Spiritual Elderhood

Are you evolving into your elder years?

 

How do you feel about that?

 

Do you fear getting older or do you look forward to it?

 

Given we are tending to live longer, do you have any plans for your elder years?

 

What do the plans contain? Are they to live longer with better health, with sound financial resources, a strong network of people in your life?

 

Are you aware of changes other than ageing taking place within you, especially in what and how you think, and how you feel?

 

Are you noticing words like Spiritual Elders, Elder Spirituality, Spiritual Elderhood appearing on the horizon?

 

 

A meaningful life

 

Just as we need a new medical paradigm, Elder Spirituality is a focus whose time has also come and

soon we shall see more and more people embracing their role as Spiritual Elders.

 

In part, as they age, Spiritual Elders begin to notice and accrue the spiritual riches that come in the

final stages of life and then they find ways of sharing these in service to others, to the world.

 

Now let’s be clear here, when we use the word Spiritual, we do not necessarily mean Religion and

we urge you to know that as we write on, we are talking of all elderly people, not just those who live

a conscious spiritual or religious life.

 

Traditionally, the last years of life are often experienced as a time of an intensified spiritual focus as

well as a time for passing on wisdom and legacies to generations to follow. At the same time, as human

beings, often through illness or significant changes in life circumstances, Spiritual Elders also become

acutely aware of their own needs.

 

The Elder Person’s Needsregardless of whether they have a spiritual / religious leaning or not

 

Harold Koenig, in his landmark book, Spirituality in Patient Care: Why, How, When, and What,  written for health professionals interested in identifying and addressing the spiritual needs of patients, described 14 spiritual needs of older people and although written  more in religious terms these are also relevant in a non-religious and non-medical context. He summarised the needs as the needs for :

 

  1. continuity

  2. personal dignity and sense of worthiness

  3. support in dealing with loss

  4. unconditional love

  5. validation and support of religious behaviours

  6. to be forgiven and to forgive

  7. to be thankful

  8. to engage in religious behaviours

  9. to express anger and doubt

  10. to feel that God is on your side

  11. to find meaning, purpose and hope

  12. to love and serve others

  13. to prepare for dying and death

  14. to transcend circumstances

 

And most older people will have mental, emotional, physical, spiritual medical needs.

 

Who is a Spiritual Elder?

 

People are living longer but not always more healthily.

 

But older age is not a time of closing down, winding up, dying and death: it is a phase of life but with potential for vibrant living, optimal health and well-being. It is a time when many begin to explore new avenues and interests, a more spiritual dimension to life, though not necessarily a religious one.     

 

The Spiritual Elder is therefore someone who :-

 

  • accepts people as they are and has no desire to judge others as spiritual, religious or otherwise. They believe that no living being is “superior” or “inferior” to another; we are equals.

  • aims to live in the now, knowing that peace and joy can only be experienced in the present moment, that the pursuit of happiness leads to more unhappiness,

  • can easily discern truth from illusion and is aware of the spiritual sabotaging traps of the ego which lead to stunted spiritual growth and separation.

  • genuinely oozes a boundless and changeless aura of peace that is ever present despite inner or outer challenges

  • has completed their journey of self-discovery, spent time in the metaphorical desert, and has returned home with deep insight and understanding having learned to bring the peacefulness, wholeness and authenticity that they discovered in solitude into the company of others as well.

  • has learned to establish personal boundaries and respect the boundaries of others

  • has remembered – remembered that at core they are and always have been whole, complete, as are all other human beings, whether they know or accept it or not.  Elders no longer feel the need to pursue happiness or contentment in anything outside of themselves. Life is seen to be perfect, just the way it is.

  • has transformed from being ambitious to being inspirational, it’s no longer about them, but about service

  • honours and shows compassion to the earth, and every expression of Spirit. They are acutely aware that they are only the guardians of the earth, not its owners.

  • is a natural teacher with an innate desire to share their wisdom. They walk their talk, are genuine and authentic, and understand there is no official position, degree, title, or status required of them to share the lessons of the soul.

  • is aware of the shadow side of life, the ways of the mind and ego that trick them into avoiding the darker, painful, and more demanding aspects of following a spiritual life… the need for discipline, hard work honesty, truth and Love lives in the moment, content whether alone or with others.

  • is highly sensitive to the thoughts, emotions and impulses both within themselves, and within other people. They are aware of what they are sensing and feeling without necessarily needing to act or react. 

  • is aware of the power of the ego and can recognise their ego voice and its role in creating separation and suffering in the world. Their connection to Spirit is more important

  • realises that they are merely conduits of Divine wisdom

  • realises when they can become negatively under the influence of,  or confused, distracted, deceived, led astray, or easily persuaded by highly attractive ideas of spirituality

  • understands and practises unconditional Love, agape Love, the highest form of Love … both for themselves and others, even in the worst of circumstances. They understand that to love wholly is to attain Divinity.

  • works hard to let go of attachments - to the promises made by others, to status and titles, money and materialism, property and relationships, beauty and even health, and instead surrender to the Divine, living life at the level of Spirit and Soul.

 

 

What does it mean, in practice, to be a Spiritual Elder?

 

Becoming a Spiritual Elder does not necessarily mean hanging up the raincoat and sitting by the fire; how many of us have fires anymore? If we accept the call into Elderhood, we could find ourselves busier than ever before, but in a way that brings us joy, peace, and Love.

 

Spiritual Elderhood is a period in later life, as we move into and through our senior years, our twilight years, our latter years – and these days could mean 20 or 30 or even 50 years timespan. It is what we Brits (and the French) call the "Third Age," when we either close down or say “bring it on” – when we embrace it all — sunshine and shadow. In Britain we even have the University of the Third Age, a UK movement of retired and semi-retired people who come together to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and informal environment. 

 

Senior years are when we often take off the mask and mental restrictions, the limiting beliefs that held us back through life, and seek fulfilment, confirmation, and expression of our true self. We may determine to make changes in our character, where once we were shy, we may become more outgoing; we learn to forgive, complete unfinished business, and we joyfully work through our bucket list.

 

For some, who have devoted a life to work, it’s a time to devote to becoming more present better spouses, parents, grandparents, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and members of our community.

 

It is a time to bring everyday spirituality into our lives, noticing and exploring the sacred in  everything, in the people in our lives, in things and events, in our homes, our bodies, our relationships, in animals and plants, in everything.

 

And for many, even those hitherto uninterested in matters spiritual or religious, it’s a time when we commit to a deeper and more sacred devotional life, discovering, exploring and committing to spiritual practices with a deep understanding of them, when prayer and meditation become a key focus

 

More practically we:-

 

  • begin to listen to our bodies, perhaps for the first time, perhaps because our bodies scream at us in pain, and give our bodies what they need to serve us well in our final years

  • enrich our inner lives by making them as important as our outer material world

  • give time in service to others through volunteerism, mentoring, and sacred activism described by Andrew Harvey, author and mystic, as “a transforming force of compassion-in-action that is born of a fusion of deep spiritual knowledge, courage, love, and passion, with wise radical action in the world.”

  • honour  our emotions, where they stem from and heal them where needed

  • pass on our legacies to others … we don’t wait till we’re gone for others to decide our legacies

  • pursue pleasures, and express our creativity

  • remember, we bring together and record our memories, we tell our stories

  • revere silence and solitude

  • share our wisdom , knowledge, and experiences

  • study anew or perhaps for the first time and the study will often have a sacred underpinning perhaps about the meaning of life

  • talk of what’s important to us, sharing our values and why they are important

  • visit medical professionals perhaps more often than before

 

We Have Medical Needs

 

Though we live longer, the chances are we live with multiple morbidity i.e. we will live not just with one serious chronic health condition but with several. But although our State Health Services (in the UK the NHS) may be limited as to what they can offer, if we embrace the best of integrative, functional, complimentary and alternative medicine we can still live with good quality health.

So this is a time when we need health professionals , of any persuasion, who are Sympatico -  to not only the elderly , but to the Spiritual Elderly. We need medical professionals whose role it is to acknowledge a patient’s spiritual needs, take a relevant history to understand any connection between the patient’s spiritual dimension of life and their presenting illness or symptoms. In Scotland, the NHS has a clear policy on spiritual care.  The Scottish Government Health Department (SGHD), has developed a distinctive policy background for spiritual care in NHSScotland. This follows from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) description of health requiring a spiritual and compassionate element alongside the physical, psychological and social elements in order to describe a holistic or whole person approach to health and healthcare. 

 

But I found, as an elder, at a time when I was receiving a variety of treatments across various health disciplines in Scotland, that practice was far removed from what is contained in a policy document. To be fair, however, the policy  is in its infancy and  “ ... is not a full and final educational framework for all healthcare staff but seeks to provide a basis or preparation for such a future project.”     

 

In 2016, when I needed just such a policy,  health professionals trained in spiritual care, that only one, a senior nurse on night duty, was willing to sit with me and listen and explore with me the importance of my spiritual beliefs and, at the time, my increasing desire to not live the life of a mortal.

The difficulties facing health professionals

 

But health professionals have many reasons for not "being" simpatico with a patient at such a time or for taking a spiritual history.

 

My experience was

 

  • As with politics, medical staff did not always feel matters of religion or spirituality should be talked about

  • And some told me, quite directly, they simply didn’t believe in “such rubbish” – talk about respect

  • Few had had their role in this regard clearly defined and neither had they received relevant training.

  • Many did not understand or accept why they should be responsible for collecting spiritual information nor how it might help or hinder their professional practice

  • Some were confused about one fundamental thing – that spirituality was not necessarily about religion, the differences between spirituality and religion. Spiritual care is often too closely aligned with religion and many feel they are unqualified to take part.

  • They did not feel comfortable talking with patients about spirituality; after all, it is not just a subject, it is about beliefs, how they help and hinder health, at times may involve religious speak with which the professional is

  • unfamiliar, not just uncomfortable

  • They did not know what to make of or do with any information they gleaned

  • They did not know when they should begin to broach the subject or take the spiritual history

  • They felt that, in having to respond to patients’ questions that could arise, they would be forced into the role of psychiatrist or counsellor, roles for which they were not trained

  • They were concerned that it could take considerable time and open cans of worms

  • They were confused, in short, about what would be expected of them

 

So it behoves us as patients to make it known or help staff to realise when the spiritual dimension of our life is important to bear in mind.

 

Personal Responsibility

 

But we cannot expect our medical practitioners to fulfil all our spiritual needs. There is much we ourselves can do.

 

For many people, looking after their own spiritual needs will include activities that help them reflect on life, especially reflect at the end of a day, reflect on life’s experiences in a deep and meaningful way.

 

Some people, especially if they are new to spirituality, may be tempted to try out lots of different ways to develop spiritually whilst others may settle on one or two particular things which they find really work for them.  These might include:

 

  • Attending services in church, mosque, temple and other places of worship

  • Being aware of one’s spiritual needs and taking steps to meet them

  • Finding ways to explore thoughts and feelings using art, drama, music, or writing

  • Gardening – appreciating the harvest of what one has planted, communing with nature, drifting off in thought

  • Going on a retreat to get some quiet time or to explore a particular issue (e.g. grief, forgiveness, the spirituality of aging)

  • Going for a walk, appreciating the beauty of the natural world

  • Meditation

  • Meeting others in a relaxed environment to discuss the deeper questions of your life

  • Prayer – alone or with others

  • Reading books or attending talks that reflect on spiritual or religious issues that you are interested in

  • Signing up for an on-line course

  • Sitting in silence, contemplation

  • Taking part in rituals relevant to your own religious faith or spiritual group

  • Talking with someone you trust about important issues that may be on your mind and in your heart

  • Using e.g. YouTube to watch videos on religious / spiritual topics

  • You join an organisation that provides spiritual direction or meeting with a trained spiritual director.

 

And you?

 

Everyone, whether religious or not, needs support, especially in times of crisis. Not all see that or are willing to accept it. Often in elder years we want to show we can still be fiercely independent, that we can manage, or cope. But many people, patients, carers and staff have spiritual needs and turn for spiritual help or help with a spiritual focus when they are:

 

Dealing with suffering, loss, loneliness, anxiety, uncertainty, impairment, despair, anger and guilt

Facing difficult questions about life, dying, and death

Facing a major life transition, like moving into Spiritual Elderhood

Feeling life is suddenly empty and devoid of activity and meaning

Looking for help to cope with their illness

Searching for the meaning in their illness

Searching for the meaning of life in darker moments

Yielding to a dark night of the soul

 

 

Q   Are you a Spiritual Elder, in the throes of becoming one and perhaps in need of Spiritual Conversation or Inspiration? Not sure where or how to begin?

Q   Are you a professional who needs to better understand how to behave more spiritually in the workplace.

 

Perhaps I can help

 

I offer one-to-one Skype (or equivalent) sessions. These are agreed times when we meet on line to explore you and Spiritual Elderhood.

 

Some areas you may wish to explore

  • What being a Spiritual Elder means to you – without getting constrained by any definition  

  • Having an awareness of your spiritual identity – that you are more than your personality or problems, having faith in Spirit; - that we are truly Spiritual Beings.

  • Having faith in Self – that you have within you the wisdom and inner resources to make the right choices

  • Having faith in a spiritual journey, that your life has meaning

  • What difference a more conscious spiritual dimension would make to your life (we are all spiritual beings, whether or not we agree with that)

  • Developing spiritual practices to inform daily living

  • What holds you back from moving forward as an active Spiritual Elder

  • Creating a plan into elderhood

I’m not here to give you a path — whatever path you choose is uniquely up to you.

Inner work is the core need of every path. Without it, your life may feel empty, dead, lacking direction, and meaningless. Without it, you may remain spiritually immature. Inner work helps us ripen into our fullest potential.

Perhaps I can help you experience your own inner work more deeply?


Or offer you support for your journey.


Hear you share your authentic self and joys and concerns in a safe space.


Through teachings, through intuitive assistance, through meditation and guided visualisations, through referrals and suggested readings I can support you in reaching a deeper, more meaningful and spiritual elderhood..

If any of this strikes a chord with you, then do contact me. 

Spiritual Elderhood

             A time

                      to serve

The need
for
JOY

Terms

I work with people of all faiths and those of no religious beliefs.

 

Spiritual Elderhood Session                             £65    per session

Complete the contact box opposite.

You will receive an immediate acknowledgement.

Within 24 hours you will receive from me:-

  • pay details for your first session

  • 3 possible dates and times for our first session

Once payment is received, we begin at the agreed date and time.

Links

Books

Come of Age - The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble Jenkinson & Eisenstein

Second Wind - Dr Bill Thomas

                                                                                                                

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© 2017,2018,2019  by Andrew Hunter

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