Several times this past year when I mentioned Spirituality and Aging the discussion shifted to hospice care. At first, I was startled and confused. Had I missed some part of the conversation? A senior moment? Some kind of fugue state? But then I realized that many people conflate aging with dying. Along with the 54 million+ individuals in the United States who are over 65 (1 in 6), I am aging and I am not dying. In fact, the cohort of us is so large the United States Census breaks us into three groupings: young old/old/oldest old
- Young old: 65-73
- Old: 74-84
- Oldest Old: 85+
Of course, death can come at any time from various directions. The average life expectancy for men is 73, and for women, 79. The aging process brings all kinds of losses and decreased functionality. Still, diminishments are not an immediate death knell.
What might be the spiritual tasks for the third-third of life? Might there be specific spiritual tasks for each of these specific age cohorts? What might appropriate spiritual direction require? Accomplish? In the director? In the directee?
Lionel Corbett, MD offers this description in his paper: A Jungian Approach Spirituality in Later Life.
“For Jung, the development of our spirituality is the quintessential task of later life and is essential for the full flowering of the personality. He felt there would be no evolutionary reason for aging unless it had some purpose for the species.1 For Jung, our connection to the Self, or the intrapsychic God-image, becomes paramount after midlife. He also believed that it is important for older people to “make culture,” or contribute to society, develop an inner life, discover undeveloped aspects of the personality, and continue to discover meaning.
In what follows, I draw the usual distinction between religion as an organized, historical institution or as a private form of connection to a higher power or two realities beyond the natural world. Or, spirituality can be defined simply as the capacity to experience mystery, beauty, all, and the ability to affirm the value of life.” (p. 215-216)
Dr. Corbett goes on to write about: Spirituality after Midlife; Numinous Experience; The Self, Culture, and the Transformation of the God-image; Individuation as a Spiritual Process; The Relativization of the Ego; The Issue of Meaning; and Surrender and Acceptance in Old Age. He closes with:
“For Jung, the exploration of the inner world is a spiritual practice in its own right, and certainly in old age this exploration can become far more important than responding to the demands of society. This emphasis of Jung corresponds to the experience of many older people who value contemplation more than activity in the world.” (p. 230)
Bringing to mind my passion for Ignatian Spirituality in general and the Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius in particular, how might the teachings of this lineage open the way to a more conscious, thoughtful, and graceful aging process? Other lineages?
I would love to take a course on Spirituality and Aging that explores what I see as crucial:
- Identifying the major factors that affect the person in the evening of life both as an individual and as a member of a larger world;
- Expanding vocabulary to enable us to think beyond stereotypes; open us to this new world of aging;
- Challenging the othering, usually unconscious, that can cut us off from ourselves as well as others; and
- Offering a whole person spirituality paradigm in the evening of life.
I think I will do this for myself and share it with you.