The Spiritual task of Aging

150 years ago there were people who lived into their 90s. Now, there are still people who live into their 90s – it’s just that there are a great deal more of them.

Modern medicine has given us a 2 edged sword; an increased likelihood of 20 additional years of life, but, they are old-age years and with them come all the complications of old age.

Where in the past, we would have died of disease or catastrophic injury, modern medicine is giving us a second (and third) chance to grow old and frail.

How we use that chance becomes the first question. If the disease was brought on by our poor lifestyle; high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure or lack of exercise, we have an opportunity to change and to live into healthy old age.

If we choose not to change our lifestyle, modern medicine will continue to “rescue” us but we will live into an increasingly miserable old age – where one disease is compounded by two, three or four other life threatening conditions.

The second question is why. Why have we developed the ability to keep people alive into frailty? Perhaps, in this busy, busy world, we are losing touch with our spirit. It’s hard to find the time to “be” – to sit quietly and contemplate our lives.

Consider this interesting definition. The process of physical decline that is linked to the growth in spiritual development is called frailty. So perhaps, the spiritual task of aging is to transcend the disabilities, the losses, the dependencies and to move beyond the self.

Elizabeth MacKinlay (Canberra University) in her Doctorial thesis The Spiritual Dimensions of Caring identified 6 Spiritual Tasks of Aging.

• To become aware of, and acknowledge, the ultimate meaning of life
• To develop a response to that meaning
• To accept dependency and vulnerability
• To develop wisdom
• To maintain relationships
• To maintain hope

At the same time, we need to consider what value our dependence brings to others? When we were babies we were unconsciously dependent and our dependence brought great pleasure and a sense of fulfilment to our parents and carers. Now, in our frailty we have the opportunity to give that same pleasure and fulfillment – but this time we are consciously dependent.

But if we are miserable and wracked with multiple diseases we won’t be bringing pleasure and fulfillment – we will be a burden and we will suffer.

We have been able to decide how we want to live – now we have an opportunity to decide how we want to grow old and frail.

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