by Robert Brumet
Eldering may seem like a new word, but the practice of Eldering goes back several millennia. In tribal cultures and in early societies, the elders were seen as those who carried the traditional wisdom of the community. These elders were turned to for advice and counsel when important decisions needed to be made. The elders presided over traditional ceremonies and rituals. They were the spiritual leaders of the community.
By contrast, our youth-obsessed culture tends to see the aged as irrelevant, perhaps even a burden. Our final years are seen as a time of loss, diminishment, and pain. Many see aging as a curse.
Eldering is a perspective that sees aging and the final years of life as another stage of development in our life experience. As with every developmental stage, there are challenges and opportunities. Each stage of life has its own “curriculum.” The final stage of development is no different.
The paradigm of Eldering does not ignore the fact that aging may lead to some physical and mental ailments, as well as to loss and diminishment of certain physical capabilities. Eldering encourages wise and compassionate care for the body. We do not deny or discount this aspect of aging.
We encourage accepting this element of aging without identifying with it. The experience of aging does not need to define us. We are much more than this physical body, whether it is young or old. When someone recently asked me how old I was, I responded, “I have no idea how old I am; but I know my body is 80 years old.”
Eldering involves looking at our life in four directions: looking back, looking ahead, looking outward, and looking inward.
Looking back includes the process of harvesting our life experiences. Harvesting means collecting both the wheat and the tares. (see Matt 13:24-30) Harvesting the wheat represents acknowledging and valuing our achievements and positive accomplishments in this life. It involves seeing the ways in which the world is a better place better because we have lived. Each of us has wheat to harvest, no matter how humble our life may appear. Yet, no matter how great or small our accomplishments are, the past is the past; we must release our attachment to it. We can live only in the present moment.
Harvesting the tares (weeds) signifies facing our regrets and disappointments; it means forgiving, releasing, and letting go of the past. This is not easy, but it is very important for the wellbeing of our soul, and for the body as well.
Looking forward means accepting the inevitability of our death. This process involves looking at any fear or foreboding that we may have about death or dying. It involves looking at beliefs (or non-beliefs) that we have about life after death. This is not a morbid preoccupation with death but simply an acknowledgment of the reality that all physical beings will die.
Another aspect of looking ahead is to address the arrangements needed for those we leave behind. This includes burial or cremation arrangements, drafting a will, and durable power of attorney, making all necessary legal and financial arrangements, and providing loved ones with the critical information they will need after our passing.
Looking outward involves finding community and developing a sense of connection to others. Loneliness tends to plague many older persons; friends have died, and former associations and activities are no longer part of their life. Those who have meaningful social connections tend to live longer than those who do not.
Perhaps the most essential aspect of Eldering is looking inward. Having released former identifications allows you to look more deeply into the soul. No longer identified with social and professional roles and no longer identified with the body that you had as a younger adult, you can now know yourself more deeply and authentically.
This experience can be challenging, yet it is an opportunity to find your own True Nature. As you transition from role to soul, you no longer say, “I am this, or I am that,” because you can now truly say, “I am that I am.” Welcome home.