How Would You Know a Mature Person If You Met One?

Steve Roberts color photo: string of lights on my office representing an angel and a child

…life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my obtuse theories about it.  ~ Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

The question was: How would you know a mature person if you met one?  Forget about old, prosperous, well-educated, professionally accomplished, socially admired and whatnot.  We’re talking maturity of the heart.  

That was the basic request from a leader with the intention of nurturing in those around him that kind of maturity––if only he could define what the heck it meant.  

I love playing with questions like this.  It’s like dancing with a hippo: you don’t have to be good at it to learn a lot.

A mature person, I suggested, is a healthy person, which isn’t remotely related to physical well-being.  A friend of mine is about to leave this incarnation on the wings of leukemia, and she’s beautifully healthy.   

That’s because health, as I experience it, is resilience: the ability to respond in a life-affirming manner to whatever presents itself.  Which, so far as I can tell, means with kindness, compassion and understanding.

 Maturity has two parts: when it begins, and how we know we’re getting better at it.  

I say we are mature the moment we consciously commit ourselves to the path of growing resilience.  

It doesn’t matter how old we are.  Lots of kids trump their elders in maturity.  Some of us need the bony knuckles of death rapping on our window to realize there’s more to health than a well-fed corpse and sock full of diamonds.  How many of us don’t listen even then?

But once we commit ourselves to the path of maturity, assessing our progress is a whole other matter, determined by how well we engage the four practices that grow resilience:

  1. Managing fear.
  2. Learning from our experience by embracing “what is” and allowing it to teach us.
  3. Gaining ever-deeper understanding of what we cannot live without––in our life and in the moment.
  4. Aligning commitments with action, and action with commitments.

 To be mature may just be the biggest decision we ever make.

Continually growing our maturity is the toughest job on earth, for it requires placing the four practices or their equivalent at the center of our life.  And doing that means giving up humankind’s most prevalent, destructive addiction: blame––holding others or outside circumstances responsible for our peace of mind.

Here’s a thought that embarrasses me regularly, from Anthony deMello:

There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it’s because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have.

The more mature we are, the more we focus on perhaps the most important thing we do have––the choice of where we place our attention here and now.  


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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth