Birth of the Man

By Bill Dougherty

There comes a point in everyone's life where he "puts away the things of a child" and recognizes the need to assume full responsibility for his own life. After the often terrific adolescent pains and struggles to establish one's identity there generally follows a period of self-acceptance, a calming period in which we can come to grips with our basic personality and character -- our strengths which we would previously overlook or devalue, as well as our inadequacies which we all too often would fasten on with morbid intensity. Of course, while the extreme competitiveness of Western society tends to greatly accentuate these difficulties, they are no doubt necessary stages of growth for the vast bulk of humanity today. For how could we function as self-aware individuals if we were not to first find out within ourselves what it means to stand on our own two feet, to exercise our own understanding and capabilities, not those of another or of some idealized champion.

Yet there comes a time -- for some it may be in their youth, for a few perhaps only in their last moments of embodied life -- when these struggles largely subside. Out of this psychological calm can emerge a more balanced person who recognizes that he is not just an individual, but is also an essential component of many groups of individuals: his family, his nation, his humanity, his planet, and his spiritual universe. The intellectually-based sense of separatenesses, the "us against them" postures by which we try to avoid the real truths of life, the feelings of loneliness such ideas lead us into -- all these dissolve away before the fact that we share a common origin within an unlimited universe that is divine in essence and sublimely beneficent in its operation. The broad harmonies of life, that sustain and nourish and indeed make possible all outer forms, brilliantly outshine the superficial and temporary imbalances brought about by self-seeking individuals. One feels quietly elated by the vast panorama of universal brotherhood. When this rite of passage is truly and deeply felt, be it self-consciously or but in the inexpressible motions of the heart, one has become a spiritual adult.

The key to this transformation, however, is really not so much in how a man sees himself and his world, but in the way he gives of himself to others, the manner of his loving. And here I believe lies part of the inner meaning of the old saying that the child is the father of the man. For it is the spontaneously unselfish love of the small child which makes the transition to full adulthood possible. Of course, this love does often tend to be overshadowed for a time by the almost too rapid growth of the competitively-trained adolescent intellect, and this unbalance of mind and heart surely accounts for a great many of the pains of adolescence. Yet to the degree that we guide our actions by our earliest, grandly unselfish, outward-reaching love -- now immensely strengthened and broadened by our knowledge and experience -- by so much does the true adult come to birth within us. So indeed we are all born anew by and in a love that shares freely of itself with all, that would remember no hurt, that can never know any fundamental bounds between you and me. And so in fact can we fit ourselves to honor our human responsibilities with dignity and courage.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, November 1978. Copyright © 1978 by Theosophical University Press.)

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