By Megha Bajaj
When do you really grow up, if ever? Hhere, an analysis of the various stages of maturity and what it takes to get there
It all began one sleepy afternoon. A young cousin called for help. His childish high-pitched voice had miraculously become deep and husky. I teased him, “Whatever happened to you?” He replied, “Well, I have become mature now!” I chuckled then but ever since I haven’t been able to put this word called mature out of my head. My ears perk up whenever someone uses it. And it’s often enough. Only a month ago, a friend apologized for not being in touch and said, “But I know you are mature enough to understand.” Something within me squeaked, “Hey, I did mind your not being around” but I only gave a demure smile. And the quest to understand maturity began.
As many people, those many definitions. And so it was with maturity!
young Kriti Shah studying in the ninth standard of Delhi Public School, said, “I don’t do things just because my mom says I should – I do them because I want to. I think this ‘knowing and doing’ and not just ‘doing because someone said so’ is maturity. It also means growing up body wise. I am extremely conscious of myself now. I hate it when someone on the road stares at me. I am also concerned about my looks – I hate it when my face breaks into pimples and the boys in my school make a big deal of it.” She giggles, “I like maturity for the freedom it gives me, and hate it for the consciousness it brings with it.”
to Mumbai-based psychology student, Aditi Chaudhary, maturity is when your actions arise out of a balanced frame of mind. She explains that according to Freudian theory, each personality is made up of three parts – id, which looks for immediate gratification of all its desires, super ego which is the conscience that keeps in mind taboos and social regulations, and ego which is the mediator between the two that allows a person to have what he wants but in accordance with social norms. She concludes, “According to me a mature person achieves his goals – personal and professional, without hurting anyone else in the bargain!”
Lavina Gulati, a trained child counselor, maturity is tremendous self-awareness. She feels that when you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings – your actions automatically become proactive. You are able to subtract the negative, multiply the positive and take the right decisions at the right time.
T.T. Rangarajan is the founder of an organization called Alma Mater that aims to help people be a revelation unto themselves through intellectual inputs and meditation. He sums up maturity in a single sentence, “Drop the drama and do what you have to do.”
Jaya Row, the founder of Vedanta Vision, an organization dedicated to the promotion of Indian philosophy, says that a mature person is one who lives according to the dictates of his own higher intelligence and knowledge. An immature person, conversely, is one who functions on whims and fancies.
One is mature when one can think clearly and feel deeply,” says Swami Brahmavidananda, a Vedanta teacher for 20 years. He adds that a mature person faces facts objectively. He accepts what he cannot change and changes what he can. And yes, knows the difference between the two.
different as these ideas may be, there is a common thought. Maturity is seen in all cases as something that makes an individual climb a higher rung of growth. An upward movement on the learning curve. And this movement only comes about with a certain degree of awareness. So maturity can be looked upon as a ladder. Life brings experiences and depending on one’s awareness and consequently reaction to that experience, one either climbs a step higher or lower. Undoubtedly, the view gets better with height. Here is a road map of some of the different stages that maturity brings. Although this step-by-step process is by no means perfect or exclusive – it ’s the path that most of us follow.
A mature person abides by higher intelligence and knowledge
- Jaya Row
This stage, on the outset, appears to be most simple. There is very little you have to do besides taking adequate responsibility for your health to reach this level. According to Aditi, in psychology a child is considered to be physically mature when he or she is able to procreate. For the girl it comes in the form of the menstrual cycle and for the man it heralds an awareness of his own sexuality. Unfortunately, in our taboo-ridden society, most adolescents view these developments with a certain amount of embarrassment and awkwardness rather than accepting it as a natural process of growth.
A sex educationists shares that even the most educated of parents fail to impart this important knowledge to their children. Several girls from a reputed school in South Bombay have asked her, ‘Will we become pregnant if we sleep on the same bed as our brother?’ There were also boys who viewed an erection as something abnormal. Sex education is a necessity in every school for children when they are still young. In my own school, Mumbai-based J. B. Petit High School for girls, we only had a session in the eighth standard, whereas 90 per cent of the class had matured physically much before that. I will never forget the day when a close friend came running out of the bathroom, crying, “I am bleeding, take me to the hospital!”
Lavina, who held several sex education workshops for children, says, “At this point it is very important to give the child reassurance. To let them know that the physical transformation and their confusions about the same are natural. This comfort can either come from an informed parent, a teacher, or a counselor.” Unfortunately, information about sexuality usually comes from peers – who themselves may not know enough. This phase is a very crucial one as it affects in a significant way the relationship that the individual will share with the opposite sex in future.
Maturity is being pro-active through awareness of thoughts and feelings.
– Lavina Gulati
The biggest jump between the steps of maturity is from physical to emotional. The remaining three connect beautifully and almost naturally lead from one to another. But not this one. It’s amazing how many people mature physically but somehow never reach this next level. Maturity has very little to do with how many birthdays you’ve celebrated. Even 60-year-olds can hold everyone around them responsible for everything that happens to them! Yes, the very basis of emotional maturity is to start taking responsibility for yourself – to understand that everything is what it is because that is what you have chosen it to be.
Emotional maturity strengthens one’s relationship with the self. After becoming conscious of your body – you start observing your thoughts and feelings. The honesty with which you look, is the clarity with which you find. Suppression hardly helps. At this stage a mentor, a teacher, a parent, can be of tremendous help. I know for me my mother played a very key role. Whenever I came back from school, she would sit me down with hot delicious food and ask me a hundred questions that included my feelings about every subject, teacher, student and myself. Today I realize how therapeutic that was. A diary too can help tremendously as it makes you more intimate with yourself.
This self-awareness helps one assess their own strengths and weaknesses and gives them the resources to face all that comes their way in a proactive way. While positive experiences do not test one’s emotional maturity – adverse ones do so most certainly and rigorously. Swami Brahmavidananda gives an analogy – when you were a child you cried when your balloon burst and now you cry when the share market balloon bursts. Yes, your object of desire has changed but your reaction to loss is the same so you cannot claim you have matured! If, on the other hand, you notice a positive, definite shift in your attitude towards negative experiences – give yourself a pat on the back. You have climbed a bit higher on the maturity ladder.
maturity sows the seed not only for maturity in relationships but also spiritual maturity. How do you feel about yourself? If your relationship with self is right – everything else will sooner or later fall in place. Jaya Row shares that when she was younger, a lot less learned and a lot more discontent, she was sitting at a discourse by Swami Ramatirtha. A single line propelled her growth. Swamiji said, “If you are not happy as you are, where you are – you will never be happy.” This made Jaya realize, for the first time, that happiness is not found externally. She is happiness. An important reminder at this point: emotional maturity is a process which takes years, if not lifetimes. An occasional outburst, some amount of self-doubt, a stray tantrum, does not make you immature. It only makes you human.
Erich Fromm, a renowned psychologist, said:
Immature love says: “I love you
because I need you.”
Mature love says: “I need you because
I love you.”
An immature person will get into a relationship to complete himself, whereas a mature person will get into a relationship as a complete being who wants to experience the bliss of two ‘whole’ people getting together. I remember going through college jumping from one relationship to another in the hope that it would take my loneliness away. It did… for a few days. And then pangs of insecurity came back. Today, as I am in the process of loving myself, I realize that even when I am alone I don’t feel lonely.
A truly mature relationship is characterized by acceptance. There is no attempt to change the other. A media professional shares, “I wanted my husband to share my likes and dislikes. I thought it made marriage simpler. I tried to get him to love pizzas because I loved pizzas. I tried to get him to love Hindi movies because I loved them. Initially, he did what I wanted but soon we started having many fights. He made me realize that although he loved me he didn’t want to become my duplicate. Today we enjoy each other’s differences.”
T. T. Rangarajan emphasizes that a mature relationship offers the other freedom. Its very foundation is trust. He writes, “When a person shrinks his entire personal world so much that he has just one relationship to hold on to psychologically, he becomes possessive of that relationship. Remember, the gardener who is over protective of his plant will destroy the plant. Possessiveness is psychological suffocation. Every action gets monitored, motives are assigned and every gesture is noted. Deep affection turns to desperate longing and this in turn destroys the relationship. Unconditional trust is the only antidote to possessiveness. Trust your love and believe that what is yours can never be taken away from you. And what is not yours will never stay with you.”
To have beautiful, fulfilling relationships, one also needs to develop an openness. Defining relationships often leads to confining them. I share an extremely close relationship with my sister and much of its beauty comes from the fact that we both constantly exchange roles within the relationship – sometimes she is a teacher and I a student, sometimes I become a mother and she a child, and yet other times we walk together like best friends, arm in arm. The fact that she is older than me by three years has not straitjacketed our relationship.
In a mature relationship, transparency is important. I want to be able to communicate my feelings freely and also understand the other’s point of view. A little introspection made me realize that often in a relationship, I had let go of what I felt, thinking, ‘This is too petty, why bother the other with it?’ But in doing this, I was rejecting my feelings. I called up my friend whom I mentioned earlier and let her know, calmly, that I did mind her not being around for so long, and it would make me happy if she didn’t repeat this pattern. We grew in understanding after the call.
Lavina, a mature relationship is one where either or both are able to love unconditionally. Her little baby boy, Ahan, has brought so much learning in to her life that she wonders what she would do without him. It is through him that she has learnt the joy of unconditional giving. Even during his messiest moments, when he vomits all over her new clothes, she gives him a big hug and a smile to reassure him that his mother loves him, anyway. Her love for him does not waver. Not only does this create an extremely happy and secure Ahaan, it also makes Lavina more compassionate in all her other relationships – including the one with herself.
Unconditional love is the only antidote to possessiveness.
T. T. Rangarajan
This is it. This is where you had to come. According to most religions, the very purpose of birth is to reach here. All the other levels of maturity were training grounds to reach here. Not only did those I spoke to share what spiritual maturity was – their conviction made me want to experience this. This is how my interaction with Father Peter D’Souza of Agnel Ashram, Pune, went:
What, according to you is spiritual maturity?
Father: (laughs like a baby) Well, for me, it is dropping all boundaries, manmade divisions and becoming one with the omnipotent. I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim and at the same time, I am also a Christian. The absolute faith in something much bigger than you makes you surrender yourself to this Infinite Power. Name, position, attachments, just don’t matter. What matters is a constant communion with God.
What does being in constant communion with God feel like?
Father: (laughs again – a loud happy laugh). I am just about finding out. I am a traveler, just like you. The status of a priest makes me in no way above another. But since you ask me what it is for me – it’s absolute happiness. Pure joy. Every word in the Bible just comes dancing before my eyes. God is no longer limited to theology. He is an understanding. A realization. And all I can feel is bliss everywhere. (His voice holds so much excitement and ecstasy that it rubs on to me and for the next hour I cannot stop smiling).
Brahmavidananda expresses that spiritual maturity is one that comes from unconditional acceptance to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life and allow it to lead you through a variety of experiences. Consult the inner pilot wherever you get stuck and sooner rather or later, you reach exactly where you have to. A spiritually mature person goes through his share of loss and disturbances – but he is able to undergo everything with absolute poise and remain untouched by it. His words echo Osho’s thought: “Live in the world, but don’t allow the world to live in you.”
A philosopher once remarked: Maturity grows when your concern for others outweighs your concern for yourself. Smt. Jaya agrees and says that the very sign of spiritual growth is compassion towards all. It requires one to drop their judgments.
In my own mentor – T. T. Rangarajan – I sense a deep spiritual maturity. I love his simplicity and his comfort with himself. One moment he will be giving a sermon about the most intense topics to over 4,000 people, the next moment he will be eating bhelpuri with me on the corner of the street. He asks me to call him Rajan. He says, “What you call me will make no difference to me – but it will make all the difference to you. If you call me guru – you become a shishya. I want you to relate to me as you are – as Megha.”
It is also a divine paradox that most spiritually mature people are child-like. They have an innocence, a purity, an ability to be completely themselves. They are spontaneous and in the moment, capable of being anything the moment brings them – whether it is playing with a child or a pet, or being immersed in deepest meditation.
For them, each moment is freshly minted, and a source of delight and awe. Their very presence will make you feel that you and everything around you is a wonder. In fact here is your test for guru finding – how do you feel around him? Observe your feelings and you will know if he is real or a fake!
Spiritual maturity is the ability to say yes to life unconditionally
are you right now on the steps of maturity? I am just about getting my relationship with others and myself right. I asked all the people I spoke to if there is any skill that will help me become more mature? Each smiled and explained that life itself is the best teacher. It will keep giving opportunities to test my maturity. Each experience will either take me higher or lower. The choice is mine. The only tool I need is self-awareness. Understanding thoughts and feelings ensures that action is borne out of absolute consciousness. The technique could be yoga, it could be writing, it could be meditating, praying – just anything that brings my focus to the moment. All of this will take time, for the more I grow, the more I realize how far the goal is.
Mark Twain once said, ‘“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”
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