Spiritual Practice: Aging Well

Aging

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately because, well, I am aging. I don’t feel any older inside, but the years keep adding up.

How do we look at aging as a spiritual practice?

I’ve watched my husband wrestle with these questions as he turned sixty-five and the warranty on his body seems to have expired. Suddenly he needs cataract surgery and hearing aids. With his spiritual director, he has come to a “letting go,” and “embracing of,” stance. You gotta understand. My husband is tall, handsome, with a full head of brown hair. He gets flirted with constantly and is often confused as our granddaughters’ father. These aging issues should feel like a personal affront to him, yet he is choosing to let go of what he has no control over and embrace the process of aging, looking for its gifts. And for him, these gifts are well worth the losses of aging.

This attitude seems to be the key in the books I’m reading on aging. Also, growing older does not mean stopping living.

parker plamer

Parker Palmer, in his fantastic book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes a series of essays about the aging process. I love this book for his warmth, honesty, and humor. One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“Old age is no time to hunker down unless disability demands it. Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time of life to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good.” Pg.2

Palmer speaks a lot about the importance of gratitude and the ability, to tell the truth in love, no longer needing to posture or pretend. That is beautiful. He also says we need to embrace everything inside us, our true selves and our shadows, with grace and love. This leads to our wholeness.

falling upward

That reminded me of a book by Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” in which he describes one of the main tasks of the second half of life as sifting through the first half and making sense of it, learning its lessons, facing our shadows.  Rohr says this process is not necessarily about aging but after suffering a loss, any of us can begin this process of facing the difficult truths about ourselves, though some choose not to. As we do, we become wise instead of bitter. Parker agrees, saying these traumas can either break our heart apart or break it open to love more.  (pg. 161)

women rowing

Another book that has helped me is, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” In this book, Mary Pipher uses case studies describing how different women have navigated the aging process. She writes a lot about gratitude and the inner work of aging:

“This may be the most important thing – that we learn to grant ourselves mercy. That we forgive ourselves, that we accept our pain, mistakes, and vulnerability, and somehow manage to love ourselves and our own lives…It is only when we grant ourselves mercy that we can extend mercy to others.” Pg. 158

What I’m learning so far is that aging is about grieving and letting go of the physical losses we can’t control and working hard on the things we can control. Processing our lives, integrating our lessons, and being honest with ourselves about ourselves in grace and love. As we do this difficult inner work it frees us to give back to the world. It allows us, as Parker Palmer says, to “take bigger risks for the common good.”

What are you learning about the process of aging? Are there books you’d like to share?

 

 

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Spiritual Practice: Reading

books

Sometimes the best spiritual practices are the ones that we don’t even notice because we do them naturally. Reading is like that for me, although I was a reluctant reader as a child. One day my best friend, Julia, introduced me to “horse books.” It was all I needed to become a lifelong lover of reading!

Fast forward twenty years and I had moved with my new husband to Reno, Nevada and it was like moving from a spiritual ocean in California to a spiritual (as well as physical) desert. Before, I had an abundance of older men and women who were mentors to me, but in Reno, those folks were hard to come by. So, I fell into being mentored through books. Hundreds of fantastic authors were right at my fingertips, and reading as a spiritual discipline is a practice I continue today.

Asking me for a favorite book is like asking me who is my favorite child, Instead, I’ll just mention the non-fiction books I’ve been reading in the last few months that have been spiritually significant to me:

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama.         

     

This book is put together from a week of interviews where the two men, in their eighties, sit together and talk about joy. It is fun (especially on audio) because you get a sense of their personalities as well as their profound spiritual depth. This depth has sprung from lives of suffering, and yet their pain has somehow blossomed into incredible joy for both men. In the back of the book, many examples of spiritual practices are listed for you to try (and you know I like that!).

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen.

I may have mentioned this in two blogs already so I won’t belabor the point except to say, READ IT! It is easy to read but hard to live out. It is based on Rembrandt’s painting of the story of the prodigal son from the Bible and it is deeply moving.

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr.

Richard is not an easy read, more like a seven-course meal than fast food, but worth the time. Thankfully our spirituality grows and changes over time and God just continues to get bigger and more inclusive. This little book gives me words for what is happening to me and it tells me I’m not alone.

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, by Phyllis Tickle.

This is another book that gives words to my experience. Phyllis says that every 500 years, God has a ‘yard sale.’ All the old religious systems are tossed out to make way for a new move of the spirit. She shares the history and the cultural factors in each 500-year shift and points out why our current faith and culture are in such turmoil now. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s good news folks! Again, not a light read but worth the effort.

Lastly, what am I reading right now?

Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling.

I will do an entire blog on the Enneagram as a spiritual practice next time, but let’s just say that if you are interested in learning more about this ancient tool that will give you incredible insight into your true and false self, and help you grow toward your true self, this is the book for you. It is easy to read, full of helpful stories, and demonstrates great insight.

So, pick any book that promises you spiritual growth and dig in. You might not agree with all of it, but the exercise of thinking through deep topics, will stretch your spiritual muscles and help you grow.

As always, if you are interested in a FICTION book to help you grow spiritually, please check out my latest book. “The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.”

Until next time, let me know what you’re reading! Jacci

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