The last couple of days the same conversation has popped up in different places and in different contexts:
What does it mean to be “grown-up” anyway? What’s that all about?
To me, it seems to be a feeling. People will often say: “After I got that job, I really grew up.” Or “After I recovered from that illness, I wasn’t a child anymore.” For other people it is a gradual shift that takes place over a number of years.
After some soul-searching, I present you with my personal understanding of what the main defining characteristics of an adult might be. (Drum roll…) Firstly:
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHILD?
Children have not developed their spirits enough to be able to take responsibility (for anything really). Their centers are still soft. So they blame. They are flippant. They take action without thought. There is no wider context besides for their immediate need. They have little control over themselves, or their emotions. They are easily pulled off course. They are easily (and continuously) seduced by people and the world.
Children live in their own little worlds. They believe that everything around them is for and about them. Everything is personal. They are mostly selfish in their desires, unable to see the larger impact of their actions. They are filled with desires that need to be constantly satisfied by externals. They are rarely satisfied with what is at hand. They cannot identify the true value of things yet.
In the light of this, adulthood can sum it up in one word:
I prefer to define it as a specific way of dealing with energy: it means that you are always, infallibly, working from your own conscience, on your own terms, from your own center. You do this consciously. You own it. You work to maintain a balance in yourself, and in your environment.
Children depend on externals to satisfy their happiness. Adults depend on their own internal structures to sustain their personal sense of contentment.
RESPONSIBILITY REQUIRES SELF LOVE
Responsibility comes from a sense of self-love, not duty. A duty is a job. It feels like a chore – something that you are forced to do. Responsibility comes naturally when true self-love has been fostered and earned, because being responsible is about kindness – to yourself and the world. It is an endlessly unfolding process. The person who doesn’t have self-love will rarely take responsibility for their actions.
Responsibility requires you to see yourself as part of something bigger, to realize the immense power you have over your environment and yourself. It requires you to wield it in such a way that it does not harm yourself, or others. Responsibility means that you can see yourself in the larger context, and that your actions strive towards always maintaining balance within your environment.
RESPONSIBILITY REQUIRES AWARENESS
Awareness is an “expanded view” not a “bubble view”.
Awareness implies the ability to see everything simultaneously, in the present moment: what do I want the outcome to be? How will this action affect others? Can I live with the consequences of what I’m about to do? Am I acting from a place of love and compassion? Am I being kind to myself, and to others in this situation?
An adult harnesses their own energy, so that it works for them instead of creating havoc in their lives. It means that you have accepted certain laws, or ways of operating, that assist you in maintaining your own inner balance.
RECOGNITION OF YOUR OWN POWER
Traditional initiatory processes have a lot to do with taking responsibility for yourself and your behaviour. It is a process that facilitates hardship for the individual that can only be overcome by facing their fear and utilizing their own power.
Once the person has a sense of their own power, they start to recognize the innate power in the world around them too. They can utilize it lovingly, strongly, effectively. Their self-esteem is strengthened. They trust their own ability to be able to deal with the world, and what it might throw at them.
Initiation draws a line in the sand: yesterday you were a child. Today, you’re an adult. Your society treats you differently. Your transformation is held and dealt with in a community setting.
With the decline of the technology of initiation, adulthood seems to have become a slow deepening process for most people, especially those in the west. Sometimes the journey to adulthood can be a very long and painful one, unacknowledged and unseen. It’s rarely something that happens overnight.
Still, the bottom line is: the more responsible a person becomes over the years, the more adult they become. Adulthood (knowledge) eventually deepens into wisdom (becoming an Elder).
So many people live their adult lives like children: not taking responsibility for their lives, not loving themselves, consciously shutting down their own awareness with drugs, alcohol and sedatives, or simply choosing to remain blind to awareness. They lead painful lives, never able to really own their own existences.
How are you living yours?