It all began with a shocked, early morning wake-up.
Of course, there is a back story, so it didn’t really begin then. But it did.
Here’s the backstory. I had stopped working as a yoga therapist and yoga teacher after decades doing that inspiring work. Actually, I considered it sacred work, and still do. For many years I shared the gifts of yoga with people living with cancer, heart disease and painful conditions of their body. Most of my students were over 50, for sure, and it was a joy to be in their presence, to witness their path, complete with gruelling struggles and incandescent joys.
I was not quite sure what was to come next. I was enjoying the freedom to choose how to fill each day. Would it be a walk on the seafront, a visit to the local galleries, meeting up with a friend for dinner? There was, of course, my own yoga and meditation practice. That was, and still is, part of most days.
During one of those dinners, a friend mentioned a book. I reacted clearly, almost violently. ‘I don’t need that!’ Abashed, she backed down and never mentioned it again.
Several months later came that fateful, shocked early morning wake-up, where it all began. I was soundly asleep when suddenly I found myself sitting bolt upright with the name of the book screaming in my head. Wow! Okay, maybe I do need this book.
Waiting impatiently for it to open, I rang my local, independent bookshop and ordered the book. It seemed to take forever to arrive in its paperback splendour. It had been published almost two decades previous to my cracking open the cover. Clearly though it had something to tell me.
From Aging to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older by Zalman Schechter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller did its magic. I haven’t turned back. In fact, I continue to look forward with joy, even glee, and excitement. This book contained all I needed to grow older—growing being the operative word. Though some of the language was dated, the message was clear and timeless. There is a path to growing older where we find value in our experience, clear away some of the detritus of the past, and create a future of life-long learning, uplifting awareness and priceless connection.
‘Bonus years’ is what Schachter-Shalomi calls the years beyond adulthood. We move into elderhood. These are the years, decades for many of us, where we can deepen into ourselves, having already played a role in out the world. Now we can do the inner work to combat fears about ageing, resist ageism (along with other ‘-isms’) in our culture, take some time to review our lives, and then harvest our wisdom. We can live a life of repair and forgiveness, navigate life’s transitions with grace, face our mortality. In these pages lies the fuel to powering our unique path, to developing our passions, and to engaging in service for our own well-being as well as our community and the planet.
Here too I found inspiration and comfort as I learned to embrace the mystery of life, dying and death.
That’s a tall order. I had no doubt, as I eagerly read each chapter, that I could do it. After all, I’m a proud boomer, born in 1946. I have contributed to other mobilisations to change the world. Why not change the paradigm of ageing too?
I then did what any self-respecting boomer would do. I googled. I found the organisation that grew out of this ground-breaking book. I jumped in, attended a workshop in Oxford, enrolled to train as a workshop leader and haven’t looked back since.
Fulfilling the tall order began at that workshop. This path along the ageing journey (pardon the ‘j’ word) leads inward and forward simultaneously. It is not really for the faint-hearted, though it is gentle, supported, and time-friendly. There is a spiritual element, which appealed to me, though it is not aligned with any particular faith or tradition. This spirituality is about meaningful connection with myself, with my close circle, with my communities, and with the planet. Having had a deep spiritual practice for decades, I was perfectly comfortable here. People with no particular spiritual connection would be equally comfortable.
There are guideposts along this path in the form of practices involving journalling, conversations, willingness to let go, facing the inevitable, finding joy and truth in the process of inquiring into my past and creating a future filled with passion and deep awareness. There are no prescriptions, only guides. There is no timeline, only one’s unique pace.
Engaging with the challenges hasn’t been easy. That’s why they are called challenges. Forgiving my parents, for instance, challenged my view of them in a way different from any therapeutic work I had done in the past. I saw them in an entirely different light. More importantly, a weight was lifted from my shoulders and my heart. Schachter-Shalomi notes that in holding back forgiveness (when the forgiveness is authentic) is like imprisoning both myself and the other person. I am chained to them just as I jail them in the cell of my anger and bitterness. Once I truly forgave, the cell door swung open and I smiled. At last, I could see my parents in all their humanness and release them, and myself, from decades of resentment and disappointment.
And this is only one step on the path to conscious ageing. I then took on the process of facing my mortality, which is on-going and no easy feat. I took on the practical work first. The onerous paperwork took some time, but my will, Lasting Powers of Attorney, and Advance Decision are complete. Those who survive me, or who will care for me should I become incapable of making decisions for myself, will have no doubt about my wishes. The conversations themselves weren’t always easy. Tears were shed—tears of sadness and joyful relief.
Intimate connection with others provides joy and support as we grow older. Gathering, either in person or online, with people who are willing to take the step out of adulthood into elderhood confirms my desire to continue changing the world. Identifying and calling out ageism wherever I see it, cleaning up the local beach with both youngers and olders, writing a blog about the latter stage of life continue to engage my heart, body, and mind. Purposeful action in the world along with inner work to combat my internalised ageism keep me alert and captivated.
This is not to deny the changes in my being. All the signs of ageing are here, now. The difference is how I relate to them. Do I choose to buy anti-aging products, or do I nourish my skin so that it functions properly as the largest organ in my body? Do I malign forgetfulness or do I acknowledge that the small details I’ve forgotten have made more space for wisdom?
Just as we let go of adolescence in order to become adults, we need to let go of adulting in order to engage in eldering. We enter a district phase of life where we enjoy the gifts of longevity. We do it consciously so that the world might become more just, more compassionate and more fulfilling for ourselves as we grow older, and those who follow us. They too will grow into elders.
This course is called Awakening the Sage Within. It is a signature course offered by Sage-ing International, a world-wide organisation offering a variety of inspiring, challenging ways to expand into elderhood. (www.sage-ing.org)
Here’s the link to Felice’s blog: