11. THE GIFT OF TIME ON

The years 70 to 77; the Neptune Cycle

After 70 we can continue to count the rhythm of seven, although I think it begins to dissipate. At conception the soul enters the realm of time and space but prior to this physical boundaries lose their significance. This pre-birth period is mirrored in the years after 70 as the soul becomes increasingly attuned to the timelessness of spirit.

Nevertheless, the archetypal planetary forces are at work and the 70 to 77 stage is known as the Neptune cycle. Neptune is lord of the deep oceans; it is the mystical planet that enables us to quietly contemplate the deeper things of life. It assists us to turn inwardly to the wonder of sprit, which is the world we will encounter when we have passed over the threshold of this life into the next.

Often the elder years are greatly extended, giving us extra time to fulfil our spiritual needs and tasks. If there is a sense of gratefulness these years can be a blessing to the individual but also for others in their environment. Some people live on to a great age because their ability to give of self is so abundant their cup of love has not been emptied. In the presence of these rare people we are filled with peace.

But generally what is the purpose of these extended years, however long they last? It depends on what has gone before. Perhaps it is to learn to live with limitations. Perhaps there are lessons about transformation to be learnt. Perhaps there is still much dross to be eliminated. Perhaps there will be a lesson about endurance through suffering. These years can be our last chance to catch up in this life, to complete this life’s purpose and to be transfigured into a new consciousness.

I wonder if the transition is longer today, and life is extended, in part because we have not been prepared during childhood and more so because in this materialistic world, we have not developed our inner life and spirituality sufficiently. The long transition many people experience may be evidence of how much work needs to be done.

Of course, in developed societies our health can be better than in former centuries, and medicine and science can work wonders to keep us going. But still the long period of gradual decay and the departure itself is often protracted and painful. Even if there is a willingness to die, it seems as if the body holds on, or some part of us finds it hard to let go. We are so focused on the physical as the only reality, the spiritual worlds have become dark and unknown to us and death is feared. As a result, the final illness is, for most of us, the greatest and severest learning of all – a karma for most of the human race.

Perhaps the illness leading to death need not be the way we leave this life. Read the lives of some of the great saints and yogis. This, I think, is the ideal for dying. They are able to choose their time of death and their transition from this world to the next is easy and quick. As well they do not seem to suffer the debilitating decline that we associate with old age. This points to a real need to remain aware of our spiritual path right to the last. If we can achieve this, we allow ourselves a smoother transition to the world of spirit.

Love as part of our spirit’s expression is the key to the transition. Over a lifetime we experience love in different ways. It is directed to us and we express it; yet it is a current always available. We just tap into it in different ways.

The different Greek words for love provide valuable insights. Eros – physical love, sexual love, love of beauty and pleasure is particularly aligned with our youthfulness although it continues and takes on different expressions. Storge – love of family and tribe grows through close associations that widen to some extent. Philia develops through like-mindedness and mature friendship; from it we get philosophy, ‘love of wisdom’ (sophia). These loves concern particular or chosen relationships.

Agape is how the Greeks described the highest love, a universal divine impulse of love at work in us. Most of us cannot easily achieve this degree of love. It comes about through sacrifice and selfless giving and self-examination. It is the bounty of a full soul. It is the highest of the gifts and it often will not find expression until these later years of life.

And in a potent offering for the soul itself, in the final years agape love can extend to one’s own past, as well as the present and the future. We find ourselves at peace with the greater span of our life.

The years from 77 and beyond

These are the years of Pluto. This was the latest of the planets to be discovered and then it was demoted as a planet. The name remains significant, for in mythology Pluto is the ruler of death. Pluto’s orbit is remarkably variable, and we cannot fix the length of this last stage. But it does bring us into a period when death in an ever-present companion. Pluto (Greek Hades) is the judge in the underworld and for many these extended years are given to let us learn forgiveness of self and others.

I would like to speak of my parents. Both missed out on a big slice of parental love as children through death and war. They found love in their adult lives. Yet we do carry our childhood with us to the end. I witnessed the challenging dying processes for two beloved people so close to me, which was painful and a privilege.

My father suffered from vascular dementia and was almost blind due to strokes. He had always enjoyed a physical orientation but in his last years I had a strong sense that he loathed his painful burden of a body. He still lived until age 96 although unhappily. He died in the afternoon. And in the dark of night I woke to something like a swarm of bees buzzing around my bedroom. I knew it was his soul’s astral, exhilarated but utterly bewildered. I said, ‘It’s okay Dad, you are free of your body, that’s what it is.’ And like a breath of relief his presence left to continue the journey.

My mother lived until age 104. She had been deaf for over 20 years but still loved company around her. She gave a lot, and people loved her. She was queen of her big 100th birthday party, but I had long been aware of her deep unfulfilled emotional hunger. Need kept her tied to this world, despite (and because of) her heart condition. A change came when she began to speak of seeing my dad waiting for her. When she died very quietly in the night, I believe this was because her soul was at ease at last and moved on without fuss. There were no ‘visitations’.

Me at my parents’ gravesite; they chose it earlier because it was close to a beautiful big gum tree

We need to remind ourselves that dying is not easy. Leaving the body we have grown so used to is an enormous challenge, even for those spiritually prepared. Old habits, even the habit of living, hang on.

On the other hand, many people are so embedded in physical consciousness they hang on to the earth way beyond their ‘use by’ date. We have an allotted life span. But sometimes when you see aged people and some not so old, it seems they have missed it. The danger of hanging on to life is that you can become too earthbound. The physical impact is visible. The etheric has all but left, consciousness has virtually ceased, and what remains is dense and mineral, rock-like. That means it becomes even more difficult to leave the earth.

The aim of the spiritual person is to die consciously. By staying aware of our spiritual path right to our last breath we allow ourselves a good transition to the world of spirit. If we have reverence for our spiritual blueprint, we gain an innate sense of its timing. We may not know the date, but we know that we have chosen when to die.

The wasting away of the body does not mean that our consciousness should be interfered with. Prolonging life should not be a medical decision as it has now become. Nor should the taking of life. The soul must be free to experience, to change and to go when it is ready. Yet responding to the soul can be an almost impossible challenge today.

However, having reached this threshold we depart as we arrive. Just as our angel once showed us the sketch of our destiny, in spirit we view again the finished canvas of our life with all its bright and varied dimensions. It may or may not resemble the original blueprint, but we will have travelled the full circle of spirit for this life.

How can we use this knowledge so that it becomes more than a theory? It is only as we reflect on the past that we can see the pattern of our destiny as it has unfolded thus far. In retrospect we can understand the influences leading to crucial turning points, the meetings with special people and the vital decisions we made. Then we can see our lives, not as a linear journey through chronological time, but rather as a series of cycles of growth. It could now be good to look back over the posts in this series, and I will re-post the introduction to the whole story.

Earthly life starts with birth, with crossing the threshold from the spiritual world into the world of flesh and blood and it concludes with death, with passing over that same threshold but this time in the opposite direction. In the meantime, our spirit has expanded its consciousness and been enriched through a succession of experiences appropriate to each of the seven-year cycles.

The poet Goethe remarked that in our youth we are idealists, in mid-life we are realists and in old age we become mystically inclined. If we become something of a mystic in our latter days then our gaze is already upon the heavens and our transition will then take place smoothly, and in God's time.

To conclude here's a summary of the stages we pass through in life:

1 - 7 years Physical development

7 - 14 years Socialisation, the etheric and the emergence of memory

14 - 21 years The astral and the beginnings of self-consciousness

21 - 28 years Refinement of emotions and feelings

28 - 35 years Development of independent thinking

Approx. 35 Moment of decision

35 - 42 years The consciousness soul and activation of the higher will

42 - 49 years Becoming aware of the spiritual self

49 - 56 years End of karma: guiding others through wisdom

56 - 63 years Looking back and judging your life

63 – 70 + years Living for the world: preparing for death

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