Becoming a New
is Spiritual Work
Much of the everyday literature on aging focuses on health: bodily health first, mental health second. Little is said, though, about what new
recognize as the critical component: spiritual health. Being a new elder is spiritual work. It is work that acknowledges yet transcends the day-to-day mundane concerns of everyday life and helps
a connection to something beyond. It involves understanding the temporal in light of the universal. It helps us see our place not just in the world, but in the full universe of possibilities.
As a consequence of this, new elders are easily amused; they see the essential absurdity of it all. Moreover, they have the ability to help others see this absurdity and
at things, and
, as well.
They see and appreciate the paradoxical nature of life: They realize the more that you know, the less you know; that happiness cannot be pursued directly; that getting love means giving love. They're still growing. They have great
about things and realize they haven't got it all locked up. They accept that there's some stuff they don't know and may never know.
New elders recognize they won't be around forever. Consequently, they have a somewhat paradoxical outlook: On the one hand, they see each moment as precious; on the other hand, they recognize that the time they won't be on Earth is infinitely longer than the time they will be. And so, while they are deeply
with the here and now, they are also powerfully in touch with the eternal.
New elders recognize that death is our most profound teacher. Without death, our lives would have no meaning. Death
an end for us and also puts a value on things. New eldership is, in part, a state of coming to terms with oneself and one's life. It isn't a matter of accepting everything, or of not wishing some things couldn't have been or are not different. But still, it is a matter of accepting things more or less as they are, of
that the best that one can do is the best that one can do. New elders don't
for less than their best efforts, but they do realize that their best efforts may also not achieve the best results. And rather than agonize over what might have been, given how things were, they tend to focus on what may be, given how things are.
One of the most useful practices we have found in the ongoing development that leads to becoming a new elder is to commit one's thoughts to paper in a journal. Journaling allows us to find and express our inner voice in a manner that helps us better understand who we are, where we belong, what we care about, and what our life's purpose is.
The following examples are not
to be models of the form, but rather, simply to
that if we can do it, so can you.
Richard's Journal Entry
! don't like the word retirement. Retirement is a modern invention and my
in the adult development field are suggesting it may already be obsolete, becoming more rare in the
. For me it has come to mean permanent loss of work, a loss of engagement and purpose. I think retirement is a bad idea, anyway. At 59, I established as one of my goals: "to be a productive 80-year-old." As I move through my 60s, I may want to change the pace of my work but not the nature of my work.
At age 70, I see
out in a
in my Africa-adorned office. On my wall is a quote by T. S. Eliot: "Old men ought to be explorers." And I'm an explorer. Dressed in my trademark black shirt,
, and sandals, I'm recounting my thirtieth year of trekking in Africa. At 70, I see myself as a "new elder explorer." I'm exploring a retirement in which age does not matter. In fact, I'm burying the whole notion of retirement. I am a student of and in the process of becoming a "new elder. "I see myself just unpacking from a
trip in Montana and I'm repacking to speak at an international conference on "The New
" in Oslo, Norway, to be followed by a one-month stay in the Bergen, Norway area.
Sally and I "bagged" 30 sleeping-bag nights this year. And this is our goal, 30 nights a year sleeping out—in a tent or without one. At 60, I made a big change. I committed my professional life to studying and living in the
questions: "What is eldership?" "Who is the new elder?" The field of gerontology and aging has held my interest since my Bush Fellowship in 1973,
the adult life cycle. Now, as I have become a dedicated student and spokesman for the need for the new elder in society, my work has become increasingly important, not less so. My work now focuses on speaking and writing. I see my vocation now as enlarging the possibility of eldership, not retiring from it. I'm often invited to speak at significant conferences around the world as a model and advocate of the "new elder" in society. Sally and I live a simple, debt-free, uncluttered life. We have a
, interdependent partnership based on our shared purposes and our love for each other and for the natural world. My strong voice for the new elder has allowed me to claim a place at the fire. "How do you discover passion?" I'm often asked. "In dreams," I often reply. We all dream in our sleep, but some dream in the daytime.
Passion is not born of vague dreams. My passionate dream is to transform retirement. It is to create a
new vision of the new elder in society.