A compassionate guide for transforming aging into spiritual growth
• Engage with 25 key questions guiding you to mine previously untapped veins of inspiration and courage
• Find a constructive role for regret and fear and embrace the freedom to become more fully yourself
• 2015 Nautilus Gold Award
As we enter the years beyond midlife, our quest for an approach to aging takes on added urgency and becomes even more relevant in our daily lives. Empowering a new generation of seekers to view aging as a spiritual path, authors Robert Weber and Carol Orsborn reveal that it is by engaging with the difficult questions about loss, meaning, and mortality--questions we can no longer put off or ignore--that we continue to grow. In fact, the realization of our full spiritual potential comes about not by avoiding the challenges aging brings our way but by working through them.
Addressing head-on how to make the transition from fears about aging into a fuller, richer appreciation of the next phase of our lives, the authors guide you through 25 key questions that can help you embrace the shadow side of aging as well as the spiritual opportunities inherent in growing older. Sharing their stories and wisdom to both teach and demonstrate what it means to feel energized about the possibilities of your later years, they explore how to find a constructive role for regret, shame, and guilt, realize your value to society, and embrace the freedom of your later years to become more fully yourself.
Coming from Catholic Jesuit and Jewish backgrounds respectively, as well as drawing from the latest research in psychological and religious theory, Weber and Orsborn provide their own conversational and candid answers to the 25 key questions, supporting their insightful and compassionate guidance with anecdotes, inspirational readings, and spiritual exercises. By engaging deeply with both the shadow and light sides of aging, our spirits not only learn to cope--but also to soar.
We begin the body of our book with a series of questions that will guide you to take a deeper look not only at where you are coming from but also the progress you’ve made over time in the direction of what we call “spiritual maturity.” What do we define as spiritual maturity? Spiritual maturity is a stage in our development that allows us to look life in the eye, without denial, intensely appreciative and deeply trusting, even as we embrace the shadows and uncertainties.
Spiritual maturity is not something we attain once-and for-all. Rather, it is a process of lifelong evolution and development. Along the way we discover that even the spiritual path can be full of bumps and potholes. The good news is that as long as we keep putting one foot ahead of the other, we are making progress.
What is a psychologically and spiritually healthy vision of aging?
In chapter 1 of our book, Bob and I identify what is most problematic about the dominant notions of aging. In a nutshell, it is the failure to recognize the growth opportunity in growing older, which takes into consideration both the shadow and the light. In skewing the picture toward extremes of positives and negatives, what is left out is a psychologically and spiritually healthy vision of aging that is grounded in reality and hope.
Here is a simple assessment you can administer to yourself to ascertain what theories of aging have been operative in your life. To begin, I ask you to imagine an elderly woman on a park bench staring vacantly into space. What do you assume about her? If your knee-jerk reaction is that she is depressed and marginalized, and that this is a problem, you have been influenced by activity theory. If you believe she is fading away from life, a kind of graceful receding into death, but that this is okay, you have been influenced by disengagement theory. But if you are even willing to entertain the notion that she is having a transcendent experience, not disengaged or marginalized by life but, rather, embracing the whole of it in a state of ecstatic, unspoken awe, you are a gerontological pioneer.
This new approach actually perceives aging as a spiritual path. For me, personally, this represents a tectonic shift in understanding. Just three years ago, when I turned sixty-three, I plummeted headfirst from romanticized notions of aging into dread and fear. Over the course of that year, dealing with the unwanted physical, social, and emotional ramifications of growing older, I was forced to confront the limitations of my ability to make things turn out the way I wanted. As it turns out, when viewed through the lens of spiritual maturity, this was a good thing. When we strip away the impositions, the fantasies, and the denial, we begin to view aging as holding the potential for activation of new, unprecedented levels of self-affirmation, meaning, and spiritual growth.
Paradoxically, the more I surrender the illusion of control, the less I worry about what others think of me and the greater level of inner freedom I experience.
What is a psychologically and spiritually healthy vision of aging?
For a number of years I had been noticing a gradual loss of clear-sightedness. Despite the fact that my ophthalmologist had diagnosed the presence of cataracts, I seemed to be only semiconscious of what was actually happening. Now, as I look back on this period, I believe that this was due to a “denial” of my getting older. Only older folks need such a surgical procedure!
Finally, in the fall of 2011, surgery was warranted since the cataracts had “ripened” sufficiently. After we set the dates for the surgery, the reality, both of the cataracts and of my aging, could no longer be denied.
While I felt some misgiving about this, I actually found myself appreciating and even enjoying this evolution, just as I enjoyed the outcome of my surgery. Vividly, I recall the new experience of my own eyesight. I could not remember ever seeing so clearly, appreciating colors so powerfully, and I was no longer subject to the glare of lights at night that made driving dangerous. I could see more clearly in the “day light” and drive more confidently through the “dark night.”
As time goes on I am realizing how alike psychological and spiritual maturity are. One of the first goals of psychotherapy is to move from a sleepy state of unconsciousness to a state of greater consciousness about what we think, how we feel, and what we do so we can live life more fully and freely. A second goal of therapy is to correct the many distortions that are fostered by the unconscious state of life. The third goal is to move to a greater freedom, to be the active agent of our lives. Fourth, we slowly but surely develop a deeper sense of our own worth and value as a human being.
In their book The Psychology of Mature Spirituality, authors Polly Young-Eisendrath and Melvin E. Miller characterize mature spirituality as having three dimensions: integrity, wisdom, and transcendence. Ego integrity and wisdom are the terms Erik Erikson used to discuss the final developmental stage of life, old age. Living into this stage gives us the opportunity to integrate all the pieces of our lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly. If this goes undone, or is incompletely done, despair occurs. The fruit of this integration is wisdom, seeing the truth of life more clearly because we have lived and are living it freely and fully. This results in a transcendent perspective, not because we have bypassed the finite reality of our lives, but because we have entered it and experienced it more deeply.
Robert L. Weber, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School and a former Jesuit. Recipient of the American Society on Aging’s 2014 Religion, Spirituality, and Aging Award, he is an advisory board member for the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology’s Center for Psychotherapy and Spirituality. He lives with his wife in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., is founder and editor-in-chief of Fierce with Age: The Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration, and Spirituality. The author of more than 20 books for and about the Boomer generation as well as popular blogs on Huffington Post, PBS’s NextAvenue.net, and BeliefNet.com, she has served on the faculties of Georgetown University, Loyola Marymount University, and Pepperdine University. She lives with her husband in Madison, Tennessee.
“At last, a book about aging that does not envision it as a problem to be solved or even as a challenge to be overcome! It greets growing older, as a gift and an opportunity. With age comes at least a little wisdom, and that wisdom is relevant for people in any age cohort. I savored this fine volume and commend it to anyone still searching, as I hope we all are, for the fullness of life.”
– Harvey G. Cox, Hollis research professor of divinity, Harvard University, and author of The Future o
“Are you a Boomer on a white-knuckled ride trying to shift into reverse on aging? We all try. This knowing book will relax your grip. The authors illuminate the path of spiritual growth, leading us to come to terms with where we have failed and to make the passage to what really matters. Beautifully written, both from deep research and even deeper personal experience by the authors, a former Jesuit and a Jewish woman. Best book I have ever read on this most significant passage.”
– Gail Sheehy, author of Daring: My Passages
“An in-depth look within by two specialists on aging, a woman and a man, aging Boomers themselves. It portrays aging as a spiritual experience, and unlike many current commentaries about people turning away from religion--particularly those who say ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’--they turn that phrase on its head. People across faith traditions as well as secularists will find the book engaging and eye-opening.”
– Wade Clark Roof, J.F. Rowny professor of religion and society emeritus, University of California at
“This wise and lovely book invites readers to take their aging seriously and honestly as a time for growing into spiritual wisdom. The authors ask us to ponder with them 25 questions that will help us to such wisdom. They reveal themselves as they strive to answer the questions they pose and in the process draw us toward developing our own spirituality of age. Readers will, as I do, thank them for their generosity and their wisdom.”
– Rev. William A. Barry, S.J., author of Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God through
“The Spirituality of Age fills an important gap, not by telling people what they ought to think about this subject, but by posing a large array of vital questions that can fuel the readers’ own imaginations. The authors know that there is no single path to the spirituality of age and that we have to discover our own unique, energizing and motivating answers. Their modeling is eloquent, thoughtful, and useful. Time spent with this book can bring great insight and direction.”
– Robert C. Atchley, Ph.D., author of Spirituality and Aging
“For those of us heeding the call to spiritual deepening in our elder years, The Spirituality of Age is a unique resource. The questions that form the core of this inspiring book are those that many of us carry on this journey. And the rich, experience-filled responses of the coauthors as well as the exercises they suggest will be invaluable in helping readers understand the many facets of their own spiritual potential and development as they age.”
– Ron Pevny, director of the Center for Conscious Eldering and author of Conscious Living, Conscious A
“These days we often hear the word spirituality. The spiritual search is a vital and continuous area of personal reflection for these authors. They encourage each of us to define the meaning of that word for ourselves. This book opens the door for all of us to explore our own growth, insights, inner peace, and continued learning that is calling to us as we age”
– Connie Goldman, author of Who Am I Now That I’m Not Who I Was?
“All of us get older, few of us get wiser. As we search for an ‘authentic’ spiritual practice we ignore the one we were given when we were born: aging. The Spirituality of Age places you firmly on this path. This is a book to be read, but more importantly lived.”
– Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent
“The authors are compassionate guides on the journey of aging. They beckon the reader to face the path ahead with honesty and courage. Through their own hard-won wisdom, they shine a light of hope for all of us who will, sooner or later, leave health, illusion, and life itself behind.”
– Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, founder of Growing Older and author of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older
“The authors have created a masterpiece! This book is a must-read for all facing the quest for meaning and purpose in later life.With their honest, profound, and often witty point-counterpoint perspectives on 25 of the major challenges of the gift of years, this book will enrich and deepen the lives of all of its readers and will be especially helpful to those guiding older adults on the path of psycho-spiritual growth in the second half of life. I am buying copies for all of my over-50 friends for Christmas!”
– Jane M. Thibault, Ph.D., clinical gerontologist and professor emerita, University of Louisville Scho
“This little book, built around questions to which each of us will have different and individual answers, emphasizes by its very structure that in our era, old age can be a time of growth and spiritual discovery, a time of fulfillment of life, rather than its dreary aftermath.”
– Mary Catherine Bateson, cultural anthropologist and author of Composing a Further Life
“The authors have penned an exceptionally wise and timely book. Wrestling with the hard spiritual questions that so often disturb our later years, they dig deep for personal answers and generously encourage the reader to do the same. Get ready, you may find yourself revising everything you think about aging and in the process making peace with your own answers. Perfect for personal growth, book clubs, and classes.”
– John C. Robinson, Ph.D., D.Min., psychologist, interfaith minister, and author of The Three Secrets
“To my delight, this book prompted me to ask questions of myself that I had never posed before with so much clarity. The authors each respond to these questions themselves, a unique approach that is not ponderous or heavy-handed. I found myself leaving the safety of reader-as-spectator and entering the provocation of reader-as-participant. My own spiritual inquiry began to breathe more freshly.”
– Wendy Lustbader, MSW, author of Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older
"Robert L. Weber, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School,and Carol Orsborn, founder and editor of the website Fierce With Age: The Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration, and Spirituality, believe that aging can be a meaningful and rich path to mature spirituality. The two authors come from Catholic Jesuit and Jewish backgrounds respectively but have written this cogent and illuminating paperback for a new generation of seekers, or those whom we call spiritually independent individuals. We were quite impressed with the book's foundation of 25 questions, the Twelve Exercises for Seekers and the extensive list of resources for Recommended Reading."
– Spirituality & Practice, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, December 2015
"These authors make the quest of aging into a journey in which one can take advantage of their expert and unflinching guidance. This can be a tool of extraordinary value to everyone, especially those of us whose memories have become longer than what is likely to be our future."
– Robert Simmons, The Tucson Metaguide, January 2016
“Synchronicity brought these two authors together at a meeting of the American Society on Aging. They quickly recognized that they were on parallel journeys, seeking meaning in the second half of their lives. Drawing on both introspection and their conversations with peers, they began turning insight into practical guidance. The result is this book in which they make the case that, as boomers begin to age, society has begun focusing on anti-aging, diverting attention from the benefits older people can derive from facing the reality of aging and the shadow side that surfaces with that reality. Relating to readers from their personal life experiences as well as their Judeo-Christian backgrounds, they ask readers to face (rather than avoid) their fears about aging. They encourage boomers to embrace this new aspect of the life cycle with the same enthusiasm with which they have tackled other stages of life’s journey. They ask them to take a serious look at things like spiritually healthy visions of aging, gaining freedom from illusions, developing neglected qualities, and dealing with feeling disconnected from the Sacred. The book ends with Twelve Exercises for Seekers, which will give your customers the chance to put theory into practice and discover how they can learn to view aging as a blessing instead of a curse.”
– Anna Jedrziewski, Retailing Insight, February/March 2016
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