Leaving a Legacy: Values and Lessons for Later Life
“I am what survives me” – Erik Erikson
“Leaving a Legacy” is one of the chapters of Ken Dychtwald’s new book “Radical Curiosity: A Man’s Search for Cosmic Magic and a Purposeful Life”. Ken leads with the above quote from Erik Erikson.
When I was in Graduate School at UC Berkeley in 1965, I learned about the stages of psychosocial development suggested by world-famous psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. He described eight phases, the psychosocial crisis that each of us must face and the existential question that we must answer.
At a time when I was very unsure of myself and my path in life, it brought comfort and order to my days and nights. It still does:
|Approximate age||Psychosocial crisis||Existential question|
|Childhood under 2 years||Trust versus distrust||Can i trust the world|
|Toddler age, 2-3||Autonomy vs. Doubt & Shame||Is it okay to be me|
|Early childhood, 3-6||Initiative against guilt||Is it okay to do, move, act?|
|Middle childhood, 7-12||Industry vs. inferiority||Can I make it in the world of people and things?|
|Adolescence, 13-19||Confusion between identity and role||Who am I? Who can i be|
|Early adulthood, 20-39||Intimacy vs. isolation||Can i love|
|Median adult age, 40-55||Generativity vs. stagnation||Can i make my life count|
|Late adulthood, 60+||Ego integrity versus despair||Is it okay to have been me|
Joan M. Erikson, who married and worked with Erik Erikson, added a ninth level. When she lived in the ninth stage, she wrote: “The old age in the eighties and nineties brings with it new demands, reassessments, and daily difficulties. All eight levels are relevant and repeat in the ninth level. “
I’ll be 78 this year thinking about my life, the stages I’ve gone through, what lies ahead, what I’ll leave behind when I’m gone, and what my legacy will be. My friend and colleague Ken Dychtwald wrote a wonderful book. In Radical Curiosity: A Man’s Search for Cosmic Magic and a Purposeful Life, he offers great wisdom and an exciting journey through all stages of life.
Like me, he enjoys the later stages of life while still feeling the presence of all the earlier stages. “I found that getting older was not a Lego-like replacement for ‘young’ Ken characters with older versions. Instead, all of these younger selves are still very much alive and well, layered and integrated over the years into a fuller, more experienced, smarter and more complex human who continues to grow and evolve. “
Some of Ken’s mentors that you will read about in this book include a number that have been moved to give us a glimpse into Ken’s world that can enrich our own:
- Michael Murphy, the founder of the Esalen Institute, calls Radical Curiosity “Remarkable, a modern Siddhartha story”.
- Dr. med. Says Deepak Chopra, “Ken Dychtwald points out where success and meaning intersect to find your own unique crossbreed.”
- Lisa Genova, Ph.D., neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice, says, “Ken takes us on a hero’s journey, populated with hippies and presidents, psychology and celebrity, success and failure and the brightest lessons.”
- One of the people Ken has influenced over the years is President Jimmy Carter. “I have been learning from Ken Dychwald for years and I am convinced that he is the most innovative and original thinker in this important area today.”
And what topic could be more important in today’s world of conflict and separation, anger and violence, a global climate crisis and a global pandemic than finding a guide for a purposeful life?
What I appreciated most about the book is the practical wisdom that Ken shares. One of the challenges of life that we all face is the reality of our own death as well as the death of those we love. In the chapter on Aging, Death and Beyond, he interviews legendary religious scholar Huston Smith. Dr. Smith was raised a Christian by Methodist missionary parents in China. After studying and practicing Vedanta, Zen Buddhism and Sufism all his life, Smith’s book The World’s Religions symbolizes the role that different religions play in the lives of people around the world.
Huston Smith was 91 years old when Ken interviewed him at the Buddhist Seminary in Berkeley, California. Ken asked honest questions and drew practical lessons on what we can all learn from facing our own mortality:
Ken: Do you view your own aging process as an increase or a decrease?
Houston: It is very clear with the body; It’s a descent. Yes, age creeps into one, so to speak, that you don’t realize that you have crossed the line and are old. But with the mind and spirit it is easy to say that aging is an ascension.
I love the statement from St. Paul in one of his letters: “I have learned what state I am in in order to be satisfied.” I think that is wonderful and I practice it. “
Ken: Are you wondering whether or not this pursuit of a conscious life was the way to go?
Houston: Well, it was Socrates who said, “The untested life is not worth living.” I agree 100%,%.
Ken: If I asked you for simple advice on aging well and you gave five suggestions to younger people based on your life experience, what would your advice be?
Houston: Take care of your health first.
Second, keep your mind alert and busy. I recently reread Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It’s complicated, but it’s an amazing book.
Third, friendships are very, very important. I have a friend whom I pick up for lunch about three days a week to go out and we have a good time. Just being with friends and experiencing what is going on in their life is so nourishing on so many levels.
Fourth, don’t overlook the beauty of the world.
Fifth, listen to understand the lives of others you are connected to because they too have their stories.
Ken: And how is the best made of it, of one’s own life, of aging?
Houston: How do you make the most of your life? By making the right decisions and trying to cultivate wisdom from experience. I have sought out His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, Gerald Heard, Aldous Huxley, etc., and I have tried predatory to take in as much wisdom from them as possible. I think I learned almost ruthlessly from wise people.
As you read Ken’s wonderful book, absorbing wisdom can turn you too predatory. You will definitely meet some of the world’s foremost experts that Ken learned from along the way.
What I learned from Ken, what touched me the most, was the exchange he had with his father at the end of his life. Ken recalled: “Not knowing how to deal with my father in this really extreme situation, I called one of my closest friends, Stuart Pellman, who was a little older than me and had already dealt with the deaths of both of his parents . He said to me wisely, “Meet your father one on one and tell him anything you need to tell him. Even if he is passed out, tell him you love him and ask him to forgive you for everything you have ever done to worry him. Tell him that you forgive him for everything he ever did to upset you, then tell him that you will always remember him. ”
“And that’s exactly what I did,” says Ken. You can read the full exchange near the end of the book, but you will be most fully moved and learn most deeply when you have read all that led to the end.
You can get more information about Ken’s book and order your own copy here.
To learn more about my own healing journey over the past 50 years, you can read my latest book 12 Rules for Good Men here.
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