“Slip slidin away,
Slip slidin away.
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin away.”
– Paul Simon
This post is being published in March 2017, and early this month I turn 65. I want to take time here to do a Saturn style meditation on the passing of time, as I pass this symbolic milestone into what our culture now calls the Senior Years – which is actually a euphemism for what used to be called, Old Age.
I am now officially old, and Saturn is the patron God of the years of old age. Saturn is also the ruler of my Capricorn ascendant, so S/He is the Lord of my chart. In traditional astrology terms, I am Saturn, so this should be the time of my life that I am really coming into my own.
Those of you who have been following my posts have probably noticed that Saturn is a pet theme of mine, a topic in astrology that I keep coming back to.
I think that each of us have our own distinctive spiritual paths, and you can get a feel for a person’s chart by looking at what planets dominate. The dominant planets will tend to define the person’s path to the Divine, how they conceive of the Universe and their place in it.
My path to the Divine is defined by Saturn.
Saturn is all about time – the figure of old Father Time, holding aloft either a lamp to light the way into the darkness, or a harvesting scythe that points to the cutting off point of death.
Saturn rules birth, time, death, and the process that weaves our lives together.
There is a sense of perspective that comes with time, and as I get older I am both fascinated by, and aware of, how time affects our lives, in a whole new way. I am particularly aware of how time intertwines with our sense of self.
So, these are my thoughts about Time – this will wander a bit, and take some different paths, but hey, that is part of how the process of time works. Thought, like Time, is not a straight line process; it has branches, it has dead ends, and sometimes it loops and curves back on itself. Thought takes time to unfold, as do the words that express the thought – and the thought process throughout my life that gives birth to these reflections.
I want to prefix these reflections by putting them in a context of time and space in history. I am a white male, American, 65 years old, born in New York City to a working class family. I do not claim my observations here as being universally true for all people through all times, but they sure do seem to mirror what I see going on around me.
Let’s start our journey with Youth.
For the very, very young, it seems there is only Right Now. Anything other than Right Now is Forever, a dreadful distance away.
However, I think a switch starts to take place pretty soon, when a child begins to get a sense of history, of future, even if it’s a few days or weeks out – when Tomorrow starts to exist.
There is way I think that children are living completely in the future, dreams of what they could be. All their Pretend games are about the Grownup world.
Children are surrounded by Grownups who have Magic Powers and can do things they cannot, and very soon they invest enormous amounts of their time and energy into pretending and playing and acting what things will be like when they too become Grownups.
I have a grand-daughter, six years old now. Over the past few years, as she has really become verbally articulate, I have noticed that, when she talks about her life, there is never anything about herself – it is all about her dolls, and princesses, and how the princess is waiting for her prince, and that princess over there is different and so on. Nothing about her life, or the dress she is wearing, or what she does at school – it is all fantasy, all dreams of the future – dreams that have very little to do with the her actual situation, the house she is living in, the people around her.
For the young, life is all future. Youthful people feel like they have no past yet – or, if they do, they often wish to escape it. The direction is Forward.
Without past experience we don’t know who we are, and we learn who we are by watching ourselves emerge. Often with younger people they really don’t know who they are yet, so they “market” themselves as a concept of themselves, or who they think they should be or want to be – and often that has no correspondence with who they are when they actually do things and have some experience.
Now take that thought, and loop back to how very young children spend so much of their time in fantasies. In our teens and early twenties much of our self image is naive fantasy, probably largely based on all our dreams and fantasies about how Wonderful we were going to be when we grow up. I am going to be Strong, and Intelligent, and Brave, and the Perfect Lover, and so on.
And, sometimes that bright fantasy has a dark shadow side. Depending on family setting and the messages we got from our parents and other elders – there might be the opposite effect, where I think I am worthless, or weak, or no-one will love me, or it’s no use.
My hunch at this point is that we often have both of these conflicting messages at the same time, the overinflated dreams, and the devastating overly bleak criticism. Whoever we actually are gets lost somewhere. We are neither as Wonderful or as Terrible as we sometimes think.
We have a concept in our minds of who we are – part reality, part judgment, and very largely fantasy.
We are not born with self-knowledge. We do not really know who we are until we have lived with ourselves for awhile and have some past to refer to. We learn who we are by having a past to refer to and learn from.
Moving forward, in our lives and in these reflections, keep in mind that tendency to live in our dreams of the future.
Be Here Now. Live in the Moment.
With our habit of constantly living in the future, or lost in ruminations of the past, we often completely miss the present time, the world we are living in now. It is a kind of new age spiritual cliche – live in the present moment. Never mind the past, it is gone. Never mind the future, it isn’t here yet.
Saying, the past is over and done, and the future is here yet, and all you have is the Now – I have thought that through, and I think it is profoundly Untrue. If you think about it this is quite a shallow conception of the present moment, since Right Now does not exist out of context. We are thrown out of our past into the present, and plunge towards our future at each moment we live. Every present moment bears the marks of the past that we emerge from, and also the marks of the future we are moving towards.
Part of existing as creatures in time is that we always are in the presence of the Past and the Future as well as the present moment.
Right Now is not in an isolated moment, a present that has no past and future. It is indeed a wonderful thing to be fully aware in the present moment. However, remember that we carry our past, present and future with ourselves at all times, and this is by no means a bad thing. I think that a full living consciousness is to Be Here with a full awareness of the past I bring forward with me, and of the future I wish to move towards.
Being Here Now is not about escaping the past, but about owning responsibility for ourselves and where we are right at this moment in time.
It is also important to realize that focusing just on the present moment is not always the optimal way to approach a situation.
For instance, consider the psychologist Viktor Frankl, who wrote the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. This book is largely based on his experience surviving mentally and emotionally intact in a Nazi concentration camp during the second World War. In his case, surviving most definitely did NOT involve focusing on the present moment, but instead, staying focused on a purpose for surviving the camp for the future. In this case, having a future purpose to move towards gave him a reason for living, and made his present situation more bearable. In fact, I would suspect that the ability to tune out the present moment, while focusing on future possibility, is part of what helped him survive.
Here in the United States today we are basically insane about the future. The unspoken God of our culture is the religion of Progress – new is always better, and the past is something to be ignored or left behind.
For many people today the religion of “Progress” is now wearing very threadbare. I teach computer classes for a living, and it is a standing joke that, when you tell someone a program they use has been “improved” the first reaction is something like, oh Gods, what did they screw up this time?
In USA today we are very adept at ignoring our past. The goal is to focus on your vision, on who you want to be; don’t let your past hold you back, and don’t let yourself be limited by your past.
Part of our human life as mortal creatures in time is marked by the condition that we always bring our past forward with us into the present and future. Even at the very start of our lives we are thrown into a situation outside of our choice and control – given a family, a house, a neighborhood, a country – and all of these contextual circumstances put immediate constraints on us, shaping who we are and what is possible for us.
In America today it is far too easy to live just for a future and to mortgage the quality of the present moment for the sake of that future. Hopefully there comes a point when you have to Wake Up, look around, and realize, that, Hey, right now, this is my life, this is what I am actually living!
“I know a woman
Became a wife.
These are the very words she uses
To describe her life.
She said a good day
I ain’t got no pain.
She said a bad day I lay around
And think of things that might have been.
Slip slidin away…”
As you get older, you become more limited by your past, and you realize how you are more limited or constrained by the life situation you are in.
The lessons of these later years are Saturn sorts of lessons. The options for building towards a future become fewer, and you become more and more constrained by the weight of your past. There is a certain momentum of the past that is increasingly difficult to fight. This is not all negative, and a positive side of this decreased emphasis on the future can be an increased appreciation for, and attention, to, the very precious now moment – not Now out of context, but Now sitting securely on the past from which it emerges.
Slip Slidin Away…
It is very easy to spend most of your time acting as if you have all the time in the world, and suddenly one day you wake up and realize you have very little left… and if you were busy, and hurrying, and not paying attention, then you weren’t really there living your life – so much of your life went by and you weren’t there to enjoy it.
This is life lived with a profound lack of awareness. I do it, most of us do it. When you turn 65 it’s a nice time to at least pause for a bit, look around, pay attention to what you are actually doing, since you don’t have very much time left.
No more losing yourself in dreams of the future. Instead, look around – this is it. This living room, this computer, this cup of tea, this job, this set of friends… this is it, and all those wonderful dreams I had of all the things I would do, and how I would be recognized, are just so much smoke.
A lot of mornings I wake up feeling a funny kind of vague anxiety and unrest that I can’t pin on anything in particular. This is nothing new; I’ve experienced that on and off for years now. I used to try to figure out what was wrong, and now I think that funny anxiety and emptiness is just part of being human and mortal, a creature living in time, with a future that is certain in only one way – I know I am going to die someday.
In that emptiness there is also a funny kind of paradoxical fullness. My life isn’t anything to be proud of, I really haven’t made much of myself, I don’t have much time left… and I’m at peace.
I am who I am, my life is what it is. I accept that.
This process I am going through right now is a very Saturn sort of process – reflecting on my life, considering what it means, learning from it and accepting it. Saturn is also the wisdom of age, a sort of harvest of reflection and awareness in the later years. There is an objectivity to it, standing back and looking at the big picture. There is also a simple acceptance of what is there, including the acceptance of being mortal. I suspect that this process of Saturnine reflection is a very large part of what will occupy my time in this last phase of my life here. Saturn here is the process of drawing meaning from experience – and that takes Time.
I have this room, this computer, this cup of tea, my teddy bear on the altar next to me… and my music, my books, and my thoughts. I live for this process of thinking, of being aware, and it means more to me than anything else in the world. My mind is intact, I am still alive and thinking, and in some ways I can think and learn at a depth of awareness I could never have reached before – Saturn is also related to depth. I suspect that old age has its own special sort of awareness that has to do with this kind of Saturnine contemplative thinking. I am enjoying the process, and I am looking forward at least to this part of the process of aging, for however much time I have left.
For now, for just this moment, I am content.
“God only knows,
God makes his plan.
The information is unavailable
to the mortal man.
We work our jobs,
Collect our pay.
We think we’re driving down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin away.”