Are you the same person now that you were fifteen years ago? In fact, are you the same person you were just seven years ago? Most of us have heard the old saying that every cell in the body is changed over a period of seven years; but recent investigation has uncovered facts of far more significance to us as human beings. This concerns the emotional, physical and mental changes that seem to occur in approximate seven-year intervals. Of course there are no fixed boundaries and so one may achieve these levels of maturity at any period of our life. so what follows are simply the general changes you may find.
Rudolph Steiner, the great teacher of Anthroposophy said that the seven-year cycles continue throughout life, and are of the utmost importance to doctors, teachers, psychiatrists and the social sciences. Without some smattering of these changes it is difficult for anyone to understand the relationship of any given individual with his or her environment. So I have tried to summarise what Steiner and others have said about the cycles.
Before the definition is started, I feel it is important to say that as humans, in fact as any life form, we are creatures of great polarities. Or as the philosopher Erwin Goodenough said, “A book on love, loyalty or justice would gain little but pedantry by starting out with a concise definition of the term. Only as we describe the various conflicting elements associated with such words can we finally arrive at a meaning that includes these complexities; for important matters we understand, not as we simplify, but as we tolerate the paradoxical.”
One of the great paradoxes of our lives are that we constantly go through such enormous such massive changes every day. Daily we pass through an extraordinary change that we often take so much for granted we miss the wonder of it. The change occurs between sleeping and waking. For most of us being awake is when we most fully feel ourselves. Compared with this sleeping is a period during which we lose any focused awareness of being an individual, and we sink into what is generally called unconsciousness — the lack of personal awareness.
This swing between waking and sleeping can be seen as the extremes within the possibilities of our experience. Sleeping and waking are the polarities, the North and South Poles of what we can confront. In quite a real sense we can say there is nothing beyond what is included in those polarities. But there is an enormous difference between waking experience and the experience of dreamless sleep. Yes, one can have an experience of what is considered deep unconsciousness. In waking we have a sensation of time, of being in a locality, of separateness and even isolation. But at the other end of that polarity we have a sense of timelessness and non-locality. What was a sense of self merges into an ocean of awareness. See Levels of Awareness in Sleeping and Waking.
One of the most important of these cycles is the first, from birth to seven years of age. Its importance lies in the fact that it is the beginning of everything, the foundation upon which the later structure will be built. Birth gives individual life to an infant body. Even at birth, this small being already has its given potential of intelligence, creativity and personality. But this potential has to come to terms with its environment, which includes its own body. In a human being we cannot have awareness without consciousness; we cannot have thinking without the tools of thought such as language, concepts or ideas. So during our early years we are largely moved by the instincts of hunger, need for love, protection and support, along with pain and the impact of our environment. All this while we build up the inner, mental structures that in later years will allow us to think, to feel, and to be aware of ourselves as an individual.