From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older – A Book Review

IMG_0431

From Age-ing to Sage-ing written by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller presents a new vision for growing older……one that looks at old age as the natural and meaningful next step in our life cycle- the journey to the full completion of life –  not a dead end as we travel the latter years of life’s road.    

Challenging cultural norms and beliefs that see old age as a time of deterioration and decline, this paradigm redefines the third stage of life as one that can be active and spiritual, contemplative and practical  and purposeful and realistic. What is required is to do the inner work – through contemplative practices that allow us to look back, reflect, explore the lessons learned, harvest the gifts, make peace with the mistakes, understand the challenges – we ultimately see the vast panorama of our lives and from this, the wisdom flows.  

Elderhood, besides being a time of deep personal reflection and introspection carries much responsibility.  Following in the footsteps of many indigenous cultures where elders are revered for their great wisdom and honored for their contributions to the society, Rabbi Schacter calls upon elders to not only tap into their wisdom, as a form of personal growth, but to take the lessons learned, the life long skills  and to share it with others through mentoring, volunteering, becoming a steward of the earth and creating a lasting legacy that lives beyond our years. 

The strength of this book is that it is very real, honest and practical  It addresses the realities of growing older while offering a multitude of choices and options to live an old age that allows for a deeper and more profound experience of life and an acceptance and preparation for death. And yes, Rabbi Schacter takes death out of the closet. Instead of denial, he views dying “as a unique opportunity for spiritual awakening.” He articulates the importance of being fully prepared for the experience of ones death. He explores spiritual beliefs about a life after death. He even provides exercises in the preparation for death. 

And it is through stories, personal accounts, extensive research, exercises and practices, the authors offer the reader a road map into what Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls “an elderhood that is the anticipated fulfillment of life.” Age-ing to Sage-ing is a beautifully written and most important book that redefines what it means to grow old, be old and how to live fully, with meaning until we draw our last breath.  In a culture that glorifies youth and demeans the elderly, the teachings of Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi offer a new way of living and being alive.

 By Roberta Teller

 

Growing Older is Quite Different from Being Old

DSCF0115

We are always growing older.  It’s a fact of life. We begin to grow older from the moment we are born.  When someone is young, we say that the person is growing up. Growing up implies the physical changes that the years bring to the body as well as learning the life lessons required for the next stage of life. At some stage, usually after adolescence, but not always, we drop the language of growing up and we start talking about growing old and being old.

I contend that growing older and being old are not the same.

As long as we remain on this earth, we grow older. Being old, however, is a state of mind. One can be chronologically young and be “old,”  while an 80 or 90 year old can lead an active and full life. We call this young at heart for it is in the heart that age becomes irrelevant and attitude means everything.

I love what the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said,

“It is forbidden to be old. Grow older but do not be old: that is to say, do not be bitter and despairing. Do not oppose reality, but do not prevent life from fulfilling its potential to bring forth new things, right up to your very last breath.”

I want to continue to grow old  like that. I want to live each and every day of my life with vitality, enthusiasm, enjoyment and with acceptance for who I am, where I am in my life cycle and yes, with the reality that one day I will die.

Growing old is not for the faint of heart.  Moving into the third stage of life can be daunting.  Physical challenges, loss of loved ones, isolation, loneliness, the emphasis on youth in our culture and the societal dismissal, disdain and subsequent invisibility of elders certainly contributes to the dilemma.

AND, growing older has the potential for being a rich, fulfilling, and incredibly stimulating, fun and adventurous time of life. It is a time to reap the rewards of one’s life lessons and be true to who we have come to be.

Being old, however, is quite another experience. It is giving up on the enjoyment and joys of being alive and living in suffering and despair.  It is a death before its time.

I want to grow old in a realistic way. I want to embrace all aspects of living with curiosity, enthusiasm, vitality, connections, awareness and intention to be completely alive. I want to do this with my eyes wide open; aware that changes are already happening and will continue;  that physical and mental decline is inevitable. I want to meet this head on………realistic, aware, alive and in my ageless heart.

I am learning to accept growing older. The older I become, the more I am coming to appreciate this as a great gift. And, as with any wonderful gift that I get, I treasure and savor the unwrapping, the unfolding and in this case,  find the gift of life itself.

By Roberta Teller

Aging Gracefully: Inner Radiance Creates Outer Beauty

IMG_0122

Recently I wrote that aging gracefully is an inside job meaning that the internal process of tapping into our wise woman wisdom creates a beauty and majesty of spirit and energy that supersedes the superficial manifestations of our bodies.  Ours is a youth oriented culture obsessed with the young.  We are perpetually bombarded with artificially reconstructed older faces and the overly thin and air brushed images on the big screens and magazines.  Whether a woman chooses to have plastic surgery or not, is an individual choice, hopefully made with clarity, thoughtfulness and enough money to pay for the procedure outright.  Of course, we all want to feel good about ourselves.  Of course, we all want to look our very best and have a swagger in our step as we strut our stuff…….that’s a no brainer.  But……..

What is so much more important than the number of wrinkles or age spots is creating a culture where women themselves grow into an appreciation of their own individual and collective inner greatness.  We, the boomer women, must become the change agents ourselves where we not only tap into our individual and collective voices, but it is incumbent upon us to SHOUT OUT our messages, visions, and life lessons.  We must reclaim our long lost tradition of being the heart and soul of the community – the historian, the healer, the teacher, the advisor, the voice of a long life of lessons learned and wisdom gained.

While it is a daunting task to think about challenging and restructuring a very ingrained system that does not innately cherish and revere or seek out elder woman wisdom, I would like to suggest some first  steps…..steps that begin first with an inner journey into ourselves.

1.  SELF AWARENESS:  Ask yourself: What are your gifts?  What life lessons have you learned?  What stories can you share about your life?

2.  PAY ATTENTION TO THE SUBTLE AND MAYBE NOT SO SUBTLE DYNAMICS  OF THE FAMILY, SOCIAL, BUSINESS, EDUCATIONAL GROUPS YOU ATTEND Who does most of the talking?  Do some people monopolize the conversation?  Is everyone engaged? Are you?  Why or why not?

3.    SHARE YOUR WISE WOMAN STORIES AND LESSONS: Tell your stories. Share   your life lessons with friends, family, your children. Leave a written legacy of your life.

4.  ENCOURAGE OTHER  WOMEN TO SHARE THEIR STORIES AND LIFE LESSONS:  Invite friends over with the express purpose of a story telling night. Ask elder women to tell their stories…..

5.   WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT, YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL FOR EVERY  GIRL OR WOMAN YOU MEET:   Be aware that your views and opinions about growing older are being expressed covertly, nonverbally and through actions, attitudes and conversations. What messages are you actually sending?

6.  TALK ABOUT GROWING OLDER: Let’s bring the topic of aging into mainstreamconversation. How is it different from the perspective of a 20 year old or an octogenarian? Ask yourself and others of all ages, “HOW DO YOU WANT TO AGE?”  Let’s begin to demystify growing old by talking about it, taking power around it through right choices, and bringing it into our culture through awareness, conversations and visibility.

 I believe it is essential for each and every one of us to take the time and make a commitment to ourselves to explore the richness of our own lives as well as to affirm and claim the lessons we have learned, and to honor the gifts that we have bestowed upon the world. 

 And it is through our own self acceptance and appreciation of who we are that our inner radiance will glow ever more brightly and we can move to shine this light on the world.

By Roberta Teller