Are you the same person now that you were fifteen years ago? In fact, are you the same person you were just seven years ago? Most of us have heard the old saying that every cell in the body is changed over a period of seven years; but recent investigation has uncovered facts of far more significance to us as human beings. This concerns the emotional, physical and mental changes that seem to occur in approximate seven-year intervals. Of course there are no fixed boundaries and so one may achieve these levels of maturity at any period of our life. so what follows are simply the general changes you may find.
Rudolph Steiner, the great teacher of Anthroposophy said that the seven-year cycles continue throughout life, and are of the utmost importance to doctors, teachers, psychiatrists and the social sciences. Without some smattering of these changes it is difficult for anyone to understand the relationship of any given individual with his or her environment. So I have tried to summarise what Steiner and others have said about the cycles.
Before the definition is started, I feel it is important to say that as humans, in fact as any life form, we are creatures of great polarities. Or as the philosopher Erwin Goodenough said, “A book on love, loyalty or justice would gain little but pedantry by starting out with a concise definition of the term. Only as we describe the various conflicting elements associated with such words can we finally arrive at a meaning that includes these complexities; for important matters we understand, not as we simplify, but as we tolerate the paradoxical.”
One of the great paradoxes of our lives are that we constantly go through such enormous such massive changes every day. Daily we pass through an extraordinary change that we often take so much for granted we miss the wonder of it. The change occurs between sleeping and waking. For most of us being awake is when we most fully feel ourselves. Compared with this sleeping is a period during which we lose any focused awareness of being an individual, and we sink into what is generally called unconsciousness — the lack of personal awareness.
This swing between waking and sleeping can be seen as the extremes within the possibilities of our experience. Sleeping and waking are the polarities, the North and South Poles of what we can confront. In quite a real sense we can say there is nothing beyond what is included in those polarities. But there is an enormous difference between waking experience and the experience of dreamless sleep. Yes, one can have an experience of what is considered deep unconsciousness. In waking we have a sensation of time, of being in a locality, of separateness and even isolation. But at the other end of that polarity we have a sense of timelessness and non-locality. What was a sense of self merges into an ocean of awareness.
One of the most important of these cycles is the first, from birth to seven years of age. Its importance lies in the fact that it is the beginning of everything, the foundation upon which the later structure will be built. Birth gives individual life to an infant body. Even at birth, this small being already has its given potential of intelligence, creativity and personality. But this potential has to come to terms with its environment, which includes its own body. In a human being we cannot have awareness without consciousness; we cannot have thinking without the tools of thought such as language, concepts or ideas. So during our early years we are largely moved by the instincts of hunger, need for love, protection and support, along with pain and the impact of our environment. All this while we build up the inner, mental structures that in later years will allow us to think, to feel, and to be aware of ourselves as an individual.
One of the most important of these inputs is that of the unconscious behavioural responses we learn. From the moment you are born, perhaps even prior to that, you are learning, or there are pressed upon you, responses to what you are experiencing. The culture you are born into is a huge ready-made set of behavioural responses. For instance, an Australian aborigine would easily respond to a huge living grub/caterpillar by eating it. This would be a very difficult behavioural response for most Northern Europeans or Americans. As babies we learnt everything from whether you respond to opportunity with fear or eagerness; to love with fear of warmth; to food as a glutton or with healthy appetite.
At birth there is a very different physical and glandular system than in later years. For a start the sexual organs have not developed, meaning responses to sex and sensation are very global. Also the thymus is very large and in later years becomes smaller. It has been said this, in these early years, gives the child a very primitive response to truth, right and wrong, and what later become moral codes. So the child only slowly develops any real sense of social morality.
But something so mysterious happens to us during this first seven years that once done it can never be undone. The Roman Catholic Church recognises this by saying that if they can have the first seven years of a child’s life, that is all they need to insure a lifelong influence. Napoleon also observed that as the twig is bent, so the tree will grow. This is borne out by seeing the cases of children who have been lost and brought up by animals during these formative years. Even with the best tuition they never learn to become a self aware personality as we know it. Time is a mystery to them, and even though their brain size and function is normal, they never approach the usual capabilities that education gives to modern women and men. So, in the first cycle we pass through an incredible process of learning. This includes motor movements, speech, relationship to ourselves and to our environment. And that means learning a vast amount about what is useful, entertaining or harmful; about what responses we get from others, and developing habits of response that may be difficult to change in later years. We learn a sense of personal awareness and move toward becoming an individual. In other words, we learn to say “I” and know what we mean.
The learning of language is like a powerful computer program that gives us the ability to develop an identity and self awareness. This is shown again by children reared by animals. Language also adds limitations which we can overcome if we recognise them.
Steiner also says that during this first stage of development the developing inner forces are working to transform the body of the child from one that was inherited from the parents, to one that represents the full personality of the child. =
Something often overlooked about the stages of growth are ones emotional age.
From age zero we are completely dependent upon the loved person for our needs, physical, emotional and social. Great anger, jealousy or pain are felt if the loved one relates to anyone else, is lost, or threatens to leave. If we do not mature beyond this emotional age, in adulthood this enormous feeling reaction may also be felt at a time of emotional withdrawal of the partner, even if there is no sign of them withdrawing physically. In the infant and toddler there is a desire for unconditional love and a need to be always with the loved one. In an adult with this level of love, sex may be a part of the relationship, but the main need is a bonded connection. This is sometimes felt as a need to have the loved person want you as much, or as desperately, as you want/need them. Possibly the greatest fear, one that can trigger great anger or an enormous desire to placate or earn love, is the threat or fear of being abandoned. =
The second cycle, from seven to fourteen, continues this growth. The concepts and association of ideas and emotions that began in the first cycle begin to be discovered by the child. The physical changes also prepare the growing personality for the next stage. The thymus gland decreases rapidly in size, allowing the development of a sense of right and wrong, and social responsibility. A sign of this physical and psychological growth is the losing of the milk teeth and the emergence of our adult teeth. This marks an entrance into a new maturity.
The child has learned, with the advent of its concepts and developing emotions, to create an inner world of its own. It is a world of heroes, danger and vivid imagination. As the thymus fades, and the sexual organs develop, the personality glides into the turbulent world of puberty and adolescence.
Sometimes it is already evident, even from the preceding cycle, the direction of interest and activity the child will take in maturity. Although for the very observant this might be seen in very early years, it becomes more evident as one approaches puberty.
In all a time of inner expansion. You begin to experience and test abilities in the broader sense of the outside world. You may learn to share and interact, controlling earlier instincts in favour of group dynamics. The habits learned in the first period are now part of the character of the growing child.
This is the third cycle, from fourteen to twenty-one. During it we become conscious of ourselves in a new way, and with a different relationship to life. One might say we become “self conscious.” The emotional range expands in all directions, and with this a new appreciation of music, art, literature and people begins. It is found for instance that at puberty the ability to distinguish subtler tones of colour and sound develops. Besides this the person might go through the difficult struggle of breaking away from home life and/or parental influence. It naturally produces conflict as the person learns some degree of independence. Also, the opposite sex, or sex as a urgent impulse, usually becomes all important as the new emotions pour in upon our personality. =
Because of the new range of feelings, many youths experience a different relationship to religion and life’s mysteries. All this, as one approaches twenty-one, produces an individual with some sense of social and individual responsibility, or if not that the beginning or a sense of a direction or life purpose. This might not be recognised as such at the time. But it is a time of searching for life purpose, independence, a realization of choices plus a testing of social and personal limitations as well as an awareness of a burgeoning sexuality. As this is a traumatic period of life for most of us, it is also likely to be a time of many unforgettable dreams.
The period is a time of adding maturity, dignity and poise to the person. If these changes have not occurred by twenty-one, then the person has in some way not covered necessary aspects of development, and both psychology and the law recognises that they are lacking maturity.
This period is one of great and sweeping changes, physically, emotionally, morally and mentally. Such enormous changes often do not occur without an experience of loss. In this case the world of childhood is fading, or it might even be torn away, leaving scars.
portion of life has its rewards, and in fact you depict this period of your life as more relaxed than the first half.
To balance this view a little, if there are still past difficulties to be faced, these will certainly present themselves. But a drive in many people is in some way to actualise themselves, to express themselves in a satisfying way. If we use the analogy of a plant, it is as if they have grown and reached full stature, but for some reason have not flowered and spread seeds. They have not produced fruit.
There is no one way in which people feel or seek this fruition prior to death. But it does become an imperative for many. It may involve receiving or giving love. It might be a need for expressing in one of the arts, or simply in breaking away from habits and roaming the world. The next dream illustrates this theme.
I flew over a farmyard and a large pig saw me and began to chase me as a dog might, but with the sense that he/she wanted to eat me. She chased me snapping and leaping into the air trying to ‘get’ me. I felt a bit apprehensive at times that she would get my leg. This lowered my confidence in flying and I began to worry about altitude, and flew over a barbed wire fence and the pig and her young could not follow. I flew low over small trees that were just coming into leaf. They were beautiful soft green leaves. I knew it was autumn and the leaves were only just coming out because it had been a cloudy, overcast summer. I felt the leaves would have time to mature because the sun would be out in the autumn, and the trees would not die.
The dreamer was in his fifties at the time of the dream, and had distinct feelings of something missing from his life. He felt very clearly that the late autumn expressed how he felt, that the best of his life, his fruition had not yet occurred. This was because ‘it had been a cloudy, overcast summer.’ By this he meant his life had so many difficulties, he had not had a chance to ‘flower’. But the dream promised there was still time. In fact ‘he actualised’ so much from there on.
And here is another dream example showing the same thing.
I am in a bicycle race with many other people. I came to a very long hill. It is difficult and I have to push my bicycle. It takes me until midday. When at the top I meet a lot of family. Then I cycle on, realising that because the road is flat, I can go much further before nightfall than I covered in the morning.
The man was in his late forties at the time of the dream. It shows him feeling as if the first half of his life has been a long difficult climb. His assessment or intuition of the second half of his life is that it will achieve much more, or cover more ground and he will have more human and warm relationships, represented by his family. The bicycle represents his personal efforts to deal with life and his place in the human race; and as it suggests, he can go much further before nightfall – death – than he achieved in the morning of his life.