About 15 years ago, as I researched for my doctoral dissertation (The Relationship between Practices of Religion, Spirituality and Personal Styles) I used a scale designed from another study to describe how human beings experience the spiritual. Religion (ritual, doctrine of a particular faith), nature, the artistic, intellectual, service and social reform were the included ways. As I explored for my topic, I read about the increased interest in spirituality that comes with aging. I gave little attention to this connection as I avoided the topic and moved on to more interesting articles and books about spirituality.
The number of years of my breathing, living on this planet earth (my age) is more now than then. I have hesitated to use the word “aging” (the process, experience of moving through the years of existence) until recently. “Aging” for me had meant “getting old” and I did not want to “do” old. I appreciate the perspective of Thomas Moore, who writes in his upcoming book Ageless Soul that it is possible to grow older without going through the challenging life processes that make us people of authenticity, substance and character. My understanding of his message is that aging requires us to say YES to the opportunities presented by increased longevity to adapt to the challenges of difficult life issues.
How do we say YES to the opportunities presented by challenging circumstances, incidences, and people? What I do now is be more aware of resources that honor aging, access them, and explore their relevance to spirituality. I link the intellect, my cognitive understanding, with my ever-evolving heart and soul. I have found such a source of meaningful information in what is offered by the International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality.
The first such conference was held in 2000 in Canberra, Australia. I have been able to access the content/material from the 6th conference in Los Angeles in 2015 and the one held this June in Chicago. I sense that attending this conference that includes individuals from around the world would be a spiritual experience. Imagine the spirited energy created when like minds, hearts and souls gather!
I take this opportunity to summarize some key points that resonate for me from the presentations and invite you to honor what you experience in reflection of the following:
· Aging is not a tsunami to be feared but a natural resource to use
· This stage of life is a transcendent, dynamic engagement with each other and within each moment and not contingent upon cognitive capacity
· The spiritual is the ultimate ground of all our questions, hopes, fears, loves
· Change the question from “Why Me?” to “Who am I in the face of this?” (Victor Frankl)
· Spirituality is a search for and connection to what is life-giving, meaningful, inspiring, and instructive
· “What to do?” and “How to be?” with aging
· A journey without challenge has no meaning; one without purpose has no soul (Phil Couslneau)
· We don’t pick and choose what is meaningful; we seek or make meaning of whatever comes
· Aging as a pilgrimage: We journey to reach a goal, but on a pilgrimage the goal is present at every step (Br. David Steindl)
· Spiritual disciplines invite us to: live with limitations, both in community and solely in contemplation, recognize the gifts of grief and loss
· Pain: the symptom of physical distress that may or may not cause suffering
· Suffering: distress of the body, mind, feelings, and/or spirit as a threat to the integrity of the whole person
· The blocked energy of pain and suffering transforms to healing love with the authentic response to both the difficult realities and joyful possibilities of aging
AND, in closing, “What IS so spiritual about YOUR aging?”
Dr. Glo (Gloria) McArter, counselling therapist, speaker and writer, encourages individuals, couples, and groups to use curiosity, courage, wisdom, and worthiness to nurture good health and wellbeing. As a spiritually independent seeker, she inspires an authentic and vulnerable relationship with the universal energy source of many names. Dr. Glo knows that opportunities and possibilities that are explored and accepted will enhance meaning and purpose in the continual evolution of years and age. She lives and works in Vancouver.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, The Spiritual View, HERE