A Metaphor For Maturity
Psychologically speaking, maturity basically means the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner. Sounds simple. But, how does one respond in an appropriate manner to a political, societal or any other environment when it seems so dark, chaotic or dysfunctional?
To answer, let us come back to the word maturity and trace its roots in search of deeper meaning. The etymology of spiritually charged words often reveals important messages that are hidden over time as words and their applications evolve.
The English word maturity has its origin in Latin. Maturus means “ripeness” which is a description specifically for fruit. What is the difference between ripe and unripe fruit? Unripe fruit is hard and bitter while ripe fruit is soft and sweet. Metaphorically, hardness means rigid and bitterness means unforgiving. Softness is not weakness but rather represents flexibility and sweetness implies kindness. Those are the qualities of maturity.
Fruit becomes ripe after long association with the mature tree. The tree is a sacred symbol across cultures, times and places. And the path to maturity can be metaphorically explained through the life of a tree.
A tree begins as a seed in Mother Earth just as the human being begins as an embryo in the mother’s womb. After sprouting, both are very vulnerable for a period of time and survival is largely due to the grace of outside forces. After sufficient growth and sometimes after surviving threats or trauma, the tree is stable enough to withstand many hardships. So, too, pain in our past can be the roots for positive growth. Where you are coming from is not as important and where you are heading. And we can always choose to go upward from any point.
Sunlight and water are the two ingredients the tree needs most. Light and water are two of the most universal and fundamental symbols. The tree grows out of darkness towards the light. If necessary, it bends and adapts to keep reaching for the sun. In most wisdom traditions, light is a symbol for knowledge and illumination. It is the dispeller of darkness and ignorance and is the source of awakening. Ultimately, self-knowledge is what we need. To seek and find out who am I? What is my purpose? It also means to live up to our highest light.
Now, it is significant to note that the light is both the destination and also the means or energy that sustains the growth of a tree. In human life, if peace is our destination then peace itself must also be the path. We need enough inner peace to transform the outer conditions. For one who is peaceful, every step becomes a peace movement.
Living up to our highest light requires one to honor core values even when the circumstances are not favorable. For example, maybe respect and courtesy are core values. Accordingly, when driving, we may signal another driver in traffic to enter ahead of us. But, what if that driver does not give a wave in acknowledgement of our kind gesture? Does bitterness come up? If so, then it is not the full maturity. The intention is not yet ripe. Instead, it is a type of business transaction. We are buying appreciation. When one truly honors a value or inner light, there is an alignment of head, heart and hands. Our thoughts, attitudes and actions are in harmony, and we feel energized and inspired. Therefore, the mature person does not expect nor need the reciprocity.
Water is the second necessary ingredient. Water is symbolic of love. It is essential for life and is the supreme good which purifies all things just by washing over them. It nourishes without trying to and in that humility and simplicity lies its greatness. It cleanses and flows unconditionally, even to the low and dark places that people disdain. Water smooths jagged mountain rocks over eons of time and this process is the epitome of patience in nature. So, in human development, instead of seeking love out of a sense of poverty, we need to carefully and patiently remove the inner barriers that we have built up against love and practice self-compassion. Then, love will be experienced as the fullness of life and can flow freely in all directions to nourish and heal ourselves and others.
With more knowledge and love we can transform ourselves and transcend our circumstances. Surely, the outer conditions of a society are merely a reflection of the collective inner maturity. If we want to respond to any situation in a mature manner, then we can recommit to our own psychological and spiritual development and return to love and the wisdom of applied knowledge. It is not enough to demand that others change. We need to continuously fight to reform ourselves and be a pattern for the world. If happiness comes from within, then we can strive to improve our relationships, communities and the world in that state of mind. That will be more effective because everyone wants to be happy. By offering more and more love and living up to our highest light, we encourage the ripening of the heart of all.