Lately, I’ve been thinking about the number seven, and seven year cycles. It makes for an interesting view on the cycles in life.
If we think that every seven years the cells of our body are replaced, right down to the brain cells and our skeleton, the tiniest little blood vessels, nerves and molecules. We are, in a sense, a completely different person, or at least a renewed person. We have a continuity with the person-who-was, and we are always the person-who-is, and yet we all have uncertain futures. It is a dream, a wish, a story if you will, that has not yet been written. I am taking some delight in this; the thought of being fictional is resonating in a good way with the person-who-is today. It leads me to start thinking about what the cycles might mean, in terms of who I am becoming. The Greeks would call ‘that which is becoming’ entelekia. We could latinize that to ‘Entelechy’. It was the name we used for a household I lived in for my first seven years in the United States; the residents of that household thought about the meaning of ‘entelechy’ as a kind of thought experiment. Some twenty years later, I am returning to those thoughts.
While by no means a prescriptive narrative, in my meditation:
The first cycle of seven years in our lives is about growth. The first cycle is becoming an individual, learning skills, all in a very accelerated way. We are protean, plastic, and ultimately, form into unique persons with our own definite ideas about the world. The first seven years is about growth.
The second seven years is about physical maturation, starting to grow and gain strength and flexibility of body and spirit. It’s a great time to learn dance, martial arts and physical disciplines, if you have the ability to push your body that way. For those with more limited mobility or coordination, it is a time to find what is most comfortable for your body shape. Well, that’s true of everyone, to be sure. We are all differently abled in some respects. I found swimming and the discipline of gymnastics to be interesting, while my brother ran around a lot playing soccer, and my sister seemed to like to climb trees, roofs and such.
In the third cycle, from 14-21, this is when we push against boundaries around us and define what kind of person we will be, make choices about education, and find out what things we believe.
From 21-28, we try on and discard all kinds of memes, working to discover who we will be as adults. We experiment, sometimes we date many different people, and experience a wild assortment of lifestyles, fashions and belief systems.
By the time we’re 28, the framework of the person is in place, and from here on, we’re filling in what kind of virtual rooms we want, and how we want to decorate them. Somewhere between 21 and 28, give or take a few years, we may find a partner or two, decide if we want kids of our own, and make career choices. Around 28, if you’re a fan of astrology, this is when you have your Saturn Return, when the natal position of the planet Saturn comes full cycle, returning to where it was when you were born. In astrology, cycles of the planets are held to be important inflection points, where there is an energy for transformation of one kind or another. One of the outcomes of this cycle is throwing out stuff other people put in our heads. And then what? More of the same, or something different?
From 28-35 the young person might explore careers, relationships, hobbies and choices of exercise. They often jump paths, some choosing family responsibilities, and some just starting families, while others decide to pursue more personal challenges and education. Some folks change their patterns, jump across the world, travel, try extreme sports, develop a business and so on. During this time, we’re all about making our mark on the world. Being counted. Having an impact. Raising kids, or raising mischief, depending on our natures.
And then there’s the 35-42 cycle, where we start thinking about long-term planning, buying a house (if we haven’t already), building wealth, getting out of debt, making time for personal projects. Maybe another career change, dusting off the resume, dropping things from 15 years ago and generally doing some personal grooming and style changes. If we care, we moisturize. This is the last hurrah if we change our mind about having children, unless we choose to adopt or join up with someone who has a ready-made family. We see friends around us making choices to be “middle-aged”, and see some of their choices deliberately narrowing. Health issues can start to become a factor in decisions. And we make choices ourselves about whether to keep expanding, and exploring, or if we want to be more settled ourselves. And then, after this, we run out of role models in the western world.
Unless we think about rock stars and celebrities, or very wealthy folks, our models for healthy, enriched lives start to look a bit, well, thin. We need to start looking further afield for role models and inspiration. There are much more complex societies and kinship models than the sparse nuclear family that came out of the industrial revolution. Deliberate or related families, people choosing co-housing, communal living, and house-swaps, fostering young adults, trading and swapping skills around a group of friends are a few things to explore. While not for everyone, pooling resources for a holiday experience or living arrangement can help multi-generational families and friends stay connected.
So, where is the middle if we think in terms of cycles of 7?
- Cycle 1- to 7 years
- Cycle 2 – 7 to 14 years
- Cycle 3 – 14-21 years
- Cycle 4 – 21-28 years
- Cycle 5 – 28-35 years
- Cycle 6 – 35-42 years
- Cycle 7 – 42-49 years
- Cycle 8 – 49-56 years
- Cycle 9 – 56-63 years
- Cycle 10 – 63-70 years
- Cycle 11 – 70-77 years
- Cycle 12 – 77-84 years
- Cycle 13 – 84 – 91 years
- Cycle 14 – 91 – 98 years
- Cycle 15 – 98 – 107 years
Given extended longevity, the middle years run from cycle 7 through cycle 10, the years in the middle. It’s fun to think about this as a range of time, rather than as a target number.
My grandmother passed last year at 98 years of age, or at the end of Cycle 14. That’s quite an inspiration. She had a long, engaged, active and productive life way after any of the mixed feelings I might have about having arrived at the middle portion of my life.
If I was a novel, these middle cycles would be when all the exciting stuff would happen. Novels have an inciting incident, the hero grows into understanding, challenges arrive and need to be dealt with during the climax or just past the middle, and the resolution occurs in the latter part of the story.
If I think of myself as a piece of fiction I am writing, there is a whole 28 year period to think about, to ponder, and to make up cool things and design creative stuff. This is a much more positive meditation than thinking about a decade at a time, with all the associated baggage that comes with society’s emphasis on being forever young. By thinking in cycles of seven, it’s a way to sidestep some of those assumptions. Sevens it is!
Next, I think I’ll focus on a list of stuff on my “to do” list that’s checked off already. That’ll give me some areas for new exploration.