More on the quest to age well –
Although I wrote the words “Aging as a Spiritual Journey” into my journal I had only the vaguest idea of what I meant by them. Googling them I discovered many people have written books and articles on the subject.
Most of these articles begin with acknowledging the fact that aging is inevitable. Although western culture tends to deny the aging process and to glorify youth we are completely unable to stop the process altogether. It’s a fact of life – we all grow older and we all eventually die.
The psychologist Robert Peck defined three psychological phases of aging.
1. The first phase happens around retirement. This is when we begin to wonder “Who am I now?” The more our identity has been tied up in our career, the more difficult this stage can be. Around this time we are also beginning to show the physical signs of aging. Many people feel they have become invisible.
The spiritual teacher Ram Dass sums this phase up well:-
“I can remember when I became irrelevant. I mean, you can walk down certain streets in any city and you’re either a potential, a competitor, or irrelevant. I became a walking lamp post after awhile. It was incredible because people look right through you, they don’t even see you. At first I got all uptight about it and I’d wear my hair spread all over my head and do all these things. Get tighter suits and diet and everything so I’d be somebody, but then it’s a new moment, and you realize that’s the way it is.” https://www.ramdass.org/important-come-terms-aging/
At some point we come to terms with this invisibility and discover freedom within it. It doesn’t matter so much what others think of us for, chances are they are probably barely noticing us.
Peck’s second phase of aging begins when we realise the body is changing with age. We are slowing down and don’t have the agility we once had. It can take longer to recover from illness. This stage is particularly difficult if you have identified with being physically fit.
The third psychological phase of aging is about the preparation for death. This phase is often foreshadowed many years beforehand as we consider just what we are leaving behind for future generations.
For me this third phase is like a tune playing in the background. I think about it from time to time but my main pre-occupations are more immediate. What do I do in the interim between having a busy, active life in the world and my eventual demise? Keeping busy and distracting myself with hobbies, shopping excursions and reading the novels I never got around to reading when I was younger gets boring. Traveling isn’t always an option – the finances don’t always stretch that far and beside, my physical stamina is sometimes just not enough.
As the old roles and identities I have inhabited fall away I am left wondering ‘what next?’ It seems to me that I now face a choice. I can either despair or I can figure out ways to age with integrity.
Somewhere in all my reading about the aging process I came across the idea that although the physical body declines the potential for spiritual development increases.
In her book, “The Measure of My Days” the Jungian analyst, Florida Scott-Maxwell wrote of this approach to aging –
“The purpose of life may be to clarify our essence, and everything else is the rich, dull, hard, absorbing chaos that allows the central transmutation.”
I will develop these ideas in my next post. You can find my first post in this series here
(as you can see the journal is continuing to develop as I read more about aging well. It’s become a place to work out what I’m thinking and feeling about everything I’m reading. I’ve had to leave my inclination to tidy it up and make it neat for the spontaneity gets lost when I try to do that).