Age-ing and Sage-ing
By Jo Strausz Rosen
Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was approaching his 60th birthday. The realization came to him that he was getting old, and he felt alone and vulnerable and feared becoming “a geriatric case who follows the predictable pattern of retirement, painful physical diminishment, a rocking chair existence in a nursing home, and the eventual dark and inevitable end to life.” He wrote a book, “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” and shared some heartwarming experiences and wisdom as he sought to learn about aging in a secluded cabin with the help of Sufi masters, Buddhist teachers, and Native-American shamans. He was leaving an old phase of life that he had outgrown. He asked himself, “If I had to die now, what would I most regret not having done? What remains incomplete in my life?”
He meditated on his children and set new priorities for his professional life and personal relationships. After this retreat, he felt more alive than ever. He had glimpsed his future and it was then that he founded “The Spiritual Eldering Institute” that sponsors nondenominational workshops providing emotional support and psychological and spiritual tools to help people become elders within our modern culture. He proposed a new model of late-life development called Sage-ing, a process that enables older people to become spiritually radiant, physically vital, and socially responsible “Elders of the Tribe.”
Reb Schachter-Shalomi offered tools like meditation, life review, and journal-writing along with other contemplative techniques that can expand our mental potential. Spiritual elders can awaken inner knowledge, wisdom, and expanded perception. Some of his suggestions: choosing to be a mentor to the younger generation; advising them about cross cultural understanding and world peace; healing the family, the community, and the planet through elder wisdom; and creating the social structures for elderhood to emerge as a significant force in society.
We can view elders as “wisdomkeepers who have an ongoing responsibility for maintaining society’s well-being and safeguarding the health of our ailing planet Earth,” says the Reb. We can and should reinvent William Shakespeare’s view on growing older that describes old age as, “second childishness and mere oblivion/sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
An alternative image of aging is Sage-ing. “We should limit negative notions about growing older. Aging itself isn’t the problem, it’s the images that we hold about it, our cultural expectations, that cause problems,” says Reb Schachter-Shalomi.
“Each of us has an elder within, made up of all the images we possess about later life,” writes Ken Dychtwald and Joe Flower in AgeWave. “Impressions formed in our youth of experiences with our own grandparents cause expectations that we carry into the future. If we can see the elder within as joyous, happy, involved, active and full of life and learning, then the gift of extended life might hold the promise of a dramatic and unprecedented expansion of our opportunities for growth, adventure, wisdom, experience, and love.”
Psychologist, Gay Luce, author of Longer Life, More Joy, says “Elderhood is a time to discover inner richness for self-development and spiritual growth. It is a time of transition and preparation for dying, which is at least as important as a preparation for a career or family. Out of this time of inner growth come our sages, healers, prophets, and models for the generations to follow.”
If we take a lesson from one of our Eight Over Eighty honorees, actress and Meer resident, Shirley Benyas, we can compare our lives to dramas with various themes and dramatic plot lines. “Old age is the time when the meaning of the play becomes clear to us.” Consider the vibrant older adults engaged in the process of soul making and claiming their inner wisdom.
Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book, The Insecurity of Freedom, Essays on Human Existence wrote, “One ought to enter old age the way one enters the senior year at a university, in exciting anticipation of consummation. The years of old age may enable us to attain the high values we failed to sense, the insights we have missed, the wisdom we ignored. They are indeed formative years, rich possibilities to unlearn the follies of a lifetime, to see through inbred self-deceptions, to deepen understanding and compassion, to widen the horizon of honesty and refine the sense of fairness.”
Reb Schachter-Shalomi says, “Up to now, we have all gone shopping in the world’s markets, gathering ingredients for a cake. To become an elder, we must stop rushing madly about, learn to get quiet, mix all the ingredients together meditatively, bake the cake, and allow it to rise in its own time. In this way, elderhood represents the crowning achievement of life.”
Jewish Senior Life provides our resident sages with daily opportunities to stay connected to each other and to the future in pursuit of knowledge, happiness, joy, and pleasure. We gather in unity through daily learning experiences, breathing exercises, body awareness, brain coordination and memory enhancement to extend our vast untapped physical and mental potentials. We process the knowledge that leads us all to gratitude for our friends, neighbors, and staff at the independent and assisted living residences we call home. Our models of elderhood reside together at Jewish Senior Life. Their legacy of lives well lived enhance our world and inspire us all.
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