Aging Grace-Fully – Session One
A New Vision for Aging
by David Tillman – September 2020
Acknowledging that time has changed who we are, how we are, and how others see us, is a process we all go through in our lives.
“Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:21).
“It is not change that will destroy us. It is the attitude we take to it that will make all the difference. The frame of mind we bring to it gives meaning to the end of one phase of life, of course. But more than that, it also determines the spiritual depth with which we start this new phase.” Joan Chittister -2
What if we look at aging as a pilgrimage. -3 “The life path is not only spiritual but at least to some degree, an intentional path to a destination variously conceived of as a holy place, a promised land, a liberation, enlightenment…wholeness, or eternal life.” -4 “We spend many years building a ‘self’…. we are trying to ‘become’ someone, and deep down inside we might wonder if we are really anything at all.” -5 “As Jung calls a persona—a face that we present to the world”… (based on work by Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr) “Rohr call this the ‘false self’ and sees it as an obstacle to authenticity, love and spiritual wholeness. It contrasts with the ‘true self,’ which is genuinely humble, loving, and in right relationship with the Divine, with others, and with the world in which one lives.” -6
Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upward – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life writes, “There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong “container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean we do it well. The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion. So, you might wonder if there is much point in providing a guide to the territory ahead of time. Yet that is exactly why we must. It is vitally important to know what is coming and being offered to all of us.” -7
Rohr continues, “There is a gravitas in the second half of life, but it is now held up by a much deeper lightness, or ‘okayness.’ Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness, if that makes any sense…There is still darkness in the second half of life – in fact maybe even more. But there is now a changed capacity to hold it creatively and with less anxiety…In the second half of life, it is good to just be part of the general dance. We do not have to stand out, make defining moves, or be better than anyone else on the dance floor. Life is more participatory than assertive, and there is no need for strong or further self-definition. God has taken care of that, much better than we had expected. The brightness comes from within now, and it is usually more than enough…At this stage, I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior, that my religion is the only one God loves, or that my role and place in society deserve superior treatment…I now realize I have been gratuitously given to – from the universe, from society, and from God…Their God is no longer small, punitive, or tribal…It takes such grasping several times in your life to eventually rest in a bright sadness; you are sad because you now hold the pain of the larger world, and you wished everyone enjoyed what you now enjoy; but there is a brightness because life is somehow – on some levels – still ‘very good’… Strangely, all of life’s problems, dilemmas, and difficulties are now resolved not by negativity, attack, criticism, force, or logical resolution, but by always falling into a larger ‘brightness.’” -8
In the book Age-ing to Sage-ing, by Schachter-Shalomi and Miller, we read about the Cycles of Aging, in 7 year cycles: -9
Ages 1-7: infancy & early childhood
Ages 8-21: puberty; the awakening of sexuality and adolescence
Ages 22-28: first adulthood
Ages 29-35: building adult personality
Ages 36-42: career and family
Ages 43-49: established social identity. We have “arrived.”
ages 50-56: contacting their inner selves
Ages 57–70: individual coming into the fullness of their power, elderhood
Ages 71-84: time for harvesting, reflecting on achievements, feeling pride in our contribution to family and society, and ultimately finding our place in the cosmos.” Continued elderhood
Ages 85+: Continued elderhood, increased health care needs
Gay Luce, author of Longer Life, More Joy, says “elderhood ‘is a time to discover inner richness fore self-development and spiritual growth. It is also a time for transition and preparation for dying, which is as least as important as preparation for a career or family. Out of this time of inner growth comes our sages, healers, prophets, and models for the generations to follow.'” -10
Carl Jung says “the morning of life is over, and the evening has begun. “People should begin spending more times contacting our inner selves. We begin individuating, becoming, and expressing the unique selves that we are.” -11
Between age 49 and 63, William Irwin Thompson, in Passages About the Earth, said these are “periods in which our mind, body and heart are unified.” -12 Coming into a “fullness of our power”… a deeper humanity emerges…we are concerned with the custodianship of the institutions themselves.” -13 “Time for harvesting…reflecting on our achievement, feeling pride in our contributions to family and society, and ultimately finding our place in the cosmos.” -14
”However, instead of welcoming their inner life, most people continue clinging to their worth in terms of material productivity and money. We are used to models of heroes who die in the saddle, rather than developing contemplative skills in later life.” -15
Let us look at a “Life Review:” “James Hillman has said “Life review yields long-term gains that enrich character by bringing understanding to events.” -16 Life review is more than a spiritual autobiography, and is best to be done “in a group setting, where stories are told in candor and honestly, the whole story is more apt to be told.” -17 Also it is helpful to include the faith dimension concerning “where God fits into one’s story.” -18 For older adults life review can help give them “larger meaning for the story of their lives and to bestow under others the wisdom they have accrued as their legacy.” -19 For those in middle age or younger it “is a valuable tool for discerning God’s will for the years remaining.” -20
Life review exercise: Download and print out the “My Life Review” worksheet. This is found at the bottom of this writing. Start completing My Life Review worksheet. On the worksheet is a listing of the “cycles of life” we discussed earlier with blank lines behind each one for you to write what was going on with you at that time in your life. This would include the bigger things in your life you remember about at that time. Also please fill in for those ages older than you with what your thoughts or dreams might be about those times in your life.
I have also included a recap of the “Five Stages of the Soul” (by Moody and Carroll, 1997) which might be helpful. Note on My Life Review the years, events, and remarks that are associated with one of more of these stages that you experienced.
The five stages are 1) The call: change of heart, conversion, etc., 2) The search: quest for guidance, 3) The struggle: involves disillusionment, despair, regret and impatience, 4) The breakthrough: occurs with a burst of vision, a new beginning and experience of joy, and 5) The return: means that life goes on as before with a difference that makes the ordinary unique. -21
Answer the three questions on My Life Review worksheet: 1) Did you find this My Life Review exercise easy or difficult to do? If difficult why? 2) What insights did you have while doing this? 3) What legacy, or “gift to the world,” am I going to leave to my family and the world?
I hope this My Life Review exercise has been insightful to you. I encourage you to continue updating My Life Review throughout the years.
To quote Joan Chittister; “Time ages things—and not simply ourselves. It ages our memories and allows us the relief of ignoring them. It ages our relationships and gives us the comfort of surety.” -22
May this bring you a renewed awareness and understanding as you age. Give you insights to how you can love and support your parents, children, other family members, and friends as they Age Grace-Fully.
1- Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, (Katonah, NY: BlueBridge Books, 2008), xi.
2- Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, 46.
3- Melvin A. Kimble and Susan H. McFadden, ed., Aging, Spirituality, and Religion: A Handbook – Volume 2, 239.
4- Ibid., 7.
5- Ibid., 7.
6- Ibid., 7.
7- Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, A Spiritually for the Two Halves of Life, (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2011), xiii.
8- Ibid., 117-124.
9- Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller, Age-ing to Sage-ing, (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 22-23.
10- Ibid., 15.
11- Ibid., 23.
12- Ibid., 23.
13- Melvin A. Kimble and Susan H. McFadden, ed., Aging, Spirituality, and Religion: A Handbook – Volume 2, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 157.
14- Ibid., 157.
15- Ibid., 158.
16- Ibid., 158.
17- Ibid., 158.
18- Ibid., 161.
19- Ibid., 161.
20- Ibid., 161.
21- Moody and Carroll, Five Stages of the Soul,” (1997).
22- Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, 46.
© 2020, David Tillman, www.lifesjourney.us, all rights reserved.