American Editor of New Age Journal, Author of "As Above So Below"
Ronald S. Miller
American Editor of New Age Journal, Author of "As Above So Below"
We must learn to live in balance with two worlds - one visionary, consecrated, and wholly natural, the other familiar and utilitarian.
'As above, so below,' we unite the sacred and the profane, extending our spiritual practice beyond traditional inner-directed exercises to include loving our families, making a living, serving our communities, and caring for the Earth... Rather than focusing on salvation in some disembodied realm, it sees the world of matter as divine and as worthy of love as the immaterial spiritual realm. And because fallen nature is redeemed and divinized, the emerging spirituality gives rise to an ecological vision that honors the planet and its multitude of species as a single living entity with whom we can learn to live in greater harmony and reverence.
Creative expression feeds our souls and alleviates stress. Because it nurtures an appreciation for beauty in the natural world, it also is intimately connected with ecological awareness.
Like mountain climbers who have scaled a high peak, we have achieved a vantage point in old age from which to observe the path of our ascent and to appreciate the personality that we have created with discipline and devotion. We can survey the struggles for career, marriage, and financial security that occupied much of our time and see why they were all so necessary. Putting the puzzle pieces together, we can glimpse the larger patterns that crown our lives with deeper meaning. To you who stand triumphantly at the summit, I say, “You made it!” And to you who are still climbing the mountain.
However, most religions today have lost touch with the white heat of transcendental realization that gave birth to their traditions. Stressing an intellectual assent to doctrine, they have become institutionalized, relying heavily on verbal prayer, sermons, and scripture reading. I call this approach oververbalized and underexperienced because it requires worshippers to rely primarily on secondhand descriptions of spiritual revelations rather than on their own direct inner experience.
From childhood to late adulthood, we're like railroad trains that follow highly regular stretches of track to predictable destinations. Then, as elderhood approaches, we reach the end of the line, only to discover that management hasn’t had the foresight to lay any more track. We must get off the train and walk—but to where? What is our next destination?
Elders have a special responsibility to infuse public life with higher values that stress cross-cultural understanding, social justice, and world peace.
Then what are elders? They are wisdomkeepers who have an ongoing responsibility for maintaining society’s well-being and safeguarding the health of our ailing planet Earth. They are pioneers in consciousness who practice contemplative arts from our spiritual traditions to open up greater intelligence for their late-life vocations. Using tools for inner growth, such as meditation, journal writing, and life review, elders come to terms with their mortality, harvest the wisdom of their years, and transmit a legacy to future generations.
This book [From Age-ing to Sage-ing] proposes a new model of late-life development called sage-ing, a process that enables older people to become spiritually radiant, physically vital, and socially responsible “elders of the tribe.”
In some places in the world today, people cherish a wrinkled face and even look forward to their first gray hairs. In the village of Vilcabamba in the Ecuadorian Andes, where people have exceptionally long life spans, some elders exaggerate their age to gain greater respect. In India, men and women look forward to old age as a time to detach from the obligations of work and family life to seek knowledge of the inner Self. The Japanese, who regard old age as a source of prestige, celebrate a national holiday called “Honor the Aged Day.” Native Americans think of their elders as wisdomkeepers.
“The aging self is summoned to grapple with the approaching darkness,” writes Eugene Bianchi, a professor of religion at Emory University, in Aging as a Spiritual Journey. “Only through such nocturnal wrestling, as with Jacob and the angel, can the self experience the fullest blessing of the end-time. It is by facing the terrors of our old age, by launching out on the final night sea-journey, that a person finds the courage and insight to be profoundly wise for others in elderhood.” As Bianchi points out, death gradually educates the person who faces it with sincerity.
When I refuse to forgive someone who has wronged me, I mobilize my own inner criminal justice system to punish the offender. As judge and jury, I sentence the person to a long prison term without parole and incarcerate him in a prison that I construct from the bricks and mortar of a hardened heart. Now as jailer and warden, I must spend as much time in prison as the prisoner I am guarding. All the energy that I put into maintaining the prison system comes out of my “energy budget.” From this point of view, bearing a grudge is very “costly,” because long-held feelings of anger, resentment.
As Ram Dass playfully reminds us, “Death is absolutely safe. Nobody ever fails at it.”
When you are young and vulnerable, you see the world as being either for or against you, and this view is reinforced when people do hurtful things or betray you. When you approach old age and climb the platform of broader understanding, you can reexamine and contemplate your foundational views of the world and recontextualize what happened to you from a more objective, less impulse-driven philosophical position. In this way, you do not have to remain imprisoned in your earlier conclusions about life.
“Elders function like old cobblers and dressmakers, sewing us back into the fabric of creation,” she says. “Through their compassionate relatedness to all of life, they reduce our sense of alienation by helping us rediscover our sacred roots. And they do this without suffering from the disease of deadly earnestness. Elders have a wild, almost prankster-like quality that enables them to see the humor in every situation.”
The old paradigm of aging grows out of a spiritual worldview that has dominated our culture for the past several thousand years. This approach, which separates spirit and matter, rejects the body, sexuality, and the natural world. It places our hopes for salvation in another dimension, free from the messiness of everyday life. Life here is filled with suffering, a vale of tears, while true happiness lies in the world to come.
Harvesting their lives. By harvesting, I mean gathering in the fruits of a lifetime’s experience and enjoying them in old age. When we harvest, we consciously recognize and celebrate the contributions we have made in our career and family life. We also appreciate the friendships we have nurtured, the young people we have mentored, and our wider involvements on behalf of the community, the nation, and ultimately the Earth. Harvesting can be experienced from within as quiet self-appreciation or from without through the honor, respect, and recognition received from family members, relatives, colleagues.
As anger etches its corrosive mark on our soul, we carry an emotional voucher wherever we go that reads, “Accounts receivable.” With our vindictiveness anchored in the past, fixated on slights, “ouches,” and resentments, we may wait fifty years to collect our due from ex-spouses, business partners, and family members—often to no avail. Imagine how many people and nations exist in this state, waiting to collect their unpaid bills!
Eternal Friend, I hereby forgive anyone who hurt, upset, or offended me; damaging my body, my property, my reputation, or people whom I love; whether done accidentally or willfully, carelessly or purposely; whether done with words, deeds, thoughts, or attitudes; whether in this lifetime or another incarnation. I forgive every person; may no one be punished because of me.
Perhaps more than any other single factor, the intimate alchemy between the healer and the patient helps mobilize the body's natural resources. The mere presence of a healer often evokes hope in the patient and an expectation of recovery. When the two people create a partnership based on compassion, trust, and shared decision-making, and when the relationship nurtures the patient's hope for a positive outcome, even seemingly incurable diseases sometimes go into remission.... insistently restoring the human heart to the practice of medicine. Rather than treating patients as disease processes, they risk bringing their full humanness to the therapeutic encounter. They not only call on their technological expertise, but on the inner qualities practiced by healers from time immemorial: patience, humility, compassion, and an ability to inspire and mobilize their patients' healing resources.
Spiritual teachers emphasize that by abandoning our preconceived ideas and ordinary perceptual filters, we can experience high states of consciousness, inexpressible delight, and a sense of innocence and mystery about existence... the transfiguration of life from a vale of tears into a celebration of truth and beauty.
Most learning consists of extended plateau periods in which we solidify progress through repetitive activity, followed by little spurts of improvement... With repeated practice, we give up our restless search for happiness in the next moment and learn that by inhabiting each moment with full awareness, we experience a deepening sensory aliveness and richness.
No matter how idealistic our hopes... we eventually learn that spirituality is not about leaving life's problems behind, but about continually confronting them with honesty and courage. It is about ending our feeling of separation from others by healing our relationships with parents, co-workers, and friends. it is about bringing heightened awareness and compassion to our family life, careers, and community service.
Addictive spirituality creates dependence in the practitioner (frequently to authoritarian leaders and their communities), an avoidance of personal responsibility, and loss of individuality through social controls, such as fear, guilt, or greed for power or bliss. It also tends to suppress rational inquiry into the teachings. Healthy spirituality, on the other hand, supports the practitioner's freedom, autonomy, self-esteem, and social responsibility. It is based on experience, rather than belief or dogma; it does not create idols out of spiritual teachers; and it empowers students by emphasizing democratic forms of learning and teaching, rather than the authoritarian model that has dominated spiritual life for millennia.
To find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the sacred in the profane, sounds appealing in theory... Everyday spirituality requires mindfulness, an alert quality of mind that nonjudgmentally observes what happens in each moment. When mindfulness is present, a deep, penetrating awareness develops that gives insight into the world and ourselves. This penetrating quality of mind enables us to respond to the present with greater spontaneity and freedom.