"The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness." -- Lao Tzu
As we get older, do we fear birthdays more? Perhaps it's when we reach a certain milestone -- maybe age 50, 60 or 70 -- that a sense of our own mortality really hits.
And, let's face it -- the thought of old age can be downright scary for anyone, me included! Seeing our aging parents face illness or not being able to fend for themselves can be a startling wake-up call that we, too, one day may reach that age.
"Getting old isn't easy for a lot of us," writes spiritual teacher Ram Dass in Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying. "Neither is living, neither is dying. We struggle against the inevitable and we all suffer because of it. We have to find another way to look at the whole process of being born, growing old, changing, and dying, some kind of perspective that might allow us to deal with what we perceive as big obstacles without having to be dragged through the drama."
I've recently heard about the conscious aging movement. Baby Boomers, never ones for rocking chairs, are increasingly looking at life's third act as one filled with many possibilities, instead of none.
The Conscious Aging Alliance notes:
"Conscious aging is a perspective that sees aging as life stage full of potential for purpose, growth and service to community, and is a path toward realizing that potential. Our beliefs, about what is possible for us, and the intentions that spring from them, hold great power in shaping who we become. A great many Baby Boomers, as well as those further along in years, are hearing an inner call to age consciously, and are seeking support in responding to that call."
From age-ing to sage-ing
Elder circles are cropping up, too, across the nation with a focus on helping older people learn how to get rid of negative thoughts about aging, and instead frame it in a positive way that includes an expanded consciousness and wisdom. Elders, too, are giving back to community and society by sharing their wisdom with the younger generation.
But did you know that this is really nothing new? The alliance notes that, "Throughout most of known human history, societies have had an honored role for their older members ... It was the elders who were expected to have grown into a state of personal wholeness so they could serve their community as models for healthy human development."
No longer waiting at the windows of life
Dass also stresses the importance of being connected to community, which can help ward off loneliness and isolation.
"Whether through shame over our own aging, or through fear of dependency, we should be vigilant about this tendency to isolate ourselves as we get older. To offset it, we might seek out community centers and other meeting places where peers congregate ... specifically for bringing people of all generations together."
Want to practice conscious aging?
The Institute of Noetic Sciences, a member of the Conscious Aging Alliance, has identified nine practices to help people engage in life fully:
1. Reflect on your worldview, beliefs, stereotypes, and assumptions. How might they be limiting you or holding you back?
2. Reframe Your Inner Talk. Take note of your critical self-talk... reframe these internal messages as more positive and self-compassionate.
3. Shift Your Perspective away from the popular media and the weapons of "mass distraction" that shape the dominant culture's view of aging. Find opportunities to pause and ask yourself where you find joy, goodness, and connections.
4. Practice Mindful Attention. Bring your attention toward greater self-awareness. What do you need to surrender or leave behind? How can you conserve your energy for what has heart and meaning? What still needs healing or forgiveness?
5. Set Intentions. Ask yourself, "What matters most? What values do I want to adhere to?"
6. Build New Habits. Challenge your brain with new learnings, explore new activities...or do something new every day.
7. Find Guidance. Connecting with others offers a way of living into new patterns and behaviors.
8. Move from I to We. Altruism and compassion born of shared destiny, rather than duty or obligation, can emerge and add joy and purpose to your actions.
9. Death Makes Life Possible. As people grow older, as they come to face their own mortality, they can bring greater awareness to the transformative process that allows a deeper experience of their life journey.
Live it forward
I agree, growing older shouldn't mean an end to our growth. As philosopher Søren Kierkegaard noted, "Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward." Sounds like a fine future to look forward to!