I wrote this essay because I needed to read it.
The real danger, or problem – – or, more fundamentally, the challenge – – of turning 70 is not primarily with our physical bodies—though of course there are challenges there. But the real challenge, the sneaky challenge rises up out of our non-physical minds. And the root of this mind-problem rests not, primarily, with our own mind, but rather with the communal mind, the collective mind, what by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the noosphere—the mental atmosphere surrounding earth, built up over millennia.
The problem, of course – – or again, the challenge – – is that our personal minds are deeply intertwined, indeed enmeshed, embroiled with the collective mind, creating a single, long simmering mind-stew. Where the personal mind stops and the collective starts is impossible to tell.
Put more simply, turning 70, I find myself—thanks to the collective mind-stew — thinking of myself as past my prime. And I find myself thinking thus, thinking this, with a seeming authority, a visceral certainty and emphasis far beyond what my direct personal experience (other than this chronological number) would support.
Turning 50 and 60, of course, we likewise considered ourselves as fading. “Oh my gosh I’m 50!” But we also considered ourselves “getting old”—e.g., becoming less than what we used to be, or could be– when we first turned 30 and then 40. “My gosh I’m already 30. I’m getting old.” And we truly felt it – – we felt old when turning 30, just as we did when we turned 40, 50, and 60.
Turning 70, however, is different. Turning 70, no one disagrees, or if they do so, they disagree only to be polite. The danger of turning 70 is that a collective influence invades the psyche which, if one remains inattentive to it, will make us old before our time, drag us down, limit our vision, blunt our hearing, and most dangerous of all, deflate our ambitions, narrow our dreams, mock our hopes.
You’re 70. Why would you want to go back to school?
You’re 70. Why would you want to start a business?
You’re 70. Why would you need a girlfriend, or a boyfriend or a new friend at all?
At 70, we’re supposed to be done. Just play golf. Take a cruise. Work in our yards. If we’re not careful, we’ll let the collective mind sideline our creative drive, dampen our curiosity, undermine our social, economic and/or outside artistic ambitions.
At 70 we are corralled, herded into leisure activities – – going to the theater, taking road trips to visit the kids, attend parties, library events. All of these, of course, are perfectly fine, and often fun. It’s great not to be tied down to a daily job schedule, to the rat-race attention-grabber.
But unless we remain alert, the collective mind does – – will – – influence us in subtle and dangerous ways to be less than we actually are, do less than we want to do, on many, many levels.
For example, at age 70 continuing to work toward peace and justice in the world can be just as important and fulfilling, and indeed, more practical and efficient than ever before in our lives. At 70 we are finally free to experiment with our minds, our lives, to go beyond our fears, move through our hesitations to experience and express life in all its drama and depth and beauty. At age 70, we are much more able to do this than we have ever previously been able.
At age 70, we are – – can be – – finally, truly alive, peaceably present in all that we do, all that we are. Finally, we’ve grown comfortable in our own skins; we have finally found our authentic voices. We’ve learned to laugh and cry without reserve, because that’s what we do here on earth. At last, here at 70, we can dance with our lives more elegantly, more gracefully, more fully than ever before we have danced.
The secret danger is society’s insistence that the music we hear so clearly is not being played for us. But we know better. We hear the music just fine and can refuse not to be moved into our highest expression ever.
At 70, we’ve finally made it. Our power is full on. This—yes this—is what all the previous pilgrimage has led us into becoming. With this, we are finally ready. Watch out world, here we come!