Aging as a Spiritual Journey

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.”   Carl Jung

Coming to terms with physical decline and with the loss of old roles that occurs during the aging process takes conscious effort.  Carol Osborn, author and founder of Fierce with Age says “Mourn your lost youth, illnesses or other losses.  Acknowledge that it’s happening as a passage you have to go through.”

The journey through this passage can be the thing that propels us to shift our awareness into a more spiritualized view of the aging process.

The University of Maryland Medical Center defines spirituality as “a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself; a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures; and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life and the development of personal, absolute values. Even the non-religious may describe themselves as spiritual.”  aging as a spiritual process

The clinical psychologist, Dr. John Robinson writes:-
“While we can hang onto past identities and achievements, these memories grow stale for they no longer represent who we really are. But this procession of losses, as the mystics tell us, constitutes the quintessential pre-requisite for enlightenment. What’s left when the ego’s filters of identity, time and story dissolve is consciousness itself, which the mystics also tell us is the consciousness of the divine.”  http://www.johnrobinson.org/

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Robinson describes the process of coming to terms with the losses of age as a descent – either a descent into distress or, if we move to the spiritual side of the matrix, a descent into ‘the arms of the divine mother.’

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I like the idea that the descent is a mystic journey back to the divine mother for that is where my own meditations take me.

Through some alchemical process I don’t know the words for, this journey into the mystical depths can lead to an intuitive awareness of the interconnection of all life.  The sense of purpose that grows from this awareness is greater than purely personal concerns yet it infuses the personal life with meaning and a sense of joy.  It is here where the path into aging opens up into a greater awareness of the wonder of life.

It is here too where the interior landscape becomes archetypal and the spiritual journey is shown to be a journey that anyone can take at any time.   Age is not a pre-requisite.

I will leave my quest across the landscape of aging here.   My quest to find new stories continues.  I might blog about that in 2019 but I’m not sure.

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 HAPPY NEW YEAR

This is the 3rd post in my series ‘Aging as a spiritual journey’
Part 1 of this journey can be found here
Part 2 of this journey can be found  here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defining the Journey

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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).

 

 

 

 

 

The quest begins

Although I said I would wait till till the new year to post again I have been working away at making blog posts.   I’m starting to feel I need to start posting again to clear the way forward into 2019.     Here’s the first one:-

Thoughts on ways to age positively –

In my post time-for-a-quest I wrote ” Growing older and moving into the third stage of life I find this culture is not providing me with models of aging that sustain me.  The medical model of age as a disease is sickening- literally –  the cultural idea of denying and/or defying age doesn’t work for me either.   Of course bodies age and interests change – that is the way of life.  The idea of retiring to play golf and bingo bores me witless.   There has to be more fulfilling ways to age.”

When I attempted to sort through my thoughts around aging I found I had so many conflicting ideas they overwhelmed me.   I needed some way to organise the chaos within – some way of externalizing my thoughts so that I could sort them out.  I decided the first step would be to make an art journal.

To get started with this I collected together 8 small pieces of watercolour paper that were roughly the same size (15 x 20 cm).    I then painted on these with acrylic paint.   At this stage I just slapped on colour to cover the white paper.

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When the first side was dry I turned the paper over and painted the back.DSCF3008

Once both sides were dry I started embellishing them with words and pictures cut from magazines.   I also used a few of my own photos and digital images I had printed out some time ago.   To select the magazines pictures I flicked through old magazines without much conscious thought.   Whenever I found a picture that made me look twice I tore out that page.  Once I had pile of pages I cut out the bits of the pictures that attracted me.

I struck the words and images onto my painted papers using a glue stick.  At this stage I had stop myself getting caught up in my thoughts.    Whenever I started to manipulate the pages so that they reflected a specific idea the process would bog down.  For example, I stuck the words ‘building blocks’ onto one of the papers in the photo below but soon after taking the photo I pulled them off again as they seemed too definitive.  Luckily the paper was still damp from the painting process so they peeled off easily.DSCF3010.JPG

I then drew and painted on the papers – again without too much pre-meditated thought.

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Once all the paper was dry I folded the pieces in half and collected them into a book format.   To make a cover  I used a piece of leather.  I punched three holes into the pages and the cover and laced them together with thonging.

Although a lot of the pages were incomplete the book began to develop a theme.   On one page  I had glued a photo of a Buddhist woman on a spiritual pilgrimage.  It was only when I had assembled the book that the words “Aging as a Spiritual Journey” popped into my mind.   I wrote them on a scrap of paper and glued them onto the page.

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I now had a journal to work in and a broad theme to work with…

more in the next post

Climate Change and Depression

Talking about climate change can be utterly depressing.   People feel powerless in the face of the might of Big Business and short sighted Governments.   Beyond that there is the weight of unexpressed grief over species loss and habitat destruction.   Then there are fears that it could be too late. We worry that there may not be enough time to make effective changes.  We worry about possible disaster scenarios that will directly impact our way of life, our health and our wellbeing. We worry about the world we are leaving our descendants. 

The actions we are advised to take as individuals seem too slight to make much impact.   Turning off a light in an empty room is hardly likely to drastically reduce the amount of CO2 in the upper atmosphere.   Sure, every little bit counts but let’s be honest, most little bits have very little impact.  The changes that need to occur are systemic.   They are huge.   They involve worldwide action that needs to be co-ordinated on a global level.  

It’s telling that studies show that the main group of people who are depressed and  anxious about climate change are those have don’t have much of voice on the world stage:

“Most hard-hit are women and people with low incomes who worry about the planet’s long-term health, said the study published in the journal, Global Environmental Change.” https://www.sbs.com.au/news/climate-change-linked-to-depression

No doubt many of the rich and powerful feel their money will somehow shield them from the most devastating effects of climate change.   They’ll simply move to a safer area or perhaps, as a last resort, they can relocate to Mars!   

So while many of us who aren’t rich and powerful feel depressed by climate change many of us also feel utterly powerless to do anything that will have a real impact.   The Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy says that we are collectively grieving but the grief is unacknowledged.    She maintains that we need to acknowledge this grief and allow ourselves to feel our deep sadness before we can act effectively to create solutions to the issues climate change raises.  John Seed, the Australian Deep Ecologist explains her ideas here:-

“Joanna Macy reminds us that we need to have the courage to allow ourselves to descend into hopelessness, resisting the temptation to rush too soon into a new future. The taboo against feelings in western culture tethers us to a futile struggle as we are unable to respond with effective, creative and inspired solutions.”  http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/climate/ccdeSA.pdf

Joanna Macy and John Seed have developed a workshop where participants access their grief over climate change and species extinction by identifying with particular animals. Obviously these workshops are not for everyone.    Personally I am more drawn to deep shamanic healing processes but again, that’s not for everyone.   I do think though that everyone has the ability to find the healing processes and tools that work for them if they open to the idea.   It can be as simple as finding a web page or having a conversation that suddenly present you with a healing process that works for you.

While most of us aren’t in a position to make a great impact on the global scale we can work on finding ways to process our grief, anxiety and depression over climate change etc.  In so way doing we empower ourselves.   By acknowledging, feeling and then releasing our sadness and anger over what’s happening to our world we can find our voice again.    We can reclaim the energy that has been locked up in negative, fatalistic thinking and begin to find our way towards effective action.  

Possibilities

Browsing through my WordPress reader I was intrigued by the prompt on K’lee and Dale’s Cosmic Photo Challenge The look and feel of gratitude

I’m finding it hard to express myself in words at present.   I think it must be because of the exhaustion caused by my current ill health.  I’m finding it much easier to express myself through images and have been spending a lot of time processing photos and posting images on Instagram.  Doing this leads me to an awareness of two things I am very grateful for right now – the Internet and digital photography.

Both open up all kinds of possibilities that didn’t exist previously or, if they did, were difficult and time consuming to achieve.

By cropping, inverting the image and enhancing the colour I can quickly turn a photo of a pond into an image where fish fly through a cloudy sky.

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I created the digital image below in attempt to express how events in the outer world are rocking my old certainties and beliefs about the way the world operates.

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That leads me to something else I am extremely grateful for at present – books (both fiction and non-fiction).    I’ve been reading a lot lately.   Just today I finished reading an extraordinary novel – “Princess Bari”  by the Korean author Hwang Sok-Yong.   The novel  is about the journey of young village girl in North Korea to her life as a shamanic healer in contemporary London.

The novel looks at the issues of refugees and people smugglers, the plight of illegal immigrants without papers, war, terrorism and other contemporary issues yet it is not a depressing book.   Instead it uses magic realism to weave a tale that speaks of the power of love and hope.

Speaking of terrorism and the ‘war on terror’ one of the characters says – “This war is a hell caused by the arrogance of the powerful and the desperation of the poor.   We are poor and have nothing to give, but we must have faith that we can still help others.  This is the only way the world will ever get any better.”

Reading this book I was filled gratitude that our world contains room for stories and the gifted storytellers who can use words to inspire others.

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A light appearing

prompt:   https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/reenas-exploration-challenge-week-61/    Here is a complex thought for you to decipher. Choose a part of it, if you so desire, and use it as an inspiration to write your piece.

In the immensity of consciousness, a light appears — a tiny point which moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts, and feelings, like a pen writing on paper. And the ink which leaves a trace is memory. You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created.

 Sri Nisargadatta, I Am That

My recent illness left me unsure and uncertain as my creative direction.   (I wrote about this here)  For the past few years so much of my creative energy has been expended creating images and poems on the computer.  For quite a while I’ve been feeling like I want to get back to more hands on work but I haven’t been able to find a way into it that inspired me.  While I was sick the feeling grew even stronger.

When I first came home from hospital I was too sick to do much but note that these feelings were growing stronger.   It’s only been the past few days that I’ve been starting to think that I might actually do something other than watch TV.   Going through my art making supplies and sorting through my stash of art papers I kept thinking I’d like to make to some handmade journals but I had no idea what I’d put in them.

In the months before I got sick I moved house.    The garden where I now live is dominated by a huge tree.    When I moved in late winter the tree was still bare (I live in Australia).   While I was in hospital spring sprung and by the time I got home the tree was covered in a spreading canopy of lush foliage.

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It’s an enormous tree and everyone who visits my place comments on how beautiful it is. Many people ask what kind of tree it is but I haven’t been able to tell them.    It wasn’t until this afternoon that I finally began to wonder if the internet could help me identify it.   I found an online site where you can identify deciduous trees by their leaves and quickly discovered the tree is a North American Green Ash.

“In the immensity of consciousness, a light appears — a tiny point which moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts, and feelings, like a pen writing on paper.”

I had some vague idea that Ash trees were important in Celtic mythology so that led me on another search of online information.    It wasn’t long before I discovered the Ash is a sacred tree in many cultures and the World Tree of Norse Mythology.  Suddenly a wealth of information, ideas, legends and stories opened up for me.  One idea that appealed to me was the Ash Fairy –

“The Ash Fairy is androgynous and ambiguous, carrying great mysticism and power and making many connections: between this world and the Otherworld, between masculine and feminine, and between differing ideas. The ash fairy understands that problems are rarely solved on the level at which they were created.” http://www.thegoddesstree.com/trees/Ash.htm

A couple of weeks ago when I thinking about healing I first read the idea that problems are rarely solved on the level at which they are created in a book by the Medical Intuitive Caroline Myss.   This idea  led me to some deep meditations and healing visualizations that really helped me pull myself out of the daze I was in.   To discover that the fairy associated with the ash tree carried a similar message appeals to me.  Lately I’ve been spending time every day sitting in the shade of the ash tree in my garden.   Every time I sit there I have a sense that the tree holds some special kind of healing energy.

As is the way with internet searches one link led to another and I found myself reading post after post on a fascinating blog https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/
Many of the posts are illustrated with drawings from the author’s own journals.   There are also posts describing the druid’s approach to creativity.

The ideas about the  connections between spiritual practice, nature and creative expression really resonate with me and correspond to many of the ideas about creativity that I explored when I was deeply involved in writing haiku.     Somehow though today’s internet explorations and the energy of the ash tree in my garden have lifted me into something new – some tiny spark has been ignited and I begin to see to my way into new creative expression.    My ideas are moving rapidly and I’m sure it won’t be long before a new art journal begins to take shape.

 

 

 

Tree Magic

While I was in hospital the big old tree that dominates my new garden developed its full cover of greenery in the warm spring weather.  Sitting inside as I let my body heal I am spending hours looking out into this tree.   DSC_0101

While the tree seems to be exuding some gentle yet powerful healing magic it’s hard to photograph from inside the house.   It’s only when I get outside underneath the branches that I can fully appreciate it’s majesty.

I have no idea what species this tree is other than knowing it is not an Australian native because it is deciduous.     I also have no idea how old it is but it could well be over 100 years old.   I live in the old part of a town that was first settled by whites in the 1850s.  The little cottage I live in is nowhere near that old but the land it stands on could well have been a farm and the tree planted as a shelter tree.

All these details don’t matter at all to me right now.   I am simply soaking up the wonderful tree energy and enjoying the play of light through the branches over the course of the day.    I think about how the roots of this tree must plunge deep into the earth while the topmost branches reach out and embrace the sky.   Thinking these thoughts I feel immensely grateful for the beauty of earth and for the way much human activity actually adds to that beauty.    It’s so easy now to see only the gloom and doom of negative future projections.    It’s so good to have been given this time to stop and appreciate life (even though I’m chafing at the bit to be better and get back out into the world I know there’s no quick health for me right now).

The tree in my new garden is a living presence that has come to symbolise health, longevity and strength to me.

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