Conscious Aging: Aiming for Fulfillment in Life’s Later Chapters
by Ron Pevny
Certified Sage-ing® Leader, Director of the Center for Conscious Eldering, and author of Conscious Living, Conscious Aging
What do you aim for as you age? This is a key question that is guiding much of the discussion as millions of baby boomers approach “retirement age”. In contemporary culture, for people younger than 60 or 65 having a clear picture of meaningful goals is taught as being critical to a good life. We intentionally work toward careers, financial security, meaningful relationships, good health. We are encouraged to learn and grow, develop and use our talents, pursue our passions, leave our mark on the world. There is a strong societal message that a good life until retirement age is defined by continual expansion.
But then we find ourselves becoming “senior citizens” and everything seems to change. As large recent studies have made all too clear, the cultural message internalized by the majority of Americans and other “developed” societies around the world is that life as an older adult is primarily defined by loss, decline and marginalization. We hit retirement age, and then expansion gives way to disempowering contraction. We are left without roles seen by the larger community as honored, valuable, offering a vision to guide our choices. We are given the message that the legacy we will leave has already been made. The best we can hope for is to have some financial security, enjoy our lives and hold on for as long as possible to what we can do and who we have been.
It wasn’t always this way. Before the industrial age, the role of elder provided a life enhancing vision of continual growth to aim for. Those who were recognized by their communities as having developed the wisdom, equanimity and other qualities that can come with age had meaningful roles. The community sought their wisdom and younger generations grew up with inspiring models of what it is like to continually expand throughout an entire lifespan. Although physical abilities waned, continual emotional and spiritual growth and meaningful service to the community defined the elder years.
However, big change is afoot. An empowering paradigm for aging is (re)emerging in today’s world, largely driven by the baby boomer generation, a great many of whom aspire to much more than most of our parents did. Many of us want to stay mentally and physically active and engaged throughout our older adulthood, and numerous resources are available to help us do so. Beyond this need to stay active, as this re-envisioning of aging takes place there is a growing subset who recognize that merely extending by years or even decades our midlife activities and ways of defining ourselves will not be truly satisfying. Something else wants to emerge in our lives typically in our 60’s.
That something is an inner elder (whether we resonate with that term or not) that sees life’s later chapters as a time for a shift in focus from what we can do to the type of person we can become. We begin to see elderhood as a time for expansion of a different sort—for deepening of the quality of our relationships, for nurturing our emotional and spiritual lives, for developing often different talents and qualities not previously expressed in ourselves, for offering service to our communities grounded in our wisdom, compassion and commitment to helping create a healthy world for the generations to come.
Supporting this vision of the rich potential for growth into elderhood is the mission of Sage-ing® International, the Conscious Elders Network, the Center for Conscious Eldering, the Institute of Noetic Sciences and other organizations and individuals whose work is often labeled Conscious Aging. Conscious Aging encompasses a rich variety of approaches, practices and philosophies which support older adults in living rich, engaged, full lives of continual growth and expansion in whatever circumstances life presents. Key conscious aging themes include the power of our beliefs in shaping how we age; life review work; releasing aspects of our lives that keep us bound to the past; service to community through cultivating meaning and purpose; finding supportive others to support our growth and well being; deepening the spiritual dimensions of our lives; and using awareness of our mortality to help us live fully each day.
Conscious Aging provides a map of the territory of elderhood. It shines a beacon to elicit and illuminate our individual visions of what fulfillment can be as elders in today’s world. It supports us in aiming high throughout the whole of our one precious life.
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