It would be nice if all we had to do is sit back and let time run its course and we'd find ourselves as Sages late in our lives. If, however, the passage of time were all that were necessary, every old person would be a Sage. But we all know this isn't so.
Simply coasting into old age does not make us Sages for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that what worked when we were younger no longer works when we become older. Generally, young life is focused on doing. Young people are doers and need to rely on their physical strength, energy and perhaps the attractiveness of their body to do all the tasks life brings. But as we age, our strength, energy and the outer beauty of our bodies wane. Also, doing not only becomes less possible but also loses its meaning.: We no longer need to build a life. We've done that. So trying to make doing the foundation of our lives as seniors doesn't work well. But, not knowing another way, many people sadly stay the course with predictably unfulfilling results.
Becoming a Sage involves changing course. Instead of continuing to rely on outer attributes and doing to create meaning in our lives, we can adjust by turning our attention inward, to developing our mind and heart, and to unify with soul. When we do that, instead of doing we turn to being. Being is the path to the Sage.
In my life, I have been very fortunate to have met some true Sages. These people literally glowed with love, wisdom, and serenity. Although they did a lot, they did for others rather than for themselves, and their focus was on being rather than doing. They literally shone with an inner beauty and light. Students and disciples were attracted to them in droves; everyone wanted to be touched by their presence.
The way to become a Sage like that is an inner path. In his book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Sage-ing movement, set down several steps one can take to become a Sage, including overcoming social conditioning about the roles and limitations of age, healing old psychological hurts, facing one’s mortality, harvesting the wisdom gained during one’s life, and connecting with one’s being and essence. The Sage-ing path Rabbi Schachter defined takes effort and focus. But the rewards are great.
Years ago, I spent time with a yogi named Baba Hari Das. This man was in constant silence as a spiritual practice, and he had been silent more years than I had been alive. He wrote down his teachings. One of them was on the importance of making an effort to grow spiritually. Paraphrasing, it was as follows: Expecting to attain enlightenment without engaging in spiritual practice is like sitting on a beach waiting for a pearl to wash up.
The same can be said of Sage-ing. Seeking to be a spiritual Elder without doing the inner-work required is just pretending. Becoming an elder requires engaging in the proper method. Sage-ing is such a method.