Horne: Life lessons of elderhood

I have come to realize what this elderhood journey is all about and what it is teaching me about life.

Now that I have been on this path to elderhood for a few years, I have come to realize what this true journey is all about and what it is teaching me about life.

The fullness by which this journey guides the richness of the third chapter of life is like a mystery.

You keep walking on the path with fortitude and resilience, because somewhere deep down inside of you, you know that it is worth it.

Expanded wisdom is the outcome as you come to discover what is your particular curriculum of training to be an elder.

The coming to acceptance of being an elder takes a wide eyed approach to reality, but not with a negative attitude towards the years added one by one in a seemingly rapid rate.

It can create some fear as you realize that the grains of sand passing through the hourglass are beginning to fill up at the bottom and this vision brings an awareness that the years are running out.

You feel a need to speed up and get the important things done and at the same time, a pull to slow down and breathe in the joy of having this opportunity to be in the world.

This chapter of life holds a deeper meaning that seems of great significance in your growth, more so than what any of the previous learning stages of life have offered.

Perhaps it is because as an elder you have taken the trip often enough to recognize the turns in the road.

William Bridges in his book The Way of Transition coins this feeling this way: “Elders can appreciate the tremendous value of living through times when letting go is the only appropriate response to life. Important though perseverance is, they know how easily it can turn into a refusal to get the message that life is trying to deliver.

“For in many cases, being unwilling to accept defeat—though celebrated in the world of sports and warfare—is a guarantee that one will never learn the lessons that must be learned if one is to mature.“

The word mature has been very present for me as I have walked the stony path of aging.

Coming into one’s own, to complete in a natural growth or development is where the letting go really comes into play. This is when a necessity for willingness has come in a way that hasn’t been on my radar during the middle years.

It is perhaps why elders are needed so badly in our success-obsessed society. And maybe it is not the natural-born winners who rose to the top without a setback who are truly needed.

Bridges confesses that he never really gained this wisdom until he was in his own third chapter of life. He writes: “What elders need to help younger people learn is that without releasing the fruits of one season, they cannot blossom into the next. Such elders can show us, because they have done it many times, how to let go of who we have been to clear the ground for the growth of who we are becoming.”

This has come into my awareness greatly over the past two years, especially after watching my mom finding coming to her death so difficult and recognizing that that was not the struggle that I wanted for myself.

I notice as I pass through many transitions what that decision seems to have initiated.

I have periods when I am in a continual process of grief, a sadness for what I have had to let go of, then comes a period of disorientation when I am in the middle of a neutral zone where I have to wait and be still to discover when the new beginning will come.

The most perplexing stage, which of course confuses my inner driver the most, is when the challenges of the unknown new beginnings become overwhelming as you stay on the course of further development that your soul seems to be guiding you towards, and you seem obliged to keep a set of blinders on as you are led like a child through the darkness into the light.

An inner compass tells you that wholeness is the goal and experiencing these transitions fully without defeat or exclusion is the only way to avoid a mere brief and shallow victory that ultimately leads to defeat.

As Bridges puts it: “To do one’s best and then to let outcomes be what they will, is both to acknowledge realistically how often outcomes are beyond our control and to guard against the neurotic attempts at controlling how things turn out—efforts that lead to everything from defensiveness to dishonesty.”

This is why I have come to realize that being fully present in the third chapter of life is being given the good fortune to live in life’s richest phase.

A time when you can really begin to see beyond life’s window dressing.

The sections of your individual journey have the goal to help you “home in” on something specific for your learning or to go within to some inner emotional pond.

Because the unique journeys we experience carry us along to their destination, not ours, over time we come to the realization that as we begin to make sense of the experience, we discover that we have either fallen off of or are still on the beam of light that is taking us to our purpose.

The process of coming to appreciate each period of letting go, waiting and then once again stepping forward on the beam is a gradual unfolding of coming into more joy, more wholeness and more pleasure.

As the grief of each transition is felt, expanded and released, more pleasure ensues. You don’t get the greater pleasure without the willingness to release the pain.

This is what we will explore in The Pleasure Zone, a one-day workshop I will be leading in May. Come take the journey with me. For more information, email me at marjorie@caresmart.ca.

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