“From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older”
My wife, Cindy, and I attended the aptly titled “Gifting the World As We Age” conference at Seattle University in August and came away with many wonderful gifts ourselves.
The event was sponsored by Sage-ing International, a non-profit organization founded by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the inspirational father of the “Conscious Aging” movement. Conscious aging is a re-write of the cultural view of aging from one of helpless and meaningless aging to a dynamic and purposeful aging. Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, commonly known as Reb Zalman, was originally scheduled to provide the opening Blessings for the three-day conference, but to everyone’s complete dismay, except his, he died on July 3 at age 89.
Reb Zalman was a Jewish spiritual leader and author whose 1995 book, “From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older” serves as a “bible” for the many conference attendees and for the thousands of “Sage-ers” around the world. The book definitely has traction among “Boomer” like me and Cindy.
Not for the faint hearted, the path to Sage-ing while Age-ing is challenging, but also immensely rewarding. The hundreds of elderly retirees at the conference were a lively crew, and totally focused in the workshops, presentations and keynote speeches. They were determined not to miss the promise of old age – indeed, they were bent on creating it! Underlying the experience of almost everyone we met was a recognition that the beauty of “doing” was somehow broken, but that a new way of “being” was called for: human being. The attendees were clearly retired folks, but certainly not retiring. They represent the vanguard of a cultural phenomenon that will change the face of aging. Never before have so many, possessing so much, looked into the future and seeing twenty or thirty years before them, asked the deeper questions of why such a long life, and how best can this time be spent realizing deeper human potentials of wisdom and service.
The use of ritual at the conference was noticeable from the opening. There were as many members on the Ritual Committee as there were on the Steering and Program Committees! The Opening Ritual was anchored by Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, an honored Elder of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, a federally recognized confederation of Native American tribes in Oregon. Grandmother Agnes, who just had a mountain named after her, was representing the International Council of Indigenous Grandmothers. Grandma Agnes said, “When the Condor meets the Eagle, Thunderbirds come home.” I wasn’t sure what she meant. She also said, “If a man can like a cat, he’s a balanced man.” I get that, and I want to know more. Meeting that group of women is now on my bucket list!
Journal writers and storytellers Christina Baldwin and Wendy Lustbader delivered the conference keynote entitled “What do you leave in the earth for the future to find? – A dialogue of gifting stories.” This was one of the more powerful and enjoyable sessions. Christina and Wendy have kept daily journals since elementary school. At one point, while proving themselves master story tellers and thought leaders, Christina asked the audience to stand up if they had kept a journal since elementary school. Now, there were probably 300 people in attendance, and about 30 people stood! My jaw dropped, for to me that was an amazing showing of journalists and diarists. Later, in a private session with a group of attendees, Christina, drawing from her most recent book called “Storycatcher: Making Sense of our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story.” demonstrated an ability to animate and understand both complex personal and professional subjects through story-telling.
Cindy and I then participated in a Barbara Sarah workshop titled, “Naikan: Japanese Art of Cultivating Compassion, Forgiveness, and Gratitude through Self-Reflection.” That’s a long name for a remarkably short and simple practice that leads to life changing discoveries. Naikan practice is based on three questions:
- What have I received from (some person) today?
- What have I given to (some person) today?
- What troubles and difficulties have I caused (some person)?
Naikan quickly changes the lens through which a person views life. Your emphasis becomes more exchange and relationship oriented, developing qualities of being like empathy and sensitivity. Naikan shifts attention away from the self to a broader awareness of the inter-dependability with the outside world. This fits with gerontologists’ general understanding that the horizons of life broaden and become wider, more inclusive and spacious as we age.
Age-ing to Sage-ing is a full and natural outcome of Carl Jung’s early work on aging as well as the work of Erik and Joan Eriksons, W.A. Achenbaum, Colorado’s own Robert Atchley, Susan McFadden and so many other wonderful contributors, but relative new comers to the academics of aging.
Aging and spirituality is a relatively new and fertile field. Most of the existing bibliography is from the 1980s and 1990s. It was just 1995 that Volume I of “Aging, Spirituality and Religion came out. Susan McFadden, a professor of Psychology of Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, wrote the introduction to this collection of academic articles titled, “Beginning the Conversation.” The last twenty years have added many voices, and considerably more research on this topic of vital aging, but all the conference presenters and contributors agreed that more research is needed. Age-ing to Sage-ing can provide a wealth of resources for anyone wishing to learn about the positive direction aging is taking!
One has to be impressed with the Sage-ing conference attendees. They paid attention to the biblical exhortation in Sirach 15:16 – “He has put fire and water before you; you can stretch out your hand, for whichever you choose. Life and death are in front of human beings; and they will be granted whichever they please.” Their dedication and focus on legacy work has created marvelous ventures and adventures. Their obvious dedication and love of Mother Earth inspired. Their commitment to generosity and social fairness, their hope for healthy and enlightened communities, and their dedication to peace were all clearly evident.
These folks might be “long in the tooth,” as Thackeray described it in “The History of Henry Esmond” in 1884, but to the attendees, elderhood is a life stage with the potential for wholeness, purpose, passion, continuing growth and commitment to service. This “elder” business doesn’t just happen, but rather is the result of conscious choices, preparation and participation – a culmination of one’s personal development. The conference proved that there are many elderswho are dedicated to envisioning, preparing for, and living to their fullest potential.
If you are interested in learning more about Age-ing to Sage-ing, there is a local chapter in Boulder. They possess a very inclusive spirit and are looking to both grow and diversify. (Editor’s note: see story below on Positive, Creative, Conscious ‘Age-ing??’ “Sage-ing?!”)
“LOVE AFTER LOVE”
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Robin Avery is a Gerontologist, Consultant, Developer and Operator of assisted living communities, with a Master’s Degree from The Naropa University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Positive, Creative, Conscious ‘Age-ing??’ “Sage-ing?!”
~ Boulder Sage-ing®: a CO Chapter of Sage-ing® International ~
Do you – or would you like to – embrace aging as the natural, beneficial, invaluable fulfillment of the life cycle? Would you like to hold a vision of the aging process as a spiritual path? Would you like to be in community with others who share this vision? Would you like to be supported by and offer support to those who are seeing beyond the cultural stereotypes and Madison Ave. portrayals of the second half of life?
Did you know an international organization exists for this purpose and that a local Front Range chapter now meets in North Boulder?
“SAGE-ING” is based on the book by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older.
Join us on the first Sunday of every month from 3-5 pm if you would like to:
Interact with others who embrace the gifts that come with aging and to be inspired by the gathered energy within the group.
Share your own wisdom and life experience in a setting where there are no experts AND all are valued as experts.
Establish relationships with others interested in community, learning, and service to promote meaning-making and spiritual eldering.
Explore resources for sage-ing and create new ones.
Visit the Boulder Sage-ing website at: http://bouldersageing.
Join us on the first Sunday of every month from 3-5 pm at the Boulder Silver Sage Community House: 1650 Yellow Pine – between 28th & Broadway,
north of Yarmouth between 16th & 17th.