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Young people hiking on hilltop towards sun
3 x 7 - the Soul Cycles - the first 21-28

We have looked at the first third of life, which is the building phase. Now, by age 21 the fullness of the physical person is available, and a new level of development begins. Just as physical development takes three cycles this will also take three cycles.

These three stages are about the development of the soul or consciousness. It’s the time of working from the inside out, where ideally consciousness emerges in line with the spiritual blueprint. While radical physical changes are not observable, from now on steps in the unfolding of our soul life continue in their sevenfold rhythm that brings us to age 42.

The Sun as the centre

The sun is the physical centre and powerhouse of our solar system, and metaphysically it represents our centre, that is our individuality, our ‘I’. Ideally, we have integrated our soul with our ‘I’ by the end of these three sun cycles.

In esoteric teachings the soul is threefold, and it’s connected with but not the same as the astral. The three expression of soul are:

  • Sentient soul – so-called because it is about sense perception;

  • Intellectual soul concerned with learning to form concepts independent of sense experience;

  • Consciousness soul which is about developing the ability to act according to the spiritual ‘I’ or I AM.

Each aspect of soul has a basic or lower and a higher expression. Planting the seeds and preparing the soul for the fulfilment of this higher unfolding takes place in line with the three soul expressions.

The sentient soul – years 21 to 28

The first seven years of soul development are concerned with the sentient soul years – ages 21 to 28. Sentient soul expression is the most closely connected with the astral, the realm of desire, because the soul is working through the senses which give us the experience of pleasure and pain, involving reaction and emotion.

To help us understand our development in this stage we need to distinguish between the astral body and the soul. It’s an integral part of esoteric teaching. We speak of the astral body when we are referring to how the awareness of an object comes about. The soul is that which can permanently store and benefit from this knowledge and awareness, and which grows and develops as a result.

Relationship with sense experiences can be instinctive with no real consciousness. The sentient level of soul makes us aware of the world around and of our needs and desires based on the physical. A task in these years is to become conscious of our emotional reactions and to understand why we react. Emotions are powerful forces and it is not easy task to direct them towards fruitful outcomes. You probably know people who have never managed this.

Sense perception involves memory in its simplest form. Let’s take visual perception, although the same process happens with the other senses. You perceive an object with your eyes, and when you close them you can recall an image of it in your mind. That is possible because while perceiving the object you formed a mental image of it. A process was taking place between your astral body and the ‘I’ that brought the external impression of the object to your consciousness. That process gives us the ability to remember our experiences. Without this we wouldn’t be able to recall what we have seen, heard, tasted, touched and smelt. These experiences are imprinted in the etheric, which means the memories become permanent and to varying degrees we can recall them.

Memory plays an important part in developing emotional maturity. We will look later at what often happens when this process begins to break down in old age. And how inner development of the higher aspects of the sentient soul comes through the ability to respond rather than react. That’s because responding involves the mind and heart while reacting is, well, barely mindful.

Twenty-one and so it begins

The twenty-first birthday party has a metaphysical basis to it. That’s why even today when ‘maturity’ in worldly terms of jobs, marriage and independent living is often delayed, it is still celebrated as the coming of age. This has an inner reality because inwardly the human ‘I’ or individuality is now activated. And hopefully we are becoming responsible enough to make decisions for ourselves.

This phase is strongly influenced by the powerful feelings and emotions which arose during puberty, and which now begin to mature. The sensitivity of the soul comes to the fore as these emotions are slowly refined and brought under control by the ‘I’. Things are experienced deeply and passionately on a feeling level, the first aspect of the inner self to influence consciousness.

Often older people see young adults as completely lacking in knowledge and life experience. That may be so, yet an outcome of the new relationship with the world around is idealism and a belief that anything is possible. This is the prime age for protesting against the status quo, especially when it’s seen as retrogressive. This is the age of fervently taking up causes. The world needs people in their twenties who give their passion and idealism voice, who see freedom as an experience equal to breathing and who long to just ‘live’ in an embracing consciousness.

The young adult is seeking their reflection in others about them – ideas, values, choice of occupation – through an urge to experience everything life has to offer. This is the time to accumulate experiences in every field of life, by being open, without reservations. In this phase there are often unlimited resources of energy. Risk-taking is part of it, with peer groups especially. Educators and parents tear their hair out trying to find ways to guide the urge to push boundaries towards fruitful undertakings.

It’s a time of living very much in the present. It is hard to convince someone in their early twenties to save for the future for example, or to consider the long-term result of some of their habits that may become addictions.

As the inner life is emerging on this soul level with its drives and passions, it is also releasing the traits of the soul, the temperament and disposition that in time consolidate. These impulses are stimulated by relationships, learning and challenges. A great tragedy of these years is when this energy, enthusiasm and idealism is seized upon by others with negativity in their hearts and channelled into exclusivity and hate.

Romance, sex and marriage

This is a romantic time when sexuality can be explored in a much fuller sense than in the teenage years. There’s more serious pairing up during this cycle, while in large sections of society sexual relationships are no longer seen as restricted to marriage. We looked at emerging sexuality in the previous cycle. Now attitudes formed in those years begin to play out. In sexual encounters based on hangovers from traditional patriarchal cultures, the man maintains his superior status as the ‘actor’ according to the rules of the world. Woman is cast as the passive ‘receiver’. This harks back to days when female pleasure wasn’t supposed to exist, except among ‘women of ill repute’.

In healthy sexual engagement there is a genuine equality. Here men entering the feminine realm open and soften, and they understand that physical effort doesn’t mean they are in control. On the other hand, in orgasm women’s bodies become incredibly strong. They experience their real power through the physical aligned with open-hearted giving of self.

And there’s more to it. When souls are open the personal experience of harmony deepens. This happens because on the etheric level outer nature is reversed – in males the etheric is ‘female’ and in females it is ‘male’. Inner and outer unite. It’s the principle behind Tantra (and not exclusive to sexual encounters).

But back to everyday life: it used to be norm for marriage to take place in this cycle. Women especially felt the indignity of being ‘on the shelf’ if they weren't married by twenty-eight. Love was supposed to unfold within marriage and often it did.

In their early twenties many young people attempt to fulfil a dream by identifying with a partner and marrying. They are acting according to the longings and impulses of their age. The soul however has a lot more to experience, and this may not be possible in a 'forever' commitment made so early in this cycle. Marriage can be a good thing, but don’t assume it will be long lasting if you marry in the early twenties. If it does last it is because the couple are fortunate enough to grow in parallel, because they become too stuck and afraid to change or are bound within cultural rules.

Ideally this is a time to explore relationships as it is in other areas. The pain when they end is hard to bear yet going through it can strengthen the soul. Non-judgemental support from friends and wise elders helps us through.

Who am I? Where am I going?

The years between 21 and 28 are a time of searching for identity, of experimentation, and of striving to discover purpose in life. Mentors are so helpful here, if you find them. They appear in many forms, during study and at work and through awakening experiences with people you meet on the way.

Dreams too can hold real value for personal discovery, especially if they are ‘significant dreams’. What this means is that they resonate at the time, and remain with you, and as you grow older and wiser you continue to build on their message. That’s because the higher self is a mentor to the emerging self. I had two dreams like this; one at around age 21 and another at 28. In between I married and had two children (and yes, the above advice did prove to be apt). In the symbolic story-telling language of dreams the first told me that I had to seek a lost temple ‘across the water’ and in the second I swam along a river towards the sea while others swam in 'the mainstream’ direction. These dreams were like heralds for me of my spiritual path, which took many more years to reveal itself.

Travel can be a means of self-mentoring and this age is the ideal time to travel the world and learn about different cultures and how people in other parts of the world do things. Differences can be enriching because cultures speak the language of the emotional soul in their beauty, form and tradition. Travel enables you to experience the unique spirit of different places too – or grieve for the destruction of it.

Certain eras of human history were dedicated to the development of the sentient soul. In the era of the Sentient Soul the I AM was able to be experienced through feeling, hence beauty was especially venerated (ancient Egypt is an example). When the I AM is working completely in the astral the result will be beauty.

This applies to the sentient soul period in an individual lifetime. Most young people are open to beauty in people, culture and nature when they travel. The soul then is engaged on this feeling level. And the prospect of hitch-hiking around the world holds no fears for youth.

There is an accompanying need to have some sort of base to return to and feel safe in – often this is the parents, sometimes friends. It is a sadness that many young people have rejected ‘home’ completely or have themselves been rejected during the rebellions of the previous cycle.

Towards maturity

In these discovering years the process of finding the right work and the right partner are the outward aspects of exploring life in order to find a set of values and aims to live by. At about twenty-five we reach the first real maturity of adulthood. This is the time when a person can work independently in almost all occupations.

The natural powers of the intellect are now at their peak and this is the optimum time to awaken the powers of thinking through training the mind, for example in further study and activities and hobbies that require discipline.

The physical body is peaking – the life forces seem endless, so we are not kind to our bodies in this cycle. We live off our emotional levels and often we keep ‘running on empty’. Some kind of physical training is good, so the modern keeping fit trend is beneficial, except if it becomes the sole basis of self-esteem. Discipline and routine will allow us to retain the suppleness and strength of the body, so it does not prematurely become depleted. The physical attuned to the soul’s inner needs will also enable the astral to become an instrument of consciousness, not subject to instincts and desires alone. This means the growing edge in body and soul development is aligned with the spiritual blueprint and reaching towards what is next to unfold.

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