I was recently inspired by this article about our inevitable professional decline. Particularly, I was rather intrigued by the author's analogy to Hindu philosophy so I've interpreted the four-stage Ashram system as my own below.
The Stages of Life
Brahmacharya - "student life"; for the first phase of our lives, we are spoon-fed and nurtured at each point of our childhood. We are restricted by our physical reach and our surroundings - you likely befriended people in your class, neighborhood, and immediate vicinity rather than those halfway around the world. As we mature, we transition from an abundance of restrictions to an abundance of choices. I believe that a symbol of coming-of-age is to operate independently without peer influence among this newfound abundance. Some bloom later than others.
Grihastha - "household life"; this is the second stage of our life where we incur responsibilities - a career, a married life, a family-oriented life. I've yet to experience this, but what's most valuable to me here is to build a career I'm proud of and to accumulate wealth. In this stage, I imagine I'll get to know myself and my closest friends in many more dimensions than previously imaginable. Everyone has a story. If one chooses to have a family, I imagine one will also learn about selflessness, parenthood, and unconditional love.
Vanaprastha - "retired life"; after one builds a legacy, be it through a career or a family (or both), one enters the 3rd stage of life. Ideally we are gradually stripped of a lust for material desires like wealth and earthly pleasures. As the author suggests, Vanaprastha is a time for study and training for the end of life.
Sannyasa - "renounced life"; lastly, as we progress through life, we reach enlightenment and a fulfilling death, possibly ascending into an afterlife if you so believe and wish. There is a complete disassociation from material pursuits.
We have yet to truly know who we have become, perhaps until we reach Sannyasa. It's interesting how we know one version of ourselves, that's different than the thousands of versions that we've presented to everyone else. As we mature, we understand ourselves a bit better and naturally lose friends, ideals, perspectives that we no longer associate with. Only until the end of life does our pace of self-acknowledgement catch up to our truest self.
Is this the meaning of enlightenment?