We’re accustomed to dividing our lives into stages based on chronology: youth, maturity, and old age. But I’ve found it interesting to look at the stages of life in another way: body, mind, heart, and soul. At various periods in earthly existence, I’ve found that we focus our attention in one or another of these areas and learn lessons accordingly. However, we’re not usually aware that we’re doing this. Nor do we all progress through the same stages at the same ages, or even consciously choose a particular one at a particular time.
Some people focus on the body stage during childhood and the teen years, as they grow rapidly, play sports, worry about how they look, explore their sexuality, etc. During this stage, you learn through doing things that engage or affect your body, and by testing your physical capabilities. Others may go through the body stage as elders, when illnesses or infirmity challenge them physically, and they must find new ways to cope with their bodies’ needs or limitations.
The mind stage often coincides with our school years, when we learn many things rapidly. However, your mind stage could occur as you advance in your career. You develop your mental capabilities through interacting with colleagues and competitors, and strive to gain as much knowledge as possible. Some people don’t enter the mind stage until late in life, when they no long need to focus on financial and family responsibilities, and finally have a chance to pursue a line of study or a special interest.
Like the other stages, the heart stage can occur at any time in your chronological life. During this period, we learn by opening our hearts to joy and pain. Some of us fall in love at an early age, and romantic relationships are a priority. In our younger years, we often let our emotions rule us––we’re guided by our hearts, not our minds. Others may not meet their soul mates, or experience “true love” until middle age or later. It’s not unusual for people to have second marriages that are more loving and fulfilling than their first ones were. However, happiness isn’t necessarily the key indicator of being in the heart stage. In fact, the heart stage is frequently difficult, because the challenges you face affect you at such a deep emotional level: the death of a mate, a painful divorce, caring for a loved one through an illness, etc. In some cases, you learn the lessons of the heart stage through a relationship with someone who pushes your emotional buttons.
The soul stage can be the hardest one to recognize. Although it’s common to turn to things of a spiritual nature toward the end of life, it doesn’t always happen that way. Some of us go through a period of soul-searching, of seeking meaning beyond the mundane, of looking for guidance and wisdom outside the material world, when we’re quite young, perhaps as a result of a life crisis. In some cases, meeting a person who awakens your awareness of your connection with something greater or shepherds you along “the path” can bring you into the soul stage.
The length of time you spend in each of the stages can vary widely. One may last a year, another may continue for twenty years or more. Often there’s some overlap, as you gradually transition from one stage to another, although occasionally it’s like switching on a light. You may not experience all four stages. It might be interesting to look back over your lifetime and see if you recognize the periods when you were in one stage or another. How and what did you learn at each stage? What people were in your life then and how did you interact with them? How did you perceive the world and your role in it? Where are you now?