The conscious aging process opens a window to our soul and helps us to identify the lessons we chose to learn in this life.
One of our basic needs in life is to find meaning and purpose. Like the dragonfly that doesn’t get its true colors until it reaches maturity, sometimes it is only when we have lived a full life and become more conscious, that our true soul purpose and our life’s deepest meaning begin to appear.
Many of us, when younger, confused our work with our purpose—although for some they may have overlapped. Our purpose is not necessarily the way we make money in this world; it is more about the reason our soul decided to incarnate. It takes a bit of living to discover what that is for most of us.
What is the purpose of YOUR life?
The renowned spiritual teacher, Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert, April 6, 1931) an American contemporary spiritual teacher and the author of the seminal 1971 book Be Here Now and the more recent work, Still Here: Embracing Changing, Aging and Dying suggests that one purpose is to learn to grow old well. He asserts that some of his greatest growth has taken place since he had a stroke at age 65.
“I realized that stroke was grace. I had been superficial and arrogant and the stroke helped me to be humble. I had gotten power from helping people and now I need help for everything. That was the grace. The stroke happened to the ego, and when I could witness the pain, my life got better.”
Fortunately, most of us do not have to experience something as dramatic as a stroke to learn spiritual lessons. For example, we can learn mindfulness as we find our bodies slowing down and as friends, family and the media caution us more and more about being alert lest we become one of the statistics of those who have had a fall.
Consciousness, after all, is all about being alert and is one of the most important ways of keeping ourselves balanced. Being conscious is synonymous with living in the present.
All spiritual teachings tells us that the most important lesson is to be in the NOW, to live in the moment and to learn to accept whatever IS rather than worrying about what could be or was. So much of the “pain” of the aging process is because we are holding on to who we were rather than embracing who we are at the moment.
The Gift In Memory Loss
A sign of spiritual maturity comes when we don’t split everything up according to what we like and what we don’t like, what we label as good or bad. All spiritual teachers point the way to learning how to leave the moment open, to let it be what it is in itself, and let it speak to us. We miss an opportunity for transformation by tightly holding on to who we were. Besides, the real spiritual truth is that we were never really who we thought we were anyway, so what are we holding on to?
Perhaps that’s some of the gift of memory loss as we age. We have to live more in the moment!
Now that we can’t remember details so well, it’s also easier to allow ourselves to forgive and forget and let our hearts expand and explore our life purpose at a deeper level. Forgetting can actually become an art form when we allow it. I believe that when our memories fail us, it is a reminder to seek out what is really important and I have adopted a belief that if I can’t remember it, it can’t be that important. It’s actually very freeing.
There are lots of things that are just not worth remembering. Somehow I think our souls know that and allow us to forget.
Learning to Surrender
We learn the art of letting go or what spiritual teachers call “surrender”. This can happen, for example, as we let go of roles – perhaps redefining our role as parents as we experience an empty nest, or releasing our work identity as we retire or retread. Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, writer and mystic, said the way we have structured our lives, we spend our whole life climbing up the ladder of supposed success, and when we get to the top of the ladder we realize it is leaning against the wrong wall—and there is nothing at the top.
As we experience aging, we have to let go of all of the false agendas, unreal goals, and passing self-images. It is all about letting go. The spiritual life is more about unlearning than learning.
As an adult educator, I have studied various age-stage theories and in the past had at least an intellectual understanding of the lessons to be learned and things to be “achieved” at each age and level of life.
During our earlier years, life is all about doing, achieving and accumulating, and we find as we age that we long to live a simpler, more clutter free life. As we age, acquiring no longer seems as important. In fact, most people I know are shedding and releasing and downsizing or right-sizing. Simplification becomes more attractive and a simple, more clutter free life becomes more and more desirable.
We are at a point in our lives when we set new priorities and explore what is REALLY important to us. We are learning to move from an outer focus to an inner focus and from a mind control orientation to a soul centered approach to life. We stop asking what do I want? and begin to ask, what does my soul want here? What is my true life purpose?
As we age, we can come to identify more with our soul than with our former roles. The aging process itself demands that we move from the acquiring, doing, achieving, manifesting, solidifying identity stage to learning to let go, and to be.
As we age, we learn to spend more time being and less time becoming prolific and productive. Spirituality teaches us that life is about BEING and not about DOING and one of the ways we learn that is by not being able to DO the things we did in the past. Most of the time we did things because of the FEELING that it brought us.
So, as we age, we can look at incomplete goals or things we once enjoyed and ask, what FEELING am I looking for in this experience? Usually, we can find something or some way to achieve that same feeling from a different experience that is still available to us.
All through our spiritual lives we are taught about surrender and letting go. When we begin to experience life as being “taken away from us” or “slipping away,” we can either panic, rebel, or deeply allow what is happening to happen.
Of course, that doesn’t mean being passive about our health or about keeping intimate relationships alive, but it does mean that we get to recognize the impermanence of all that we have on this planet earth, while coming to KNOW and experience that life is truly eternal.
When we get to glimpse that truth, our focus changes and we set different priorities. We realize for certain that we cannot take it with us—when the “its” are material possessions, and while we treasure and appreciate them for what they are, we no longer feel “attached.” That’s ultimate spiritual growth and true freedom.
Dr. Toni LaMotta is a keynote speaker, best-selling author of What You REALLY Want, Wants You and spiritual teacher supporting people in growing spiritually through the process of aging consciously. She also helps coaches and speakers create, publish and market their books. Dr. Toni is also an expert in supporting people and organizations in reinventing themselves in midlife and beyond. Her experience? From Catholic nun, to computer programmer and dinner theater actress, to professional speaker, entrepreneur, and Co-Minister of Unity Church in the Woods, Bradenton, FL (unitychurchinthewoods.org). You can read her blog at www.midlifemessages.com and find out more about her conscious aging programs at www.tonilamotta.com.