Updated: Oct 21, 2022
The first clue I had that I was growing older was in my 50’s and I suddenly had to wear reading glasses. Before that, I prided myself on being the only one in the family who didn’t need glasses. Wearing glasses was a jolt, but it didn’t yet hit me that I was growing older.
The next clue came about 10 years later when my legs suddenly went out from under me one morning, an ambulance came, and it turned out that my blood pressure was very low. Months of tests showed that stress had taken its toll on my body and there was adrenal exhaustion. This second clue did get me thinking about aging, but denial is amazing and still I thought of myself as young.
But once over 65, a subtle anxiety and hopelessness crept into my mind and I finally faced the fact that I was not young anymore. I expressed these feelings to a counselor I was working with, and this gave me some relief. But, still, a feeling of being pulled down into a dark abyss remained..
Then I discovered the book titled, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. The author seemed to understand exactly what I was going through as he had a similar experience. Here are his words:
“I was approaching my sixtieth birthday, and a feeling of futility had invaded my soul, plunging me into a state of depression that no amount of busyness or diversion could dispel. On the surface, I had much to be thankful for….Yet while my public life was bustling with activity, beneath the surface, away from my teaching and pastoral work, something unknown was stirring in my depths that left me feeling anxious and out of sorts whenever I was alone. To avoid these upsetting feelings, I threw myself back into my work with a renewed resolve not to yield to the depression. But despite my best efforts, I could not keep up the hectic pace that had marked my previous decades of work. At night, looking at myself in the mirror in unguarded moments, I realized I was growing old. Feeling alone and vulnerable, I feared becoming a geriatric case who follows the predictable pattern of retirement, painful physical diminishment, a rocking-chair existence in a nursing home, and the eventual dark and inevitable end to my life."
Facing such uncomfortable feelings, Rabbi Zalman thought about the extended life made possible by medical advances. Was there a way, he wondered, to “convert my extra years into a blessing rather than a curse?” To find the answer to this and other questions, he went into seclusion for forty days, living in a small remote cottage in the mountains of New Mexico, where his days were filled with prayer, meditation, writing, study and long walks. And he had an insight.
"After a few days, when the surface noise of my mind died down, I realized that I was sloughing off an old phase of life that I had outgrown. At the same time, to my great surprise and wonderment I was being initiated as an elder, a sage who offers his experience, balanced judgment, and wisdom for the welfare of society. As I followed the intuitive promptings that came from within, I instinctively began harvesting my life, a process that involves bringing one’s earthly journey to a successful completion, enjoying the contributions one has made, and passing on a legacy for the future…"
After this realization, when he returned from his retreat, Rabbi Zalman started a deep process of study and inner-work to support his own growth into a sage, and then created a program to help other older people give birth to their inner-Sage. He founded the Spiritual Eldering Institute to provide this work to the world and that organization eventually resulted in Sage-ing International (sage-ing.org), which carries on this work.
I was so taken by Rabbi Zalman’s words and insights that I attended a couple of workshops presented by Sage-ing International and found the work inspired. Most importantly, it helped me deal with my feelings about aging. More than a year later, I applied for, and was accepted into, Sage-ing International’s year-long training program to become a Certified Sage-ing Leader (CSL). This is an intensive program in which one comes face-to-face with oneself and the fact of aging while learning and teaching the material developed by Rabbi Zalman and Sage-ing International. In the process, one learns to help others begin their Sage-ing journeys. I completed the program and received the Certified Sage-ing Leader designation, in September, 2021.
At this point in my life, I’m not looking to build a business or have a big name. Rather, my desire is the make the best of the time I have left, to live with meaning and joy, and to share what I’ve learned in service to other seniors who find themselves facing the wilderness of old age and want to find a way to meaning and fulfillment. I also want to be available to younger people who want the support of an elder to help them find their way in life.