We are all pretty much “age-ists”, either to others or to ourselves. A new term (coined by Connie Zweig”) known as “the inner ageist” describes it perfectly: the fear, rejection and overall strong antipathy we have to one of life’s most fundamental and inevitable processes- aging! We are all “inner ageists”, like it or not, young people and old people alike- we don’t like the idea that our bodies, minds, life situations and our entire world are just “moving on down the road”. We can wax poetic and talk till we’re blue in the face about the “virtues of aging”, but inside our modern, Western psyches, hiding out under all that verbiage, is just an older person who “feels the same” who is wondering “how did it happen?”
All this is very problematic, to say the least, practically ridiculous, egregiously unwise and morally destructive. Ageism is a type of racism against all of us as human beings- that is IF we get lucky enough to be around this life till we grow old. If we can’t learn to accept ourselves as we are, why should we expect to feel a deep sense of meaning in our lives as we age? The most amazing thing is that while there are all sorts of difficulties, challenges and losses inherent in growing old, there is much that is exactly THE OPPOSITE! Only we are so seeped in our “inner age-ism” that we hardly take notice of it.
“Sage-ing” is that concept that enables us to see the light within the darkness, that lens which takes us “inward” to appreciate ourselves more as we age, and not less. Did you know that more and more research has shown that on the whole we are happier at a later age than we were in the so-called “prime of life”? And did you know that with neuroplasticity, not only are we living longer but also learning more widely than ever as we get older?
I invite you to read my blog post and consider all of this and more! How meaning and wisdom can and should be fully cultivated in YOUR second half of life. In short: don’t just age-Sage!
"Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” (David Bowie)
Most of you are wondering about this word “sage-ing”, why they have never heard it before. The reason is that it was “invented” in the early 90’s by Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, (known as “Reb Zalman”), along with his co-author Ronald Miller, in their “disruptive” book called, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing, Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi. Reb Zalman was a charismatic, religious innovator (rebel?) and spiritual leader on the alternative American Jewish (and non-Jewish) scene for over 4 decades having created the “Jewish Renewal Movement”, among other things.
As he approached the age of sixty, he described how he felt a sense of depression, fear and lack of clarity towards the future. All he could sense was a trepidation in leaving his life of creativity and community for a decline into lack of purpose and physical deterioration. Not a man to give into such limiting constraints, Reb Zalman engaged in a long spiritual retreat to contemplate the phase of life he was approaching. He questioned: “Why should anybody live longer than the time of begetting and raising their children? If we do live longer, then nature must have a task. There must be a purpose. The purpose is to hothouse consciousness, generation by generation, So that the older generation can transmit something to the younger.”
Reb Zalman’s introspective journey taught him that while the elder of the pre-Industrial revolution in the West held a position of importance in the community for his/her abilities to teach, lead, counsel, guide and perform rituals, in modern times this has all dwindles and has largely been reversed. In traditional cultures as well as in many areas of the East, the elder is still respected and cherished, yet here too changes have taken place. Zalman sought to devise a new paradigm for becoming an elder, one that would fill “meaning or existential gaps” for society as well as endow the older person with the purpose and sense of meaning in his/her own right. He called this process “sage-ing” and began to build the content into this paradigm, one that would leverage “the harvesting of wisdom” of the older individual. I won’t list all aspect of sageing but will mention a few:
Employing life review as a means to understand one’s life in a new perspective.
The perspective of “leaving one’s legacy” as an inspiration while growing and aging.
Performing processes of forgiveness and healing in one’s life.
Taking on generative roles as a mentor, teacher, mediator and guide in intergenerational work.
Contributing to society’s betterment by joining movements that seek out social action, volunteering, entrepreneurship and consciousness raising on different front.
Learning to face mortality in a meaningful way, modeling this critical phase for the benefit of oneself and others.
The sage-ing way, may also be known as the way of “conscious aging”. For those of you who might feel that this term implies an overly “fluffy”, abstract concept akin to another such word - “spirituality”- I would beg to differ. For me, the approach of “conscious aging” in general, and “sage-ing” in particular, can be simply summed up in a nutshell message: mindful and contemplative aging empowers and invites one to walk a “inner path” of life that is usually not available in our first half of life. Use it, go there, walk that “inner journey of your life” for that is a “blessing” that can come with age!
By all means- Don’t stop what you are doing!
Going “in” does not mean one cannot continue “doing out”- the messages and invitation are not mutually exclusive. By all means, climb that mountain, run that marathon, take that bike trip, work as long and as much as you like, we are all different and unique, who is to say where one’s personal inner mandate to “seize the day” can take you! I myself just came back from a rigorous 5-day trek in the remote Sinai desert, where we scrambled up boulders for a 1000 meters, didn’t shower for 4 days and slept in a small tent not far from the underbelly of a camel … Those types of adrenalin-charging, inspiring journeys have always charged me up, and I too hope to embrace them for as long as my will, body and internal voice call me up to the plate on this.
What I am suggesting is to replace and not to fixate on the “I can still do this and this at my age…”, but adopt a different approach, “I can increasingly take the inward journey and avail of its rewards”. The new mindset is akin to building an additional “toolbox” for yourself, it may or may not replace the old one, you are likely to have both the new and the old for quite some time, no one really knows the future. But knowing that this new path is open for you, does it not make great sense to dive in and explore?
For me it is a fascinating journey, one that is constantly opening up new vistas, bumpy as are all meaningful journeys. What I enjoy most about it is that it is virtually unexplored, which for me is the “spice of life” anyway. Out with the “inner ageist”, in with the deeper journey of age!
“Understanding and love require a wisdom that comes only with age.” (Rollo May)