part of every stage of life.

What differentiates Third Age (at least as I see it this year) is that the receding tangible (decline of physical and mental abilities and, especially later, frequent loss of friends) can open us to a new connection with the intangible (god, spirit, integrity, the universal, whatever you like to call him/her/it).  This intangible “Higher Self” connects us to more than body and ego, and helps us relax into a wisdom, ease, and ability to serve beyond what we’ve know before.  

I believe this happens when the ego feels secure enough to become "servant" to the “Higher Self,” when it believes there’s something larger it can trust in, surrender to and partner with.  It’s essential the ego know we're not trying to kill it or it will fight desperately for survival – we’re simply relieving it of responsibilities beyond its abilities.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s The Call: Discovering Why You Are Here (Harper, San Francisco, 2003) offers a profound description of how hard it is for the ego to release control.  Oriah decided to do a 40-day retreat so she “can do it differently.”  Even though she's experienced in retreats, she becomes very ill early on.  She directs her anger to voices she calls “The Grandmothers.”  In a desperate plea, she declares that she is willing to do whatever it takes to get answers to all her questions.

But she is told that she cannot get there from here; that she cannot achieve what she seeks through ordeal.  Oriah has come to believe that hard work, whether fasting, solitude or physical rigors will triumph in achieving answers to our questions.  She fights our culture’s glorification of the easy answer and the quick fix.  She is willing to sacrifice comfort for what matters!

But she is taken aback when the Grandmothers voices tell her what she’s looking for cannot be earned; that it is a gift and can only be received.  What?!!  Oriah has always worked hard to earn what she receives.  She is comfortable with achievement and hard work.  She is told to try “easier.”  To this response, she pleads for any other answer, please!  It is a revelation in her mind that she can’t “do easier” and she doesn’t trust people who can.  She doesn’t want to hear that the answer to all her questions is not the one thing she cannot do.   The Grandmothers finally tell her in a soft, sad voice that she is fighting with reality and she should give it up.

Oriah’s story helps me recognize I’ve been fighting with reality for a long time.  New Zealand’s West Coast is helping me live an easier reality of “Be Here Now.”  My children and grandchildren remind me of why it is important beyond myself to do this.  I’m incredibly fortunate to have had so much help on this journey.  Thank you Ed, Oriah and all the others…

© 2004 By William Idol All rights reserved.


Bill Idol is the director of process design for The Center for Third Age Leadership and his proven creative learning techniques provide the training foundation for The Center’s work.