Previously posted as a blog on the Institute Of Noetic Sciences (IONS) website:
I’m reading a book written by David Brooks titled, The Second Mountain. In it, Brooks discusses the difference between a career and a vocation. He writes that in the vocation mentality, one is not living on the ego level of consciousness, not guided by the frontal cortex.
“When you are looking for a vocation, you are looking for a daemon. You are trying … to fall through the egocentric desires and plunge down into the substrate to where your desires are mysteriously formed. You are trying to find that tension or problem that arouses great waves of moral, spiritual, and relational energy. That means you are looking into the unconscious regions of heart and soul that reason cannot penetrate. You are trying to touch something down there in the Big Shaggy, that messy thicket that sits somewhere below awareness.
“By one calculation the mind can take in 11 million bits of information a second, of which the conscious mind is aware of 40. The rest is in the Big Shaggy. As Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia put it, consciousness is like a snowball sitting on an iceberg. In other words, most of what guides us is not our conscious rationalization; it’s our unconscious realm.”
Brooks’ quote reminds me of one of the best sentences I’ve ever read, written by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen in her introduction to the book, The Five Invitations:
“The daily fabric that covers what is most real is commonly mistaken for what is most real until something tears a hole in it and reveals the true nature of the world.”
Remen writes, “In his brilliant book Small Is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher suggests that we can see only what we have grown an eye to see. He proposes that the endless debate about the nature of the world is not about differences but simply about the differing capacity of our eyes.”
Indeed, let’s grow our eyes so we can see what is most real in the midst of what is most familiar. This is a question of our awareness and our consciousness. This is an example of conscious aging.
As I was reading the introduction to The Second Mountain, I noticed a striking resemblance to Lars Tornstam’s theory of “gerotranscendance.” In describing people who have been liberated by their struggles and their sufferings in the valley between their two mountains, Brooks writes:
“But suddenly they are not interested in what other people tell them to want. They want to want the things that are truly worth wanting. They elevate their desires. The world tells them to be a good consumer, but they want to be the one consumed — by a moral cause. The world tells them to want independence, but they want interdependence — to be enmeshed in a web of warm relationships. The world tells them to want individual freedom, but they want intimacy, responsibility, and commitment. The world wants them to climb the ladder and pursue success, but they want to be a person for others. The magazines on the magazine rack want them to ask ‘What can I do to make myself happy?’ but they glimpse something bigger than personal happiness.”
This is akin to what Tornstam posits is the natural path of aging for our species. As Dr. Bill Thomas summarizes gerotranscendance, human aging includes an increased feeling of affinity with past generations and a decreased interest in superfluous social interaction; a feeling of cosmic awareness, and a redefinition of time, space, life and death; becoming less self-occupied and at the same time more selective in the choice of social and other activities; and experiencing a decrease of interest in material things, with solitude becoming more attractive.
Conscious aging helps us to age with intention. Conscious aging helps us to walk our species’ natural path of aging. Conscious aging helps us re-frame aging so that life can be more wonderful, not just less horrible.
Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.