The Spiritual Journey of Aging
I will be talking this morning about the spiritual aspects of aging, and also how we can live our lives healthier and happier as we age….our mind-body-spirit connection. Today is my grandson’s 5th birthday and in a few months, I will be 75. My grandson and his younger sister are energetic, engaging, curious, full of zest…a wonderful example of who we are as human beings.
At their developmental stages, life is magical. At any age, we can have that same vibrancy and magic. In my spirit, I don’t feel that I am an aging person. Our bodies age, but the spiritual self does not… In truth, our Spirits are ageless.
The purpose of our soul journeys is to awaken to the call of what and who we truly are…eternal spiritual beings with divine potential. Aging is inevitable, but how we age is up to us. As human beings, we tend to want quantity of years and as spiritual beings we long for quality of life.
As we age, in the natural flow of life, our energy shifts from the outer realm to the inner realm … the place where we can deepen spiritually. Our energy becomes more contemplative and the sense of our eternal self can grow into the fullness of our True Selves and more of who we are.
Our nature at any stage of our lives is to be joyful, smart, loving, good and powerful. At any age, we can allow our true nature to shine through. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “We are constantly invited to be what we are.’’
My major in college was child development. I became acquainted with the work of psychologist, Erik Erikson. According to his psychosocial theory of human development, we experience eight stages of development over our lifespan. I was fascinated and still am that from birth to end of life, we have the capacity to grow and develop. A
t each stage in Ericson’s theory, there is a task that we need to complete to move forward with competence and with a healthy personality to the next stage. Understanding developmental stages of life has spiritual relevance because in essence, we are Spirit.
In the first stage from birth to 12 months of age, infants need their world to be safe and predictable. With loving care, babies learn trust which is a primary task for healthy future development.
Toddlers, ages 1-3 years, explore their world and learn to have some control over their environment. This is the task of autonomy.
Children ages 3-6, through social interactions and play, learn to achieve goals through choices and this builds self-confidence and self-initiative, which is the task of pre-schoolers.
During ages 6-12, the task is to develop industry, which is described as accomplishment, self-pride and self- responsibility learned through schoolwork, social activities and relationships with peers, teachers and family.
The task of adolescence, ages 12-18 is to develop a strong and positive sense of self. If a young person can enter adulthood with these tasks accomplished, he or she can be more successful in their adult lives. If not, there needs to be acknowledgement of hurts and challenges and some healing to be done.
We are created as perfect expressions of God, but I don’t know anyone who had a perfect childhood or adolescence, and many of us need to do some healing work into our adulthood to maintain our innate wholeness, become our best selves and reach our highest potential, which is our divine purpose.
Erickson names the stage of adulthood from 20 to 40 years as the stage of intimacy for relationships. Erikson maintains that psychosocially, successful relationships with others in our personal and work lives is essential for our security and well-being. Of course, young adults are still working on identity issues of “Who am I? and What do I do with my life, which is a lifetime process.
Ages 40 and into the 60’s is, of course, the stage of middle adulthood. Erickson names the developmental task for middle age, generativity. This involves deeper connection with others, productivity, continuing self-improvement and making contributions for a better world. Mid-life is often a second chance to re-create our lives with new energy and with self- awareness that we didn’t have at earlier stages of our lives.
The last stage in our life span is from the mid-60’s to the end of life. This stage’s developmental task is named integrity. In terms of aging, integrity can be defined as a state of wholeness. This is the journey of integrating all of who we are to have a life of meaning and a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction with who we are and what we have done with our lives. We can still make choices to have the life we want and leave a legacy of purpose and meaning.
Our task at any age as human beings is continue to grow.. and as spiritual beings, we have unlimited potential. This belief in our unlimited potential is a Unity teaching that I love. I do believe we can pursue our soul’s yearning and manifest dreams at any age. As we age in our middle age years and in our elderhood years, we gain self-knowledge, knowing more of who we are, what our gifts are and what makes us happy. Self-acceptance also comes with aging. We often feel we don’t have to prove as much and don’t need to please others as much so aging can be liberating.
Aging gives us the gift of freedom and a deeper wisdom of life which are spiritual gifts. We can let go of our ego, let our spirits fly and welcome our true self. How glorious is that? Happiness research shows that over all, most adults seem to become happier as they age.
In one of the studies that I found, people’s satisfaction with life was described as a U-shaped pattern with happiness dipping down in the early 30’s and trending upward in the 50’s. As we approach our elder years, we have more time to pursue hobbies/dreams and meaning of life, more time to spend with friends and family with leisure time and travel. We often feel more connected to our spirit and are open to new and different avenues of self- expression and following where our passion leads us. As I approach 75, I am setting an intention to live up to my divine potential and highest purpose, and mindfully do it with ease and joy.
I certainly want my life to still have meaning and purpose, while consciously letting go when I need to and to prepare for the ultimate letting go with equanimity and peace. I trust the knowing of my heart, and I commit to see my life as an expression of God making our world a place with more love, peace and equality…these are the values that I hold most dearly and motivate me in my endeavors.
I retired from a profession of working with children and families when I was 60 and at age 62, my soul’s calling led me to attend an interfaith seminary in NY city named One Spirit. I felt very attuned to my spirit during seminary and very alive as I became an ordained interfaith minister. It was a real contradiction to aging because I felt I had a new purpose which gave me energy.
When I was preparing my talk, I found this anonymous quote which I really like. “The one who learns and grows will ripen with age. The one who doesn’t will just grow old.”
Life is for living, and I hope you are finding inspiration in your life to ripen with age. The author of “the Gift of Years,” Joan Chittister, states that “our spiritual obligation is to age well so that we can be a role model for others to have courage and spiritual depth to do the same.” I am thankful that I had grandmothers who were spiritual mentors. They both lived into their 80’s. Though they were very different people, they both had qualities of aging that inspired me. Dan and I are fortunate that we have close friends in their middle 80’s who live their lives with vitality and creativity and are wonderful role models for us.
The gift of aging is to live our lives with vitality and longevity and serve our highest good and purpose living our lives with joy, fulfillment and gratitude, as much as possible. So, how do we do this?
This is where the body-mind-connection comes in and where science and spirituality meet. Our spirit, mind and body are one. Ancient spiritual traditions of the east have known this connection for centuries and Unity co-founders, Myrtle and Charles Fillmore lived and taught this spiritual principle 100 years ago. What nourishes the body and mind empowers the spirit and what nourishes the spirit is healthy for the mind and body….this truth is how we are divinely created.
In Unity, we believe our thoughts create much of our reality. New thought spirituality and science know that the cells of our body respond to our thoughts and emotions …the positive ones and the negative ones. Wherever attention goes, energy flows. Taking care of the mind, body and spirit means first, to use mindfulness to stay in the present moment as much as possible.
A well- known Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, suggests the way we stay awake in the present moment is to simply and consciously breathe and smile….I love this. Keeping our thoughts in a positive place is essential to mental health and a calm, joyful spirit. On the average, we have over 50,000 thoughts a day and many unfortunately, are negative ones. We have the power of choosing our perspective in any circumstance, and as we age we have more wisdom to choose our perspective. We need to consciously frame our thoughts with positive affirmations of who we are and our possibilities and use denials so we do not give power to negative thoughts.
These are fundamental teachings of Unity, described on our posters and reinforced by the Unity literature, such as the Daily Word and the many pamphlets published by Unity. There are Unity pamphlets here for your taking and you can subscribe to the Unity Daily Word for $15 a year. I read my Daily Word every morning wherever I am. It is my most consistent spiritual practice. The uplifting messages always start my day with positive energy.
Of course, Unity also encourages prayer and meditation to bring us to a place of faith and stillness and open our minds and spirits to peace and wellness and possibility.
Our body is the house where our soul lives and therefore is sacred. We need the consciousness to treat our bodies with love and appreciation and the miracle it is. The reality is if we don’t treat our bodies well, our quality and quantity of life can be diminished. The realization of my mortality with my parents dying in their 60’s and my cancer in my early 50’s caused me not to take life for granted and has motivated me to place caring for my body a top priority.
Healthy aging needs to be a wholistic, balanced approach to healthy living. Exercise of many kinds strengthens our body in various ways, builds neurons and those connecting synapses in our brains, and exercise increases natural chemicals in our brains such as endorphins which helps create happiness, an important mind- body -spirit connection. A healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruits for antioxidants, light proteins, whole grains, and a diet low in salt, sugar and low in unhealthy fats build a strong immune system and help prevent disease. Educate yourself on the types of sugars and fats. There are healthy fats which we need and unhealthy fats which damage us. There are different kinds of sugar, some more harmful than others. Get in the habit of reading labels so you really know what you are putting into your body. Get the amount of rest and recreation you need for daily renewal of your body, mind and spirit.
Practice stress management to prevent an overload of stress hormones. Too much adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies, due to stress, damage our bodies and contribute to aging in unhealthy ways. Now, here is something positive to consider. Gerontologists have found that elderly people who agree to adopt better lifestyle habits can improve their life expectancy by 10 years. We can start to take better care of our bodies at any time.
Loving relationships, time in nature and having spiritual practices increase our well-being and longevity. Research indicates that people with strong spiritual beliefs are less anxious and depressed, have lower blood pressure and less cardiovascular disease, stronger immune systems and cope better with illnesses and surgery. According to various studies, people who belong to a spiritual community can add an average of 7 years to their lives. Social engagement, emotional and spiritual support and service to others is thought to benefit the health of people who attend a faith-based community.
And, we cannot forget the benefits of prayer and meditation which can calm our minds, relax our bodies and nurture our spirits. This mind-body-spirit connection benefits our sense of well-being in so many ways. I want to mention one more thing that I have learned in my research about aging. People who have the best chance of living to be 100 show a high degree of adaptability. The essence of life is that life has changes. Those who are adaptable meet life’s journeys with resilience rather than brittleness. They tend to respond creatively to change, with a capacity to integrate new things into one’s life… which takes us back to the developmental stage of elderhood where the task is to find meaning in our lives with purpose. Studies show that having a sense of purpose, however big or small, gives meaning and joy to our lives and prolong our lives.
I know I have given you a lot to take in with this topic of aging…it is a big topic. Before we go into a meditation, I want to finish with these thoughts from the book “Ageless Body and Timeless Mind” by Deepak Chopra who is a medical doctor and spiritual teacher…He has written numerous books on spirituality and alternative medicine. He tells us to trust the divine intelligence of our body and its innate ability to regenerate. Deepak describes the atoms in our bodies as bundles of vibrating energy which carry information. He tells us in one year, 98 percent of the atoms in our bodies will be exchanged for new ones.
Also, he teaches that time is not absolute. He writes that our awareness creates the time we experience. Someone who experiences time as scarce that is constantly slipping away creates a completely different personal reality from someone who perceives that there is all the time in the world. When our attention is on the past or future, we create aging. Deepak encourages us to believe we can create a new experience of ageless body and timeless mind in every minute. This is such a hopeful message for our spiritual journey, and I invite you to take this message into your soul. We are ageless and timeless Spiritual Beings with unlimited possibilities.
As Poet Emily Dickerson wrote…” I dwell in possibility” and this is true for each one of us. We dwell in possibility in all the stages of our lives!! Amen
Take some deep, slow breaths and be with your body-mind-spirit connection. Feel your body and mind relaxing and connecting with your sacred spirit, which is the True you…your sacred spirit… beautiful and eternal. Divine life is flowing through your entire being, renewing your body, mind and soul. Take a deep slow breath and feel that divine life flowing throughout your being. You are wise, you are healthy and innately whole. You are the Spirit of divine life welcoming new possibilities. Every day, you are co-creating your life with Spirit. You dwell in possibility. Take those thoughts and vibrations into silence.