Better to be Serene or Fierce with Age? The Conscious Aging Movement
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Conscious aging, on the other hand, involves the hard work of breaking denial to embrace both the shadow and light of aging and mortality. As Moody puts it: “Conscious Aging– the holistic line of development– is not an easy path nor is Conscious Aging likely to appeal to a majority of those entering old age…Conscious Aging means going beyond patterns of ego strength acquired during youth and mid-life.”
This is not to say that even those of us who have found ourselves on this challenging journey don’t often wish there were an easier way to go. But the mystics of many traditions have a broader understanding of what it means to walk the spiritual path. Most conceptions of spiritual development equate spiritual progress with letting go of the illusion of comfort and control. We are asked to surrender the notion that we are calling the shots in our lives, applying ourselves to making things turn out the way we want. Awakening often comes bundled with the humbling realization that some and eventually all of our old tricks no longer work. We come to realize how much of our sense of mastery over our fates had always been limited, at best. At last, we are forced to loosen up our grip on the wheel of our lives, and forced to confront our fears.
As it turns out, when viewed through the lens of Conscious Aging, this is a good thing, Virtually every spiritual and religious philosophy centers on the shattering of illusions—be it the Hebrews tearing down of false idols or the Buddhists seeing through the Maya of surface manifestation. When we strip away the impositions, the fantasies and the denial, we begin to view aging as holding the potential for activation of new, unprecedented levels of self-affirmation, meaning, and spiritual growth.
This psychologically and spiritually healthy vision of aging only occasionally looks like serenity. While we may be quiet and peaceful sometimes, we may be rabble-rousing and making trouble, other times. Sometimes we are faced with external challenges, such as income loss and illness. Other times our challenges are internal: anxiety about the future, for instance, or feelings of personal failure. The truth is, as long as we keep growing through life, there will be anxious moments, regrets and self-doubt. But there will be transiting, transforming and overcoming, too.
While Conscious Aging is deeply personal, it bears implications for society at large. According to Moody: Conscious Aging has emerged as a new cultural ideal at a specific moment in history representing “ a genuinely new stage and level of psychological functioning… The evolution of psychology toward a deeper view of the human person can now join with the societal transformation of institutions to create new opportunities for positive development in later life.”