On the 25th of April I shared with you some random musings about age – let me try this concept which is all the rage here in the USA – successful Ageing. Close your eyes and think of an image that best captures this concept. Or perhaps you can think of a person that encapsulates the feeling of success and age??
Well – let me share with you some of my reactions to this discourse – remember that its written in the shape of a short chapter. If you keep on reading then it is likely you won’t have to buy the book!!
A disagreement with the concept of successful ageing?
Titles can make or break a book. We are going to explore in these chapters what makes for a good old age. The concept of success and ageing is a popular one and attractive perhaps to those of us who wonder what we need to do to achieve a good old age.
The literature tells us that successful ageing includes a low risk of disease, a high level of mental and physical functioning, and a continuing active engagement with life. Who could disagree with that? Good health, high function and an active lifestyle. There is something very Western about this function approach to our age.
There is an Indian tradition that suggests the older person should retreat from activity into the forest and in the exposure to the elements welcome disengagement. In this state there is permission to cast off the roles and duties of age in order to be free to focus on life’s true goal – achieving union with God. Here is one example of a spiritual model of ageing. It is based on the conviction that in our living there is always something greater than the ‘ego-self’. In the prime of our life we often neglect this source. We are so absorbed by money, family, and career that we have little time for anything else. Still young it seems that we could live forever.
We shall see that growing older brings its losses and hurdles and challenges. We have to negotiate these. Age, in some respects, renders us all forest dwellers – stripped of our habitual identities, poised at the edge of an abyss or the transcendent.
In any model of ageing there has to be enough room for these paradoxes. A spiritual model of ageing asks us to embrace or losses and changes and uses them to go deeper – as modes of liberation.
There is not one of us that does not need to learn and re-learn humility. We all need to spend some part of the day in reflection, silence, prayer or contemplation. Going inwards is soul work and a commitment to searching for wholeness – whatever our situation. It stands in sharp contrast to our action-obsessed culture. It stands at the heart of our major religious traditions.
Buddhists remind us of the need to face and accept death. The Jewish story of Sarah and Abraham speaks to later-life rebirth, joy and creativity. Taoism reconnects ageing to the great cycles of nature. The passion of Jesus explores the loving connection to God and how there can be grace through suffering. This is the place for thought and for the wisdom that can emerge out of silence. This book will call for an expansion of the wisdom that comes from our elders and for us all to listen more creatively to each other. Let us go and find our forest space!
This is set against a culture obsessed with youth and technology. In an age of materialism, spiritual confusion, addiction, oppression and violence – age and older people have the power to bring us back to our feet.
A good later life may mean a time for prolonging productivity, embracing leisure or battling with inevitable deterioration. There may be reason to see this as successful ageing. I prefer the concept of ageing well (despite the title of this book!). I want to explore alternatives.
The process of ageing is, if you like, a profound curriculum for the soul that has the possibility of enhancing both inward contemplation and service to others. So let us take a look at what that means for us.
And when I think of some of my parishoners back in the UK here is one thought that comes to mind: