There are various ways of looking at the question, “What are the 3 Stages of Life?” You could look at this question of life stages purely from the point of view of ageing, personal development, human development (Erikson) or even faith development (Fowler).

Given that this website is focused on inviting the direct experience of Yoga (Union) the answer to the question, “What are the 3 Stages of Life? ” will be focused on the 3 key stages of personal and spiritual development.

This article is divided into three main sections.

I provide you with a menu to allow you quick access to those sections that are of most interest to you. I hope that this might then encourage you to explore the article in full.

3 Stages of Life Menu

3 Stages of Life Menu

  1. Life Stage 1
      1. The False Self.
      2. Avoiding the 1st Stage of Life
      3. Flowering Your Full Potential
    1. Life Stage 2 – Period of Transition.
    2. Life Stage 3
      1. Invitation to Stage 3.
      2. The Fulfilment of Stage 3.
    3. Integration of the 3 Stages of Life.
    4. Why it Matters.
      1. Personally
      2. Collectively
      3. Community Matters

The 3 Stages of Life.

painting illustrating the 3 stages of life

3 Stages of Life by Casper David Friedrick

A key teaching of Yoga is drawn from the Bhagavad Gita. This states:-

Yoga is the journey from the self through the self to the Self – The Bhagavad Gita.

This is the heart of Yoga in what is called an aphorism. An aphorism is simply a wisdom statement. The whole wisdom of the 3 stages of life are held within that aphorism.

So there are three Stages here. These are:-

  • From the self.
  • Through the self.
  • To the Self.

Another way of stating this Yoga Journey form self to Self is:-

  • 1st Stage of Life – Personal Development of the Ego – (from the self).
  • Transitions Stage – Letting Go of the Ego (through the self)
  • 2nd Stage of Life – Union with the Self (to the Self)

Notice that I have used the word “self” and “Self.” The word “self” refers to that separate sense of the personal self who feels separate from everyone else. The word “Self” (with capital ‘S’) refers to the One Life, Creation, God or Goddess or Infinite Being. You may choose your own word that represents this universal timeless dimension.

1st Stage of Life – Ego Development

1st Stage of Life - Ego Development

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Other words for the 1st Stage of Life are:-

  • The False Self (Thomas Merton).
  • The Ego.
  • The Personality.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung declared:-

The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it. ― Carl Jung

Notice that different people refer to different stages. Sometimes two sometimes three. There reason is because some include a stage of transition between the 1st stage of life and the 2nd stage of life.

Note that this progression from Stage 1 to Stage 2 is not absolutely linear. However, it is largely linear in that it is very much related to age. So let us look at these three different stages of life in more detail.

The Stage of the False Self

The creation of the False Self

The False Self

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I sometimes lose patience with spiritual seekers who tell me it is my task to get rid of the ego. This is often indicative of a personal quest for salvation driven by the ego desire for such salvation.

It is a personal quest to get to Heaven or Nirvana while everyone else, apart from the chosen, can go to hell in a hand basket. This is kinder garden spirituality.

The development of the ego is a 1st Half of Life task. It is all about creating a separate sense of self. This is where you develop clear personal boundaries. From an energetic point of view you integrate the lower three chakras.

Your task in the 1st half of life is to feel safe in the body, (1st chakra) develop healthy relationships with yourself and others (2nd chakra) and a personal sense of empowerment. (3rd chakra).

You are especially able to say “No” as well as affirm “Yes” and mean it. Others are also clear that your “No” means “No” and your “Yes” means “Yes.” It means that you do not have fluffy boundaries that can be manipulated.

This development of the ego or personality (from the Greek word “persona” meaning “mask.”) is the work of the 1st Stage of Life up to and around the ages of 35 to 40 years.

Thomas Merton, American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion referred to the ego as, “The False self” as opposed to “The True Self.”

Having said that, the development of the ego is a very necessary part of the human journey on this planet.

Many people never make it this far. This is due mainly to experiences of abandonment and/or trauma early in childhood. Most of us have experienced some form of abandonment even if we have not experienced trauma.

With such experience of abandonment/trauma your ability to set clear ego boundaries is compromised because to do so would involve a feeling of threat or danger. Thus you may develop an attraction to the world of transcendence where you can disappear into the Boundless.

This quest for transcendence, without the work of personal integration, is referred to as “Spiritual Bypassing. This phrase “Spiritual Bypassing what coined by the psychotherapist and author in the transpersonal-psychology John Welwood who said that spiritual bypassing was:-

Spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.” The goal of such practices, he claimed, was enlightenment.- Toward a Psychology of Awakening – John Welwood

Avoiding the 1st Stage of Life

Lament for Icarus – Herbert Draper (1863-1920)

Avoiding the 1st Stage of Life is represented in the Greek mythological story of The Fall of Icarus. (Yoga Mythological Story) Icarus tries to fly to close to the Sun (True Self) on wings of feathers and wax (fluffy ego boundaries) and falls to earth (boundaries cannot hold him up and contain the power of the True Self).

Many young spiritual seekers are those building wings of feathers and wax on route to their personal salvation quest. This is understandable when you are a young idealist looking to follow a path of meaning and purpose. (Period 17 years to 30 years)

However, as you get older (in your thirties) you will hopefully come to the realization that you have to have your feet on the ground. Having your feet on the ground (lower chakra alignment and balance) you then invite the Sun (The True Self) to radiate through you.

Your 1st Stage of Life is to create a secure sense of the personal self (self with a small ‘s’) so that can contain the Boundless. (Self with a large ‘S’).

You are the dewdrop in the Ocean and the Ocean in the dewdrop – Rumi

Without clear ego boundaries the dewdrop, the personal self, cannot contain the Universal Self – the Ocean. Without clear ego boundaries personal self – the dewdrop – will be overwhelmed by an encounter with the Ocean – the True Self.

This has happened to many people especially through the use of drugs.

Richard Rohr, OFM, author, spiritual writer, and Franciscan friar tells the story of priests he knew who had to be confined to mental institutions following an encounter with the True Self (The Divine dimension). This was because their ego boundaries were too rigid.

Flowering your Full Potential

stage of life for flowering your full potential

Flowering your Full Potential

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Even if you develop clear and flexible ego boundaries in the 1st Stage of Life you are not guaranteed that you will move beyond this stage. You may not be graced an encounter with the True Self – although it may feel like anything other than grace if your ego boundaries are very rigid

Our Western culture is, for the most part, primarily a 1st Stage of Life culture. It is a culture of doing that has, as we can witness, got us into the environmental “do-do.”

It leaves out the primary purpose of being a human being on this planet which is to facilitate the union of the human dimension (self) with Being.(Self) This union is more about learning how NOT TO DO in the 2nd Half of Life.

This is essentially the primary purpose of all religion.

It is to invite the direct KNOWING of union of the human with the Divine – to bring to Earth through the human body the glory of Heaven. It is to flower your full potential.

It isn’t, as I was taught in my Christian upbringing in Northern Ireland, the ascent into Heaven at the end of something called Judgement Day for the select few.

Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven – Matthew 6:10

However, most religions have evolved into institutions where the primary function is to maintain a belief system rather than invite the KNOWING of that which is beyond belief.

Religious institutions, if they were doing their job correctly, would work themselves out of a job.

Stage of Life 2 – Period of Transition

2nd Stage of Life - Period of Transition

2nd Stage of Life – Period of Transition

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This 2nd Stage of Life happens for some and not for others.

Pray that this experience of transition happens to you. This stage is often referred to as the mid-life crisis. It has become characterized by the middle-aged man of around forty years old who runs off with a younger woman. It is, however, more like the chrysalis before it turns into the butterfly.

More often than not the mid-life crisis is a personal experience such as divorce, loss of a job or career, death of a loved one or some form of long-term illness. Notice that all these relate to very personal experiences. They take the feet from underneath you.

Note that the mid-life crisis is not to be confused with what is referred to at The Dark Night of the Soul. (St. John of the Cross 1542-1591) This has also been referred to as the Crucifixion initiation. This is so much more radical than a midlife crisis. It is where the last vestiges of the ego die into Life.

Without clear ego boundaries these kinds of personal sufferings will rock the foundation of your personal sense of self. This is because the personal self is built on the shifting sands of time and not on the rock of the eternally True Self.

This is not a punishment from some Divine authority figure in the sky. This is a necessary shaking of the persona (the mask). However, when you are in it you feel it absolutely unnecessary.

This is why it is a great blessing to be around someone who is centred in the True Self. They are able, with compassion, to be a guide to you through this difficult period of transition.

The Biblical metaphor for this period of transition is the 40 years in the dessert. It may not literally be forty years but it sure as hell feels like it is.

Can you see how it is so much easier to promote religion simply as a practice of belief in scripture rather than the humiliating decent into the desert of your personal UNKNOWING.

Invitation to the 3rd Stage of Life

invitation to the fullness of the 3rd stage of life

Invitation to the 3rd Stage of Life – Glimpsing the Light

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So you might well get stuck in the 1st Stage of Life through clinging to woolly boundaries or too rigid ego boundaries. If you are lucky you will be graced a glimpse of the astonishing Light of your own Being (Hafiz).

If this doesn’t blow you apart because of woolly or ridged boundaries it will transform your way of SEEING and BEING in the world. .( Song – To Close to Heaven that’s All – Waterboys) This is an encounter with Divine Presence that you will then give everything to encounter yet again.

In the Bible this encounter is referenced by the passage that says:-

You cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live. – Exodus 33:20

What cannot live in such an encounter is the continued identification with the sense of the separate personal self.

Welsh poet and Anglican priest R. S. Thomas recalls this encounter in his poem The Bright Field

THE BRIGHT FIELD BY R. S. THOMAS

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it.

I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R. S. Thomas says that he must give all to possess it. However, he is incorrect. The personal self cannot possess the Universal Self. The personal self must be willing to be possessed by the Universal.

The Fulfillment of Stage 3 of Life

fulfilling the 3rd stage of life

Fulfilling the 3rd Stage of Life – Harvesting Your Gifts

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The 2nd Half of Life (3rd Stage) is where you integrate the glimpse of the astonishing Light of your own Being (Poem – The Bright Field). If you have not glimpsed then the 2nd Half of Life for many becomes an experience of growing older and not bolder – ageing rather than Sageing.

The meaning of your one wild and precious life (Poem – The Summer Day – Mary Oliver) remains undiscovered. There is often the experience of regret, guilt and bitterness.

The second half of life is about harvesting your gifts so that you can give yourself away in blessings.

The small self is willingly surrendered in service to the True Self. You claim your birth right in eternal belonging. You meet again the One who has loved you all your life and KNOWS you by heart (Poem- Love After Love – Derek Walcott)

You have, as the Bhagavad Gita declares, moved from the self (personality) through the self (by way of faith) to direct FEELING alignment with the True Self. You have actualized to some degree the magnificence of the journey of union of form (your body) with the formless (Heaven).

The word ‘faith’ as used here refers to your willingness to enter into what is called, “The Cloud of Unknowing” rather than the adherence to a strict code of scripture. Faith is a recognition that you do not KNOW but are willing to be KNOWN through. It is very different from belief which says you think you know but only know about. (Life Skill – 2nd level Faith).

In true faithfulness (Life Skill – 5th Level Faith) you, as the dewdrop, willingly merge with the Ocean of Love and allow the Ocean of Love to merge into you. You KNOW who and why you are created as a unique expression of Love’s forever becoming.

Integrating the 3 Stages of Life

integrating the 3 stages of life

Integrating the 3 Stages of Life – Living as a Messenger of Love

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Now you become a Messenger of Love. You, metaphorically speaking, preach the Gospel and sometimes you use words (St Francis of Assisi). More than this you are a living expression of silent communion that you feel graced to emanate into the world.

You are not on any mission to convert other people to your way of thinking or believing. (The Purpose Filled Life). This is just more ego stuff usually promoted in the interest of the group ego. You simply convert others to a different way of SEEING and BEING in the world by way of energetic transmission.

You, the personality, are not doing this. It is being done through you. You are only responsible for one thing and that is being a willing servant of Divine Intention.

Your focus becomes one of service but not service in order to get a return. If you have moved through the 3rd Stage of Life well then you are living the mantra, “Thy will be done.” This is the will of the True Self being done through you and as you. You are a flow of Love in action.

You are not out to save the world although that may be how you are called to serve. Neither are you out to save yourself or be saved. This is the ego trying to save the ego in the interest of the ego.

You are out to serve Divine Intention as it created you to uniquely express through you and bring the Will of Heaven through your human form. This is your glorious birth right gifted to you from all eternity.

The quest is to journey through these 3 Stages of Life into union, yoga and self-actualization. – from the self, through the self to the Self. (Bhagavad Gita)

Why it Personally Matters

3 stages of life and why they matter to you

The 3 Stages of Life – Yes YOU Matter

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Journeying through these three stages of Life matters to you personally because it is the true way to follow your destiny and find meaning and purpose.

This does not mean that you will be, by conventional standards, happy. It will, however, take you on the path to fulfilment. Real happiness comes from creatively expressing the truth of who you are created to be.

This is a fulfilment that allows you to KNOW true prosperity. It is a fulfilment from which you pour forth who you are created to become.

There is no loss here. You pour away and the Divine pours into you. The dewdrop contains the Ocean. This is the Infinite Ocean of Love that is eternally in flow.

This is 3 Stage journey of life is a personally challenging journey.

It involves being prepared to risk all for Love (The Movie – The Adjustment Bureau).

It will take you out of your comfort zones.

You will feel lonely and abandoned at times (the desert) before you reach the Promised Land (Yoga) where you will feel that the Secret of Secrets is inside me again. ( A Land not Mine – Anna Akhmatova)

Why it is Important Collectively

potential levels of consicousness

Potential Levels of Consiousness of the Human Journey

The above graphic gives you a quick overview of what are referred to as levels of consciousness.

At this point in the history of the world we are, as a collective called humanity, at the level of 207+. Shame is  minus 200 and Enlightenment is at 600 plus.

The important thing to note about this chart is that the consciousness of an enlightened individual impacts the consciousness of millions of others below that level.

When you are committed to living the full 3 Stages of Life then you are also committed to the reason for existence of humanity on this planet. You are created in order to allow Heaven to reign on Earth.

As the modern mystic Eckhart Tolle states in the opening to his book The Power of Now – A Guide to Enlightenment:-

You are created to manifest Presence in form – This is how magnificent you are – Eckhart Tolle.

You are a unique expression of the leading edge of consciousness on this planet.

Who you are and why you are absolutely matters.  Who and HOW you are matters for all time. What you think, how you feel and how you act matters for every one of us.

You in reality, are not ever separate from the One Life – the One Love – although for the most part that is your everyday experience.

Living a Yoga Lifestyle and learning yoga skill sets allows you to realize your full potential as an embodied expression of Eternity within the boundary of time.

This is the only REAL game in town. All the other games are the attempt of the ego to make sense of a world that it created and which digs you deeper into the sense of the isolated sense of personal self.

In committing to integrating the 3 Stages of Life you are in reality blessing yourself and others. You, as a single dewdrop, in your unique way can make the conscious choice to invite the Ocean of Love to flow into the hearts of each and every other dewdrop.

In this way your life purpose becomes aligned with Love’s purpose. You become a true co-creator. You feel fulfilled. You are prosperous in the true sense of that word and you pour yourself away in blessings of union and connection.

Integrating the 3 Stages of Life – Community Matters

yoga for life community

Support 3 Stage Life Integration – Join the Yoga for Life Community

Why not join me in community and share the Yoga Journey for Life experience. Learn the necessary yoga skill sets needed to invite the direct experience of yoga (union) This includes those skill sets to navigate these 3 Stages of Life that allow you to live as an embodied expression of Divine Grace.

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Tony Cuckson

Writer - Storyteller - Musician at Yoga Journey for Life
Writer of Awakening the Heart - 21 Ways for Following Love's Message. Also author of Being Beautiful - Learning to Treasure the REAL YOU. Workshop Leader in Learning to Companion YOUR Greatness.
Tony Cuckson
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