We each face our decline and our death differently. Many of us seek to avoid worrying about it by filling our later years with as much activity as we can handle – travel, hobbies, general “busyness,” etc. Nothing wrong with that, as far as it goes. Many of us, however, face the gradual debilitation of terminal illness – dementia, mobility issues, cancer. None of this is pleasant, and so we would rather simply not think about these things, and live as much as possible as if we were going to live forever. And then we simply let the processes of diminishment gradually limit our world.
Enter the notion of “conscious ageing.” This is the spiritual practice whereby we take our decline as an opportunity for further deepening of our spiritual life and of our connection with God. If you want to learn more, click here.
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Approaches to conscious ageing:
For most of us, getting older is just that, more of the same, only less. Less health, less mobility, less opportunities. Recent spiritual literature, especially that influenced by Carl Jung, sheds a very different light on the process of getting older. Talk is of two halves of life: a first half is dominated by our ego – that part of ourselves that judges, plans, selects, decides, orders, competes, and succeeds (or not). The second half builds on the first, but is a break from it; it moves from “ego” to “self,” (or, as some would say, from “false self” to “true self”. It is characterized by non-dualistic thinking, forgiveness, compassion, and inner depth and meaning-making. Our first section on Richard Rohr’s take on the second half of life will provide an introduction to this potentially wonderful stage of maturity.
Almost all the wisdom about ageing suggests that there are some key tasks we should undertake in order to make our ageing a spiritual practice. Some approaches suggest that our later years are an excellent opportunity for the “inner journey.” Others accept the inevitability of “passivities of diminishment” as we become less mobile, more racked with pain and illness, and other forms of debility, but find ways to transform these passivities of diminishment into possibilities for growth.
By far the most common thread in most of them is the strong suggestion that we learn to let go – let go of our attachments, let go of our planfulness, let go of the ambitions of our Ego, and give ourselves over to what is beyond us and bigger than us. This prime directive is followed by its corollary, “detachment.” This is about holding our possessions every more lightly. In the end, we die without anything anyway, so this is a practice to prepare us for this. Almost everyone suggests that we learn to take the ever-broader picture. Our lives are not about us, but about something far greater – far greater than the petty goals we have been trying to pursue all our lives.
Another frequent theme is that the richness of the second half of life lies in the discovery of our own inner richness, often untapped as we were caught up in the busyness of the first half of life. The term frequently used is “individuation,” that which makes us an absolutely unique individual, as we seek to give voice to deeper aspects of ourselves than we have allowed ourselves access to in earlier parts of life.
If you want to learn more and start practising conscious ageing, a term used by several authors, here are some suggestions to go deeper. By no means an exhaustive list, here are a few ways you can begin to engage in the process of seeing your ageing as an opportunity for spiritual deepening.