If you saw an older man or woman sitting alone on a bench in a park, what would be your first response? If you are like most of us, you'd feel sorry for that poor, lonely person and either look the other way, or consider calling social services.
But for more and more forward-thinking members of the Boomer generation, there's another possible reaction to consider. Envy. There is, after all, the possibility that he or she is on that bench by choice -- and having a transcendent experience.
After all, we are the generation that helped propel Ram Dass's Be Here Now onto best-seller lists in the '60s; and given the more recent success of Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, we're still at it.
In fact, here's what Ram Dass has to say about the matter in one of his latest books, aptly titled Still Here: "Most people believe that what they do is who they are..." For instance, are you "haunted by a sense that the ways we'd like to spend our time -- sitting under a tree, for instance, or listening quietly to music -- are trivial, and somehow wrong... (but) when you take the identification with a role away, you stop feeding the Ego its usual fare."
The monk/author Thomas Merton also addressed the struggle between the pulls of external demands versus the urge for solitude. In his last journal, The Asian Journal,, Merton concluded: "Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts."
Like these others, the privileging of the internal is not perceived by author John C. Robinson as a reaction to negativity, but rather, as a good in and of itself. "What if people began to experience age-related changes in consciousness as essentially mystical in nature?" he asks in his book The Three Secrets of Aging.
As these contents of consciousness empty, we can become aware of consciousness itself, pure and omnipresent. Exploring this experience, we discover, as the mystics before us, that consciousness is not 'mine', but rather part of the vast and all-inclusive consciousness we call Divinity pervading the cosmos. When we experience consciousness directly, free of thought, we are literally experiencing Divinity, and a door to eternity opens in the human psyche... Aging is enlightenment in slow motion.
The final word goes to Rabbi David Cooper, who writes about "wasting time" in his book The Sacred Mountain.
I used to spend a great deal of time worrying about wasting time! I thought that every moment should be filled with meaningful activity because preparation for the future was an imperative. In that state of mind, whatever I accomplished was not enough because my inner critic constantly nagged that I could have done it better... Now, in my quiet meditation, as I was doing nothing--the ultimate time waster, I would have thought -- everything became enormously interesting. My inner world was a marvel of fascinating reflections.
Convinced, I no longer look at the old woman on the park bench with pity. In fact, on a particularly good day, I am that woman on the bench!