Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Retirement, a Time for Being

It was after reading The Magus, by John Fowles, sometime in the late ‘60s  that I started thinking about the difference between being and becoming. In the novel, Nicholas, a young Oxford graduate, accepts a post teaching English on a Greek island. On one of his long solitary walks he runs into an older wealthy man who lives alone on his estate. They begin taking walks together and having long talks. I don’t remember much about the plot, but I do remember that on one of these walks, the older man makes the distinction to Nicholas that because he was young, he was busy becoming, while the older man was simply being.
The desire to become something comes from a place of dissatisfaction. I am dissatisfied with who I am and when I become something different, then I will be happy. People who are successful at their jobs, do the work because they love it. That’s where the satisfaction comes from. It does not come from the identification with or status from the role they play. Becoming is always focused on the future, not the present. It is self- conscious and concerned with how others view us. Adults get caught in the realm of becoming because of an underlying feeling that what they are is not enough.
Being is not future oriented but is totally in the present moment. To become a pianist, one has to spend much time in the being mode, practicing the piano. When one finally becomes an accomplished pianist, it is not the role that gives one happiness, but the act of being an instrument for the music. The pianist loses his/her personal identity in the unselfconscious act of playing music.
Young children more easily allow themselves to just “be in the world”. They also can get lost in the desire of becoming, but I assume this is normal for their developing personalities.
I’ve always liked honey bees. I like them because on one long hot summer day when I was a child, I sat in the back yard and watched the bees come and go on the flowering bushes. I had nothing to do and no one to do it with, so I surrendered to a state of being and to my delight, shared that space with the honey bees. They went about their business  deliberately and meticulously. I felt a oneness with the bees and felt joyously alive. After all these years, the sight of honey bees can instantly transport me into the still spaciousness of being.
The mode of becoming dominated my life after puberty and when I entered junior high school. I felt that I wasn’t enough and needed to work harder to become a better athlete, create a better body, become a better conversationalist and a better student etc. In my fantasies I wanted to be cool, adventurous and fearless. All this angst about becoming something different arose out of a discontented place inside me.
In the mode of becoming, we never quite get there. Even when I did succeed in an area, it still wasn’t good enough. We’re only satisfied when we are in the realm of being. When we surrender to being, it absolutely doesn’t matter how good we are at something and we are not in the least concerned with how we appear to others. Our society is youth oriented and the young people are running around and working hard to become something. Retirement is the perfect time of life to focus on being and give up becoming. We are no longer immersed in the pressures of work and the world in general.
Where we live here in Green Valley, Arizona., there are a lot of bees and birds, and wildlife, and old people, all sharing the spaciousness of being.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny, I read the Magus when it was new and then again 15 years ago. I missed the lesson you remember entirely. To me it was all about fantasy and reality and how easily they can become confused when you don't have a compass.
    I'll go with your point about being when you get old but I'm not yet persuaded that old is where I'm at. I've still got things I want to do and I must become something different if I want to get there. Maybe it's all fantasy like those twins in Magus but I'm still becoming. Maybe that's the definition of old- and its you that makes the decision.