“What if we look forward to getting old, like children
look forward to being grown ups?”
As a culture, we are petrified of being old. As individuals, we self-consciously watch ourselves for signs of aging and often take steps to amend them. We identify ourselves in relationship to old age; even when we are rushing toward retirement, we focus on the staying active, staying youthful, doing things we had not been able to do earlier.
It is not a simple phobia about being old or being obsessed with youth, it is a complex maze that folds back on itself multiple times tangling the thread of right journey into knots that hide the source, the end goal and certainly the path.
In many traditions, life was ordered into three basic phases: 1) the learning, adapting, practicing stage age 0 to 35, 2) the householder, worker, leader, achiever stage 35 to 65, and 3) the Wisdom Years, 65 on up, sharing accumulated knowledge and understanding of life, silence, dispassion, stillness and detachment.
As we live longer, have better chances for healthy living and opportunities to sustain ourselves as we get older, we are having to understanding what it means and how best to do it. Not because we’ve been doing it wrong, but because we are in the midst of something that has never happened before and we’re hungry to know how best to do it. The Spiritual Practice of Aging is an offering to that end.
The Spiritual Practice of Aging is an opportunity for how we might spend our Third Age, our Wisdom Years in a more aware, fulfilled and spiritual manner. It is the opportunity to be awake as we age, to not just let it happen to us, but to dance with our aging, to stretch and to grow.
It requires something of us. It is a practice of deeply listening to our inner self, to the teachers and wisdom around us, to life as it guides and talks to us, and the challenge to remain connected. A major aspect of The Spiritual Practice of Aging is an examination of our life and seeing the sometimes positive outcomes from negative events. It is the practice of looking at oneself from both inside and outside and being brave enough to recognize how we might make different choices.
Our culture places a focus and value on youthfulness, striving, achieving and fame. These may all be valuable qualities for the First and Second Ages of life, but they are not what makes life meaningful and rich in our Third Age, our Wisdom Years.
Our Wisdom Years offer the opportunity for self-understanding and deepening one's spiritual awareness, and for sharing the wisdom we have gathered by simply living our lives. As we age we experience change, suffer loss and come face to face with death. We learn that living includes dying, and that loss and grief are inseparable from a long life.
As we age, we realize that the challenges that come in aging cause their own kind of loss. And for some those losses become crippling in and of themselves. But it does not have to be that way.
The Spiritual Practice of Aging means we are willing to see death from a different perspective, as a mirror in which we can understand life in new ways and see loss as opportunity for growth. As Ram Das said, “grief is an integral part of elder wisdom, a force that humbles and deepens our hearts, connects us to the grief of the world, and enables us to be of help.” It provides us with the compassion to utilize our wisdom for the benefit of others as well as ourselves.
Since we cannot get away from loss and grief, we might as well learn new ways to reap the possibilities it offers. What we learn as we mourn our loss becomes the rich loam for new growth. But as the old saying goes, no pain, no gain. Living fully in our Wisdom Years asks us to a new kind of effort, a personal and spiritual labor. It asks us to develop self awareness, the ability to see ourselves without polish, and to find a spiritual practice that connects us with all that is greater than ourselves. It need not be in a church, nor be part of a larger tradition. It can be one’s own, personal conversation with that which is greater than oneself. But we must practice because no one has taught us how to age, how to maximize this Third Age, nor how to flourish as we age.
The Spiritual Practice of Aging is an option that not everyone embraces. Some are more successful with achieving mental wellness and adapting to age-related losses and the changes that aging brings. The Spiritual Practice of Aging demands intention, it asks for deep honesty, it marries daily life with spiritual practice, and it challenges us to remain engaged with life. It is the open hearted embrace of personal growth, and compassion for others, that can make all the difference for ourselves and the world.
ourselves and the world.