Society promotes the ideal for its elders as serene and peaceful. But a new generation coming into age are increasingly viewing this as just another version of ageism, offering little more than marginalization, complacency and disempowerment.
This is not to say that I am against true serenity, by the way. Who doesn't want hope, peace, quiet, orderly lives, the ability to make sense of things, acceptance and the like? But serenity is just one end of the spectrum of possibilities for us as we age. Can we be 50, 60 or 80, for that matter, and trouble-makers and upset the apple-carters? Can we be risk-takers who are equally excited and worried about the outcome? Can we care passionately for others, our hearts breaking in the face of injustice?
Gloria Steinem said it perfectly in an essay titled "Doing 60": "The older I get, the more intensely I feel about the world around me..." She, too, questions the myth of serenity, preferring instead the "edge-of-the-world sensation of entering new territory with the wind whistling past my ears."
For a growing number of us transiting the new and challenging territory of midlife and beyond, aging is coming to represent the culmination of what many of my generation have been seeking for many years: to become fully alive.
As we age, we no longer need to seek approval from others.
We do this by breaking denial about aging and relishing new-found psychological and spiritual freedoms. On the other side of denial, we finally realize we have the power to stop wasting valuable energy either seeking approval or proving how much better we are than others. In this new life stage of inner maturity, we are finally free to reclaim our innate capacity to experience, express and act on authentic feelings. We have the potential to increasingly accept who we are and to become whole by embracing both the light and shadow sides of life.
We can enter new territories and become fully alive!
There is tremendous excitement in the air as our generation explores the wild space beyond midlife, writing and sharing our discoveries as we go. Answering this urge both personally and professionally, I capped a career as a Boomer generational marketing expert by founding Fierce with Age: The Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality three years ago. This free online publication is a monthly digest for Boomers and beyond who, together, are learning to walk the fine line between romanticized and stereotyped notions of aging. Our free daily and monthly Digest offerings gather together the best content about wisdom and spirituality for Boomers that is coming out of our generation, as well as that which spans the centuries with wisdom that is both timeless and immediately applicable. We also welcome links and citations from our growing community of contributors. Above all, Fierce with Age walks the talk: we are an act of passion and of love.
At a time when the news is full of headlines about an increasing number of Americans identifying themselves as unaffiliated with any particular church community or tradition, http://religions.pewforum.org/reports, our growing community of seekers is growing rapidly, attracting aging Boomers who are simultaneously coming to view aging as a spiritual path. The "New York Times " quotes Wade Clark Roof (who wrote "A Generation of Seekers"): The reason is "mortality...They have all been through it, or are in the middle of it," he said. "Their parents are dying off. So the reality of mortality has hit them. When they were young, they thought they would live forever. But they know better now."
The control for acceptance is bearing unexpected spiritual benefits
One of the hallmarks of spirituaity and aging is coming to terms with the fact that we are not masters of the universe and that while we can control or at least influence many aspects of our lives, some things are beyond our control. Whether the storm is literal due to catastrophic weather or metaphorical, such as downsizing or illness, Boomers are discovering that trading in ambition and the illusion of control for acceptance and humility is bearing unexpected spiritual benefits.
The result is a refreshing embrace of aging that shows the way to an expanded experience of freedom and an abiding sense of resolution and fulfillment. This is the essence of the spiritual path: the promise of aging as the fulfillment of our true human potential.
Carol Orsborn, Ph.D. is Founder of Fierce With Age, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. Free subscriptions to the monthly Digest are available at www.FierceWithAge.com. Dr. Orsborn is the best-selling author of 21 books including her newest book: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. (Spring 2013) She is an internationally-known thought leader specializing in issues related to Boomer women, spirituality, adult development and quality of life. With a doctorate in the History and Critical of Religion from Vanderbilt, Dr. Orsborn is a sought after speaker/retreat leader on resilience and aging.