By Rev. Toni LaMotta
Many people today are creating bucket lists of what they would like to do, be, or have before their time on this earth ends. How much of that list involves things that are lasting? Perhaps there’s a book you always wanted to write. On a more personal note, perhaps you have family photos that need organizing so your children can enjoy them later on. One of the things I treasure that my sister created was a book of family recipes. Each time I use them, I am reminded of the relative who created that special treat or the times we spent together enjoying them.
Commit to spend time this month thinking about what legacy you want to leave and have some fun creating it.
Many see their later years as a time of diminishment but, in fact, it can be just the opposite. It can become the time of greatest growth—of thriving—in your life. It is the time when it is important to continue to build new habits. Remember, it’s a myth that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” so make certain that each day you challenge your brain with new learning.
Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
When was the last time you explored a new activity? Find a mentor teacher, a study group, and/or a social network that supports your explorations. Explore new behaviors and experiences either locally or in a virtual social setting.
If you love to travel and are still able, perhaps this is the time to see new things and experience new cultures. If you are unable to travel, consider watching travel shows or reading books about places you’ve always wanted to visit. Also remember to keep your mind sharp. For some, it may be by watching game shows. Shows like “Jeopardy!” can help you to continue expanding your knowledge about many things.
It doesn’t all have to be serious learning. In fact, it is important to find things to laugh about each day as well. A good sense of humor is essential. Start the day off on a light note by reading the comic sections of your local newspaper. If you’re over 60, you might refer to this section as “the funnies.” A good dose of humor can often ward off illness as well.
It goes without saying that healthy eating and regular exercise are even more important for seniors than other age groups since the risks of disease and lost mobility are greater and the positive effects are realized more quickly. Look for daily opportunities to exercise in work and play. Walk, swim, climb, bicycle, dance, fish. Just keep moving.
Part of the challenge of aging gracefully is that you have to continue to find things that are important to you.
That can include reading, theater, spiritual pursuits, hobbies, new social groups, lifelong learning, or recapturing time with family if you didn’t take the time during your working years. It is important, especially for those who are younger, to plan for purposeful activities before retirement so that it can be a gradual transition rather than an abrupt ending. This could be the perfect time to follow where your passions lie and to complete those parts of yourself that you may have neglected or ignored.
I have found that rather than recognize that we are composed of body, soul, spirit, and emotions, most people spend the earlier part of their lives focused on only one or perhaps two of these aspects. The lessons and experiences of the later part of life, then becomes an opportunity to develop the missing links.
For example, people who have taken great care of their bodies as they were growing perhaps avoided looking at the spiritual aspects of life, and so the aging process for them becomes a spiritual awakening. For others, who may have focused on the spiritual, learning to live more fully in THIS life with all of its physical and material aspects might be their final frontier.
I know many people who neglected the mental part of their lives and who then return to study during their later years and perhaps even getting the degree that once was only a dream. If you are alive and breathing, there is more to discover and room to grow.
One of the most important keys to psychological health is accepting that your life won’t stay the same. Aging changes everyone and those who age consciously are more in control of how to deal with those changes as they come—and even take a proactive step in creating them.
As we age, it is important to continue to develop new friends and new relationships. There are millions of stories of people meeting and even marrying well into their 80’s and 90’s. It’s never too late!
It’s especially important as we age—and often experience the loss of friends and family our own age and older—that we connect with people of younger generations. One of the ways many choose to age graciously is to take time to spend with children and use that time to ask them what’s important in their life. It can become a way to help both of you to grow and discover something new every day.
“Generativity” is a term coined by the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950 to denote “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.” It can be expressed in literally hundreds of ways, from raising a child to stopping a tradition of abuse, from writing a family history to restoring land. It’s all about making a difference with your life, giving back and taking care of your community and your planet.
The late Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute, once said that this is a time when we can act “as guide, mentor, and agent of healing and reconciliation on behalf of the planet, nation, tribe, clan, and family. It is a time to become ‘wisdom keepers.’” And this special time is not given to everyone. So, why not pause for a moment to acknowledge the millions of people worldwide who will not grow old this lifetime!”
We grow as we help others grow. And while aging is a personal process, and personal growth is extremely important, aging consciously is more than a personal quest. For many, it provides an opportunity to be part of the transformation of their local or even world community.
When raising a family or accumulating wealth are no longer priorities, many people have found that volunteering brings them immense joy and satisfaction. The simple act of offering your skills and enthusiasm will positively impact the lives of others, as well as your own. It may be an opportunity to explore a new skill, or perhaps a chance to pass on some of the learning and knowledge that you have accumulated over the years.
Volunteering is the perfect way to feel connected to others in your community. Everyone has a talent to offer. I invite you to explore places and organizations where you can volunteer.
Several factors drive people into community service, but one of the most powerful forces behind volunteering is the social change that is possible through helping those currently in need. The National Institute on Aging compares the impact that aging of the 75 million baby boomers could have on our society as equal to that of immigration at the turn of the century. This certainly is our generation’s opportunity to make a difference in our world.
May you thrive and embrace these opportunities!
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.