17 June 2024

The Stages of Life - and a time for retreating

Sometimes life does offer us the opportunity to full fill something that does come from deep within the heart. For some time now, the call to a longer, silent retreat in solitude has been growing. Soon I will head into the hills for 3 months and 3 days; to quietly sit. This aligns with the stage of life in which I find myself to be.

So this week, a little on the stages of life and personal retreat, but first

   Thought for the day

      It should no longer be your concern 

     That the world speaks of you; 

     Your sole concern should be 

     With how you speak to yourself.

     Retreat into yourself, 

     But first of all make yourself ready 

     To receive yourself there. 

     If you do not know how to govern yourself, 

It would be madness to entrust yourself to yourself. 

     There are ways of failing in solitude as in society.

                                    Michel de Montaigne 

The Hindu tradition of India has a long history of dividing life into four dramatically different segments or phases - aśrama as it is known.

First comes Bramacharya, the time of being a student and single.

Second is Grihastha, when the focus is to make a family and a living; a time of being engaged with wordly pursuits such as seeking pleasure, wealth and all the material world has to offer. Commonly, Grihastha begins around the age of 20.

Third is Vanaprastha, when we begin to withdraw from the world and begin to attune more to the spiritual life along with adopting an increasingly hermit-like lifestyle. Vanaprastha commonly begins around 50. It is time for grand children and the time to hand over to the next generation. It is time for community service and spiritual pursuit; time to act more as a mentor and benefactor; a time to share any wisdom gathered so far. 

Fourth and finally comes Sannyasa, when renouncing the material world and dedicating life to spiritual realisation becomes the sole focus. It often begins around 70 to 75.

The intention of sannyasa is to live a simple, peaceful, love-inspired, spiritual life very similar to the monks and nuns of Buddhism, Christianity and other traditions.

Sannyasa is a form of asceticism. 

A male is known as a sannyasin, a female a sannyasini. 

Sannyasa does not necessarily mean abandoning society although in India many did and still do leave their families and homes and become wandering spiritual beggars. 

They may have a walking stick, a book, a container or vessel for food and drink, often wearing yellow, orange, or soil coloured clothes. They may have long hair and appear dishevelled, and are usually vegetarians.

Alternatively, Sannyasins may simply aim to abandon the conventions of their society and aim instead for a more liberated, content, free and blissful existence.

In the Hindu Karma Yoga tradition, acting without greed or craving for results is considered a form of detachment in daily life similar to Sannyasa. Sharma states, "the basic principle of Karma yoga is that it is not what one does, but how one does it that counts and if one has the know-how in this sense, one can become liberated by doing whatever it is one does", and "(one must do) whatever one does without attachment to the results, with efficiency and to the best of one's ability. 

Bit like mindfulness, or even more-so, pure awareness.

Rudyard Kipling describes taking sannyasa beautifully and eloquently in his story “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat", featured in The Second Jungle Book (1895). 

The story recounts an influential Indian politician abandoning his worldly goods to become an ascetic holy man. 

Later, he saves a village from a landslide with the help of the local animals whom he has befriended. 

I have read this story at a number of meditation retreats, always accompanied by tears I find it so moving. 

Kiplings take on the stages are somewhat different to the traditional ones. 

He described Purun Bhagat having divided his own life, as the Old Law recommends, twenty years a youth, twenty years a fighter, — though he had never carried a weapon in his life, — and twenty years head of a household. 

Then despite all his good works and fame, he leaves it all behind to become a fully-fledged sannyasin.

So for me, autumn is definitely well advanced. The seasons are changing… it is winter at present here in Melbourne…

And now, from July to October there is the good fortune to be able to go into silent retreat. Ruth is very supportive and helping to make it possible; it is a blessing that family and work commitments can be put on hold as well.

The retreat will mainly feature meditation; may do a little reading and study, but mostly sitting and walking meditation. Who knows what it might lead to? I will not be writing during the retreat; will not be speaking, will not be looking at texts or emails. Just a long time with self… Could be interesting…

Many thanks to all who are making this possible…

As always, the wish is for you and all those you care for to have long and happy lives…

 PS A large part of this post was first aired 6th September 2017 when I was considering retiring in full. As it happened, I did retire from quite a few things, but felt moved to continue offering meditation through Allevi8, through retreats and teacher trainings; not to mention the work with the Centres for Contemplative Studies at University of Melbourne and Monash. So as you were reading this and there was is a sense of deja vu...





  1. Best wishes, Ian.

    1. I came to the Yarra Valley after cancer 2002 still here and definitely experiencing this stage of life at 74 all the awakening never stops and it’s what keeps me going. Enjoy Ian

    2. As always thank you Ian for your beautiful articles. Looking forward to reading your next article and hopefully you can share some of your retreat experiences with us.

    3. Thanks Ian and Ruth. We treasure uour retreat with you in new Zealand and I use your teachings in my medical practice. Sannyasi looks very attractive. Please enjoy

  2. Thank you Ian - best wishes

  3. Very best wishes, thank you so much for interesting & beneficial newsletters that have been so helpful in my life.

  4. Fair winds and loads of light and love on your next exploration. You have been a great company on my own journey. With gratitude and deep respect, until then! Always and forever!

  5. Fair Winds, light and love for your new exploration. With utmost gratitude, deep respect and Until Then! Keep on shining your light now and forever!

  6. Enjoy being with yourself -what an amazing journey to take.Thank you for all you do.Will miss hearing from you Take Care Michelle British OMSER

  7. Be well Ian and may you gain further insight yet again.

  8. I have found your blog, your books, & your teachings very comforting and very insightful over the years since my own cancer diagnosis (almost 40 years ago). Thank you, and all the very best with your journey ongoing.

    1. Excellent Shauna; sharing experiences is such a good way of learning. So much of what I have learnt comes from the shared experience of others :)

  9. I’m grateful that Allive8 was born and your time of peace postponed! Blessings for your time of peace and silence 🙏🏻❤️

    1. Yes Allevi8 is a direct response to my ineptitude with all things in the computer world as it was back in 2010. It has been great fun and a good learning curve to enter into that domain :)

  10. You have certainly earned it. After such a long stretch of guiding and teaching us poor souls to gain some perspective. Much love and respect, may peace and good health accompany you during your retreat. Thank you for sharing your wisdom along with your unforgettable sense of good humour.

  11. Blessings. Thanks for your example

  12. Blessings and deep gratitude for all I have gained from you over the past 12 years dear Ian .
    You are embarking on a salient inner journey
    Kay Rosen

  13. Blessings for your inner journey Ian and thank you for all I’ve gained from you over years .

  14. A time to embrace more of the unknown. The greatest adventure. Thank you for sgaring your story..so far. 31 years of being inspired by you Ian. Much love and light for the next part of your souls journey.

    1. Love and light indeed; many thanks for the kind thoughts :)

  15. Wishing you fulfillment and insight, peace and compassion. For all you do Ian, with the love and support of your family and community. Clancy

  16. May the holiness of Peace and Sacred Guidance walk with you in this new time of life that you are accepting with obvious gratitude and strength.
    We will be with you in spirit, kind and compassionate teacher.
    God bless you always.

    1. Many thanks; all this support is indeed heartwarming :)

  17. I first heard you on the radio in 71 or 72 talking about what you had learned from Ainslley Mears. So when I got a cancer diagnosis in 2003 I knew what I needed to do. So there followed the first of several talks, meditation and retreats and a change in my eating habits. I'm still here and definitely have enjoyed my life differently thanks to you Siegfried and the team at the Yarra Valley. Thankyou and enjoy your retreat

    1. Ah yes, the great Ainslie Meares - a true visionary and pioneer; so fortunate to have known him... :) Good to know he was so much help for you...

  18. Many Thanks Ian. Sending much happiness and wellness to you and Ruth with gratitude for the immeasurable gifts that you, your centre and associated teachings have given Victoria and I since our meeting at Yarra Valley in 2007 & 2008 enabling us to now be in our third stage... :) Joe

  19. Thank you Ian for your newsletter. I wish you well for your retreat