Shifting into elderhood can be compared to moving from first to second, then second into third and third into fourth, rather like when I drove my standard car in my youth. I loved moving into that cruise place where I was gingerly motoring down the highway and settled comfortably into a smooth, consistent rhythm.
As you face the first shift in the gears of conscious eldering, it is coming to the awareness that you are entering a new stage of life. You are still busy perhaps with a full work schedule, but you are becoming aware that aging is upon you. You may be thinking about ending your busy career life and slowing down somewhat. That may be full retirement, shifting to a less demanding schedule, or it may be doing some work that offers a different resonance to your inner heart’s passion and desire. This stage Lewis Richmond in his book Aging As A Spiritual Practice, refers to as the lightening strike.
This shift is not as clear as it used to be when people focused on that magic number of 65, when the retirement party was thrown and off you sailed into the sunset. Boomers are a new generation and are doing things their own way when it comes to becoming an elder by asking: ‘How can I embrace aging, what more is there to learn, and what class is there to take on the subject.’ We absorb change perhaps in a different way than our parents did, but we maybe resist it more strongly as well.
Once you have had your aha moment of, ‘Oh my goodness, aging really is upon me,’ the second shift Lewis refers to is: Coming to terms with aging. You must come to terms with the fact that this is not happening to someone else, it really is happening to you. We tend to measure how we once were with how we are today. This step takes an inner inquiry into the body to let it speak to you and feel and accept that all of your emotions are okay. Embracing the anger or rage, stepping into the fear and releasing any guilt and sadness as you deal with unfinished business, allows a letting go that is necessary before fully moving forward.
The third shift in gears is one I seem to be facing of late myself and it is when we must adapt and re-balance our lives to recognize fully that a 65-year-old body just doesn’t behave quite like a 50 or 60 year old body. The challenge of the adaptation stage is how well we can adjust and remain flexible as the signs of wear and tear in our world grow more noticeable. If we remain flexible physically, mentally and emotionally, roll with the punches so to speak, we age the best, stay the healthiest and live the longest.
I am finding that shifting into third gear can present some powerful resistance wrapped in a great heaviness and frustration that really stopped me in my tracks. We’ll talk about this more on my Engaging in Aging Radio Show on AM 1150 this Sunday from 9 to 10 a.m. with Dr. Sean Pritchard, psychologist, mindfulness teacher and developing elder himself. You can start to sense the strain on the vehicle and cleansing your consciousness with full intention and making some changes is what will permit you to gear down for that smoother ride. I am finally learning this myself and will share it with anyone who wants to listen.
Then at last, we shift into fourth gear and are able to take in the scenery and be grateful for the blue sky as we settle comfortably into our seats with one hand on the wheel. This is the stage of elderhood called appreciation. We can look at our past experiences, the strokes we have made on our canvas, and decide to embrace all of them, both good and bad. As we contemplate what we learned from them, our experiences in life can become our treasure chest of wisdom from which to draw on to benefit others.
This, I believe, is when elderhood manifests into what can be the soles of wisdom. To walk on a new path in the third stage of life, mentoring others in a way that utilizes our unique gifts with a passion and creativity that brings us joy and the deep satisfaction that comes through an open expression of our authentic selves. I think I am almost there. It has been a journey over five years of letting go, patience and a lot of self-encouragement, but it feels like it has been so worth the effort.
Marjorie Horne is the founder of CareSmart Seniors Consulting supporting elders and family’s through transition. Contact her at 250-863-9577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.