Why Do So Many People Start the Spiritual Search Later in Life?


I started my spiritual path well into my late 30’s. As a young person my ego was queen. My question is why do most of us begin out search for God late in life? (I know not everyone is the same but from my experience all people around me don’t even begin till even later in life?) and some not at all.

—Lourdes Velasco, USA


Dear Lourdes,

There is a natural rhythm to the flow of life that impacts many, though not all, people. A toddler learns to walk, talk, and use the body. A child goes to school and learns to get along with others. This continues through adolescence as the child’s horizon of interests and abilities grows. A young adult tends to get caught up in romance and career, then child-rearing. The middle years are burdened with debts and responsibilities.

The ancient teachings of India classify the stages of life into four segments, and it is only at what we might call “retirement” that this system invites a person to make spiritual seeking a priority (rather than simply a part of daily life). What you describe therefore is very common. After all, we start with high hopes and expectations, and then life brings us challenges — success, yes, but also failures. In time we have to learn a degree of self-acceptance and to begin asking ourselves, “What’s life all about?”

There are some, in fact many, who do ask questions earlier in life and who have an in-born devotion and desire to know God however they might express it: some through service to humanity; others through devotional practices; some through prayer and ritual; others yet through the study of holy scriptures. And there are even many saints whose ministry or calling begins a little later: Jesus Christ, age 30. Lahiri Mahasaya, age 33. Swami Sri Yukteswar, later in life.

Oh, how many people come to us here at Ananda in Seattle saying, “Oh, yes, I read the Autobiography of a Yogi 20 years ago but I wasn’t ready to act on it.” As it says so beautifully in the Old Testament through Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for every season.”

Fortunately, we have the teaching of reincarnation which offers to us the long-view of our spiritual awakening. I’m not suggesting we “kick back” and not think about seeking soul-freedom in God, but until the soul contemplates with rebellion the prospect of countless future lives and feels the “anguishing monotony of endless rounds of rebirth,” it doesn’t begin to get serious. Life day-to-day occupies our attention rather fully. As our sincerity and efforts deepens and purifies our hearts, our karma will provide us with more time and opportunity to focus on our search. (Thus, using the years of retirement or smooth-sailing success are obvious opportunities.)

Interestingly, the lives of many great saints reveal that they were born in well-to-do circumstances where they could receive an education and have time for prayer, service, and meditation. Many left home at a young age.

In any case, the deeper truth is, whatever our life circumstances, nothing can prevent us from calling to God silently in our hearts, moment to moment. God is as much with us now as ever, for God is manifesting through us and all things in creation. We need only “improve” our awareness of the indwelling, divine Self. Outer circumstances that seem to hinder our spiritual search are but tests of our own faith. For in truth everyone and anyone can seek God within at all times of day and night.

Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: “Out of a thousand, one seeks Me…” The theme song for Ananda is a song entitled “Go On Alone!” It takes courage, faith, and devotion to walk the spiritual path, whatever form it sincerely takes.

Blessings and Light to you on your journey “Home!”
Nayaswami Hriman