"From Age-ing to Sage-ing"

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi’s "From Age-ing to Sage-ing"
Others Perspectives
    Rev Gail Collins-Randive
    Robert Atchley
    Daniel C. Dennett

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi’s "From Age-ing to Sage-ing"
From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older

Rabbi Schachter’s book is a tasteful recipe of things already known, ideas perceived but not personally articulated, and new insights into the possibilities remaining as an elder.   “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” may help process the emotional aspects of an elder's biological changes and perceived loss of physical abilities.   

The book is logically divided into 5 basic parts:
The Theory of Spiritual Eldering;
Spiritual Eldering and personal Transformation;
Spiritual Eldering and Social Transformation;
Appendix: Exercises for Sages in Training.  

Each reader will of course find their own meaning on the 300 pages, but here are just a few of the gems found within the Rabbi’s book:

Excerpts from

Age-ing to Sage-ing: a Profound New Vision of Growing Older
Zalman Schachter- Shalomi and Ronald Miller


(pg 5)”…Across the country, people are casting off the negative images and expectations that sentence older adults to the junkheap as social outcasts. In its place, they are hoisting the banner of what gerontologists call “successful aging,” an activity-oriented approach that promises increased physical vigor, continued intellectual growth, and meaningful work during the elder years.”

“But it [this new image] does not go far enough….they need a psychospiritual model of development that enables them to complete their life journey, harvest the wisdom of their years, and transmit a legacy to future generations. Without envisioning old age as the culminating stage of spiritual development, we short-circuit this process and put brakes on the evolutionary imperative for growth that can be unleashed by our increased longevity….”

“… this book proposes a new model of late-life development called sage-ing, a process that enables older people to become spiritually radiant, physically vital, and socially responsible “elders of the tribe.”

“Sages draw on growth techniques from modern psychology and contemplative techniques from the world’s spiritual traditions to expand their consciousness and develop wisdom. By expressing this wisdom as consecrated service to the community, they endow their lives with meaning and avoid becoming economic and psychological burdens on their loved ones and on society. This ongoing process, which I call spiritual eldering, helps us consciously transform the downward arc of aging into the upward arc of expanded consciousness that crowns an elder’s life with meaning and purpose.”

(pg 6)…“The model that I’m proposing does more than restore the elder to a position of honor and dignity based on age and long life experience. It envisions the elder as an agent of evolution, attracted as much by the future of humanity’s expanded brain-mind potential as by the wisdom of the past. With an increased lifespan and the  psychotechnologies to expand the mind’s frontiers, the spiritual elder heralds the next phase of human and global development.”

(pg 7)…“Spiritual elders use the tools from these disciplines to awaken the intuitive capacities of mind associated with inner knowledge, wisdom, and expanded perception. By activating their dormant powers of intuition, they become seers who feed wisdom back into society and who guide the long-term reclamation project of healing our beleaguered planet. Once elders are restored to positions of leadership, they will function as wisdom keepers, inspiring us to live by higher values that will help convert our throw away lifestyle into a more sustainable Earth-cherishing one. They also will serve as evolutionary pathfinders offering hope and guidance to all those searching for models of a fulfilled human potential….”

Part One: The Theory of Spiritual Eldering
Chapter 1 The Vision of Spiritual Eldering

(pg 12)”…Today, there’s a growing movement to rebuild this country into a healthier, more positive place.  Advocates of this movement are beginning to replace dehumanizing images of old age with new ones that restore the honored elder to Western society.  Elders are not “senior citizens” who get gold watches at retirement, move to Sunbelt states, and play cards, shuffleboard, and bingo ad nauseam.

…Then who are elders? They are wisdom keepers who have an ongoing responsibility for maintaining society’s well-being and safeguarding the health of our ailing planet Earth. They are pioneers in consciousness who practice contemplative arts from our spiritual traditions to open up greater intelligence for their late-life vocations. Using tools for inner growth, such as meditation, journal writing, and life review, elders come to terms with their mortality, harvest the wisdom of their years, and transmit a legacy to future generations. Serving as mentors, they pass on the distilled essence of their life experience to others. The joy of passing on wisdom to younger people not only seeds the future, but crowns an elder’s life with worth and nobility…

(pg 14)…“An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for, and connection to, the future. An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy, and pleasure, and her or his birthright to these remains intact. Moreover, an elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long-life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.”

(pg15)… elders refuse to follow the well-trodden path marked “aging.”  Instead, they trail-blaze unmarked paths that lead to an exciting and fulfilling future. These pioneers represent a new shoot on the Tree of Life. As members of humanity’s vanguard who devote the afternoon of life to developing their full human potential, they look upon aging as a developmental process whose goal is an ever-widening expansion of consciousness and a growing sense of unity with life.

(pg30)…  Sages bear witness to the enduring values that transcend individual conflicts and selfishness. Unlike younger people who make decisions based on short-term consideration, sages bear witness to long-term evolutionary  trends that cover great sweeps of time.  Given the authority to exercise leadership through their advisory capacities, they can inspire our society to give up its shortsighted, quarterly “bottom-line” mentality in favor of spiritual values that will help create a more sustainable, Earth-cherishing lifestyle.

Chapter 2 Becoming the Possible Sage

(pg 32) “…When we enter old age, … we should expect to live with passion and mystery.  Our spirits will be questing rather than resting. Our consciousness will grow rather than slow into doddering decline. We can use our extended life span to develop extended consciousness…or we can lapse by default into second childhood, which we associate with a sort of fatuous senility. We can use our leisure for trivial pursuits, or we can progress to second maturity using the contemplative tools of spiritual eldering. Only by growing beyond first maturity’s tasks of ego development, career, and parenting can we sufficiently answer the questions, “Why am I still here? What more is expected of me?”

(pg 50)”…The new picture of aging.  The principal thesis of this book is that extended longevity calls for extended consciousness. If our added years are not matched by an expansion of awareness, life becomes depressive. If I live to be eighty years old but my consciousness gets arrested at the mental age of forty-five, I stagnate at that level and may suffer from what psychologists call involutional melancholy, a haunting sense of despair that asks the existential question, “What is it all for?” Who needs years, maybe decades of such decline?   The emerging picture of aging balances our physical diminishment in old age with brain-mind development that opens up greater intelligence and new skills. “

(pg 51)”… At this critical time in the history of our planet, we can scarcely imagine the benefits that spiritual eldering holds for healing the family, renewing political life, and restoring the Earth to ecological health.”                          

Chapter 3 Elderhood: Past, Present, and Future

(pg52) “…In some places in the world today, people cherish a wrinkled face and even look forward to their first gray hairs. In the village of Vilcabamba in the Ecuadorian Andes, where people have exceptionally long life spans, some elders exaggerate their age to gain greater respect. In India, men and women look forward to old age as a time to detach from the obligations of work and family life to seek knowledge of the inner Self. The Japanese, who regard old age as a source of prestige, celebrate a national holiday called ”Honor the Aged Day.” Native Americans think of their elders as wisdom keepers whose contemplative skills help safeguard tribal survival. 

(pg 53)”…Because elders in these cultures have respected roles, they find it easier to engage in life harvesting.

In our society, by contrast, older people are exiled from the world of economic productivity and cut off from their historical role as elders of the tribe.  No wonder they have little aptitude or training for harvesting their lives.

By harvesting, I mean gathering in the fruits of a lifetime’s experience and enjoying them in old age. When we harvest, we consciously recognize and celebrate the contributions we have made in our career and family life. We also appreciate the friendships we have nurtured, the young people we have mentored, and our wider involvements on behalf of the community, the nation, and ultimately the Earth. Harvesting can be experienced from within as quiet self-appreciation or from without through the honor, respect, and recognition received from family members, relatives, colleagues at work, and mentees.   

…Harvesting shows us that we have made a difference in the world.  We sense that our lives have meaning; that we have contributed to others; and that we are worthwhile human beings.

(pg 54)” …Evolution is now making it possible for harvesting to crown our efforts in this world. As a new paradigm of aging replaces the old one, we will not have to exit life feeling incomplete, like unfinished works of art.  In the emerging picture of aging, we reach the summit of life in the October, November, and December of our lives as we enjoy the fruits of the harvest and replant the seed for the next crop.”

(pg 55)”..The new paradigm of aging grows out of a …spiritual renewal in Judaism and Christianity, Earth-based Native American spirituality, feminine spirituality and Goddess religion, and the ecology movement. In the emerging view, because there is no separation between spirit and matter, we view God as no less in matter than in spirit. The divine manifests in leaves, worms, rivers, mountains, clouds, and galaxies. In this approach, we learn to redeem “fallen” nature and to live in greater harmony and reverence with all creation. Consequently, we also view sexuality Jas something wonderful, holy, and worthy of sacred celebration.”

(pg 56)”…This shifting attitude has profound implications for eldering.    Because we now live for decades beyond our parenting years, we can discover new myths and meanings for old age that our shorter-lived forebears never dreamed of. Because the new spirituality encourages us to have a more loving and respectful relationship with the physical world, we can use our awakening consciousness as elders not to transcend the Earth, but to heal it. And because we can enjoy the fruits of our labor, we can show young people what a fulfilled life looks like…     

…What pleasure awaits us as we pass on our wisdom to succeeding generations through mentoring and through recording our oral histories on audio- and videotape? “

…Harvesting in this manner has more than just personal significance; it has planetary implications.  Scientists recently have begun relating to the Earth as a living organism called Gaia. Our planetary life support system is not just a huge dead rock hurtling through space. It’s a living, breathing planet whose governing intelligence sustains all life forms in a web of organic interconnectedness. This same vibrant planet also has become a global village linked by instantaneous electronic communication. Author Peter Russell calls this enormous system for data storage, retrieval that links all peoples and nations the “global brain.” Human beings are like individual nerve cells of the global brain, the greater intelligence of Gaia. 

…From this perspective, harvesting has a purpose that transcends personal motives. When we recount our life our life stories and mentor young people, we transfer the content and meaning of our experience into the global brain, raising the overall level of our cultural environment. In this sense, harvesting helps refine all that we have done into its highest essence, so that our Individual lives serve as blessings for future generations.

Part Two: Spiritual Eldering and Personal Transformation
Chapter 4 The Art of Life Completion

(pg 81) ”To harvest our lives successfully, we must come to terms with our mortality   As we approach the subject of our mortality, let’s be clear from the beginning: Death is not a cosmic mistake… the presence of death deepens our appreciation of life. It also regenerates our psyches in preparation for harvesting. The more we embrace our mortality …as an agent urging us on to life completion, the more our anxiety transforms into feelings of awe, thanksgiving, and appreciation.

(pg 82)  “When we confront our mortality, a shift occurs in our attention that makes us more aware of how precious life really is,” says psychologist David Feinstein, co-author of Rituals for Living and Dying- “We have an enhanced ability to accept ourselves along with a greater ability to love. We lose the pervasive anxiety that makes us grasp obsessively for power, wealth, and fame. As we discover a deepened sense of purpose and a profound connectedness with other people, we tend to be motivated by higher, more universal values, such as love, beauty, truth, and justice.”

Chapter 5 Tools for Harvesting Life
(pg 107) ”….  each of us must grapple with the question.”Why was I not what I could have been?”

(pg 108)”… [At a retreat center] we created an atmosphere of spiritual intimacy, a trusting, accepting environment in which we could tell our stories to each other and share our dreams.   We affirmed the success of aging; explored the origins of our diminished images of old age; and undertook a joyous life review, with an eye toward transforming feelings of resentment into gratefulness and serenity.

(pg 109) ”FOUR FOLD MODEL OF THE SELF. …We express ourselves on four levels: the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

….  We begin on the physical level with exercises that relax the body and make it more flexible and energetic. On the emotional level, we engage in life review, reframing past mistakes and betrayals. On the mental level, we do our philosophic homework, addressing life’s perennial questions, such as “What is the meaning of my life?” and “What is my relationship to God?” On the spiritual level, we acquire contemplative skills to develop the extended consciousness from which harvesting can proceed.

On the physical level, then, respect and reverence for the body serve as the foundation for our spiritual journeys.

… “Thank you, body, vehicle of my spirit, for taking me for a wonderful ride one more day.” Such a prayerful and grateful attitude goes a long way in enlisting the body’s support in eldering work.

ENCOUNTERING OUR MORTALITY. When we move to the emotional level of our work, two tasks immediately confront us: coming to terms with our mortality and recontextualizing our past as part of life review. Let’s begin with our deeply ingrained habit of denying the presence of death.

We do this on a social level by getting our affairs in order legally and financially. As part of our estate planning, we draw up a will. To avoid burdening our loved ones with grief at the time of our death, we make plans for our funeral or memorial service. We also sign a living will, a document ensuring that no heroic measures be taken to extend our lives if we are diagnosed as being terminal and death is imminent. Because a living will is often not legally binding, we also sign a durable power of attorney, which appoints a person to make medical and financial choices for us in case we are comatose or mentally incapacitated.

(pg116)  REPAIRING OUR LIVES.  … let’s journey into the past for the noble work of life repair. We generally avoid this journey because we come face-to-face with a chorus of self-recriminating voices that tempt us to reject ourselves and to disparage our achievements. They torture us with accusations, such as “If only I had done otherwise or “Why didn’t I listen to reason?”

…The art of life repair enables us to heal our psychic bruises by recontextualizing our perceived failures into successes. We do not return to previously incompleted places to dismiss them or explain them away intellectually. We return to relive and reinterpret them as we reassure, bless, hold, and forgive ourselves.  By finding the hidden meanings or lessons within our more difficult experiences, we can drop our huge baggage of complaints, the ceaseless whining and fault finding that weigh us down, so we can live with more serenity of spirit.

(pg 117)”…In harvesting, we need to focus not only on … the causes or origins of our problems, but on … the overall purpose or design of our lives. To grow into elderhood, we cannot continue thinking of ourselves as victims of early-life trauma or parental conflicts. We cannot in good faith take refuge in the thought, “I’m solely conditioned by my origins, and everybody else is responsible for what I’ve become.” The time for playing the blame game has long since past.

(pg 120)”…Many people in our spiritual eldering workshops make forgiveness an integral part of their daily lives through journal work. (We also use journaling for a number of other tasks, including tracking our life history, befriending unknown parts of the personality, and exploring dreams.) Because it’s an excellent tool for self-awareness, we use journal work when seeking reconciliation with people who have hurt us or whom we have hurt.

(pg 121) ”HEALING A PAINFUL MEMORY.   Besides forgiveness work, life review involves returning to the ”ouch” spots in our memory files and mending our personal history.

(pg 122) “…When we cut ourselves off from the pain of the past, it takes root in the unconscious where it saps life energy and causes depression…              

…Gestalt psychologists talk about the paradoxical law of change which states that we cannot alter a condition, no matter how distressing, until we first totally accept it.

…if we meet our pains with courage and faith, we will emerge on the other side, with a renewed commitment to life. No longer suppressing our unlived life, we will find creative ways of expressing it.

(pg124)”THE PHILOSOPHIC HOMEWORK.   Once we have taken steps to heal our emotional “ouch” spots, we can proceed with greater clarity in doing our philosophic homework. Part of an elder’s work, according to gerontologist Barry Barkan, is “to synthesize wisdom from long life experience.”          

“The contemplation of an individual life against the background of time brings inevitably deeper insights into the nature of being and becoming,” he writes. “How vast a time passed by before I existed and how vast a time will be after I cease to exist…

...As you can infer from this passage, contemplating life’s transcendent issues involves asking questions, rather than taking refuge in conclusions.   

(pg 127)”THE VARIETY OF MEDITATIVE EXPERIENCE.       Besides wrestling with the philosophic homework, we must proceed to the spiritual level of work and the practice of what we traditionally think of as meditation. In general, meditation refers to the variety of contemplative techniques for accessing, control-ling, and directing deeper levels of consciousness.  Whichever of the many forms we practice, meditation provides the field for new consciousness to emerge. With this added energy and intelligence, we enhance the work of the preceding three levels and facilitate our progress in life harvesting.

(pg 120) SOCIALIZED MEDITATION.   So far in our discussion we have been talking about meditation that one does in solitude…there is a more gregarious form of inner work that we practice in our work-shops called “socialized meditation.” It involves partners sitting together in spiritual intimacy, a state of openness and trust that inducts them into meditative states of awareness.      When we practice socialized meditation, we create the conditions for an I/Thou relationship to emerge. In this sacred form of shared discovery, we speak to our partner from the heart in an emotionally safe environment that is free from the often critical, judgmental nature of normal communication. In socialized meditation, we induct each other into deepened awareness through the medium of a caring partner who acts as a mirror, a reflector of consciousness. Because of our partner’s nonjudging presence and genuine interest, we feel safe enough to drop our habitual defenses and to explore our thoughts and feelings without fear of shame or censure. In this interactive partnership, sometimes we are the receiver, listening in silence as our partner speaks from the heart. Other times, when the roles are reversed, we become the sender while our partner listens attentively.

Chapter 6 The Eternity Factor

(pg 135)”…Success in eldering depends not only on having the necessary psychological and spiritual understanding; it also hinges on reorienting yourself in time.   Transcending our normally shortsighted perspective, we root ourselves in something vast, immeasurable—something so transpersonally grand and enduring, that I call it the “eternity factor.”

…we expand our thinking to include vast geological eons of time that affect the future of our descendants and the survival of the planet itself.

(pg136)”… Elders understand the folly of living out shortsighted, profit-driven goals that ignore the welfare of the whole. By their very presence, they give testimony to more enduring values that call into question our wasteful consumption of the world’s resources, our overreliance on material possessions, and our continued assault on the environment. Having witnessed the futility of short-term goals that prove unfulfilling, elders think in multigenerational spans of time that encourage Earth stewardship.

(pg 140)…The elder also expands our notion of time beyond our current sound-bite and quarterly-report mentality. It relates us to the vast evolutionary drama that spans eons of time from the Big Bang, through the billions of years it took to create life on Earth, to evolution’s end, a point of unimaginable splendor billions of years in the future…

(pg 141)… we can choose to say, “No matter how vast evolution is, its purposes cannot be attained without the contribution of my blip of human consciousness. I am the link in the chain through which evolution is connected to the past and through which it continues into the future.”              

With this shift in awareness, we can more easily grasp in our guts that plundering the Earth of its precious resources and mortgaging our children’s futures for short-term profit are clearly devolutionary. Taking the long view redirects our values away from our current shortsighted and mistaken materialism. It also gives us the wisdom and inspiration to begin the reclamation of our endangered planet.

(pg141)…Because elders have “graduated” from the concerns of family and career, they are eminently qualified to serve as caretakers of the environment, according to Brooke Medicine Eagle, a healer and teacher of Crow-Lakota descent. In assuming their special vocation, seniors in the dominant society can draw upon the example of Native American tribal elders, known as wisdom keepers because of their connectedness to Spirit and the natural world. Tribal elders consider the deeper consequences of their behavior, taking at least seven generations into account before committing themselves to action. In this way, they serve as sacred ecologists who protect all their “relatives”—-including human, animal, plant and mineral life.

(pg 142)…“In this case, what I call the eternity factor—the felt perception of one’s relatedness to time in its cosmic dimensions—can provide ethical guidance for our action in the present moment.” 

In Native American society, elders dedicate themselves to providing a beautiful experience of life and a healthful environment to the children who come after them,” Brooke Medicine Eagle says. “Elders serve the larger world not from mystic sentimentalism, but from a felt experience, matured through contemplation, that the world is one family that they feel connected to through bonds of love. Their deepened sense of time, and the sense of responsibility it calls forth, heighten the intimate care they extend to all of creation.”

Elders naturally serve as environmental caretakers, observes Jungian analyst June Singer, because they know that while human life is transitory, the life of the planet endures. 

“Because elders are no longer worried about sending their kids to college or saving for old age, they don’t need to prepare for their personal futures; they need to prepare for their transpersonal futures,” she says. “This means working for the evolution of life on this planet through activities such as preserving the wilderness, cleaning up the oceans and waterways, or building libraries for our children. Elders express their hope in the future by the contributions they make for the generations that come after them.”

“The elder differs significantly from the rather rigid, authoritarian picture that many of us have of the elderly,” says Singer.”The conventional older person, whom Jungians call the senex, generally resists change, holds on to power tightfistedly, and frequently imposes his knowledge on others unsolicited. The elder on the other hand, is flexible, unattached to outcomes, tolerant and patient, and willing to teach when asked.  Unlike the king who wields temporal power, the elder need not impose wisdom on others. Possessing an inner authority, he or she doesn’t need to bolster personal power through self-assertion. Yet just because personal coercion is absent, such a person radiates an enormously beneficial influence by evoking the questing spirit in younger people.””               

(pg143)”…Because elders are in touch with the traditions and stories of the past, they can transmit a spark, a living flame of wisdom, to help young people meet the challenges of the present and the unfolding future. Without the continuity of tradition, young people fall prey to the excessive preoccupation with “newness” that we discussed earlier, an attitude that invites a complete rupture with the past. Such a rootless attitude deprives young people of the accumulated wisdom of our forbears. We see farther than our predecessors only because we stand on the shoulders of giants.  We owe a debt of gratitude to scientists such as Einstein and Newton, to composers such as Stravinsky and Mozart, and to great masters of spirituality, such as Moses, Jesus, the Buddha, and Mohammed. Without their contributions to human civilization, we would still be huddled in a dimly lit hovel yearning for the light, rather than contemplating vast, illumined vistas of the mind and spirit from the elevated balcony of a castle.”             

(pg 143)“…When elders hand down a tradition, they transmit something timeless in its truth or universal in its beauty, according to Robert Augros and George Stanciu, authors of The New Story of Science.” Tradition is the ballast of civilization,” they write. “Without it we are tossed about by the arbitrary winds of fashion.” But the heirs of a tradition—whether in art, science, or religion—must make the legacy bear new fruit, otherwise the tradition grows desiccated and eventually dies.”

The old-timer, the senex, wants to pass on the tradition uncorrupted by change, for fear of losing “the one true way” of revealed truth or social consensus. Such a person vehemently rejects the innovations needed to regenerate tradition and carry it forward into the future. Elders, on the other hand, recognize that traditions constantly must evolve to avoid stagnation and the excessive veneration of the past that destroys creativity and intellectual curiosity. They know that to be effective in dealing with today’s problems, traditions must flower into higher levels of development that build on but do not negate or destroy the achievements of the past.     

(pg 144)”…With their understanding of history as an evolutionary give-and-take between the generations, elders do not impose solutions to problems on young people. Instead, they remind them of the consequences of their actions, trusting in their ability to listen, make wise choices, and work for a more peaceful world. In this way, they allow young people to choose their own courses of action without inciting rebellion against the old guard.”

Chapter 7 The Conscious Transit at Death

(pg159) “When lived consciously, old age is marked by two crucial rites of passage: the entry into elderhood, which we can celebrate through initiation ceremonies, and the final exit from the physical body, the transition at death that ends our earthly pilgrimage.”       

“… a growing number of people are beginning to treat the process of dying as a unique opportunity for spiritual awakening.  With the help of loving counselors, they work through their fear and anger, dissolve resentment, heal relationships, and make peace with their destiny. By “finishing business,” they remove the calluses that obstruct the heart, the spontaneous, loving core that connects them with their essential nature. Without the need to hide behind inauthentic masks, they become sensitive and innocent again, awakened to the piercing beauty and preciousness of life.”

Part Three: Spiritual Eldering and Social Transformation
Chapter 8 Mentoring: Seeding the Future with Wisdom


(pg189) …The age-old practice of mentoring, the art of intergenerational bestowal by which elders pass on to younger people the living flame of their wisdom….the elder helps forge a center in the younger person.  Mentors do not impose doctrines and values on their mentees in an attempt to clone themselves. Rather, they evoke the individuality of their apprentices, applauding them as they struggle to clarify their values and discover their authentic life paths.

To individuate, to become our unique selves rather than secondhand imitations, we need someone standing behind us, saying as it were, “I bless you in the heroic, worthwhile, and difficult task of becoming yourself.” Such a person evokes our questing spirit, not by giving answers, but by deepening our ability to question and to search for meaning. As we work through anxiety, doubt, and occasional discouragement in our quest for a genuine life path, our mentor acts as a midwife, helping us breathe more easily as we give birth to ourselves in the world.

(pg190)”…Mentoring preserves valuable life experience from disappearing with the inevitable decay of the physical body.               

What do elders have to teach? Over and beyond an exchange of verbal information and technical skills, they transmit what can’t be acquired from books. When the transfer of sheer data just isn’t sufficient, they impart the wisdom of a lifetime (including the personal attitudes, moral and ethical judgments, and aesthetic appreciations that characterized them) through the fire of a unique relationship, the give-and-take of a living with a younger student or apprentice. When an elder fertilizes a young person’s aspiring mind with his knowledge and seasoned judgment, the student receives a living spark, a transmission that may one day blossom into wisdom.

(pg 200) GUIDELINES FOR GETTING STARTED (in mentoring). 

·         Listen with great spaciousness of heart and mind to your mentee’s genuine concerns before attempting to share your wisdom. 

·         Don’t impose but evoke your mentee’s innate knowing. 

·         Don’t try to impress your mentee by claiming to be perfect; be your searching, tentative, very human self instead.

·         Respect and call forth your mentee’s uniqueness.          

·         Recognize that like everything else under the sun, mentoring has its seasons.

Chapter 9 Elders as Healers of Family, Community, and Gaia
(pg 211) Now that we have familiarized ourselves with mentoring, let’s look a few decades into the future when spiritual elders will have assumed a more dominant role in society.   Imagine we have been transported magically into the twenty-first century where we observe the following scenarios:              

·         As intergenerational strife gives way to increased harmony, families become natural environments of healing and reconciliation, with children and elders spending time together as natural allies.   Although elders continue living apart in separate households, they help ease the burden of the two-career nuclear family by serving as mentors to their grandchildren. In becoming sages, they provide the moral and spiritual foundations to help heal the dysfunctions of the postmodern family.               

·         In large metropolitan areas and small towns across the country, groups of civic-minded elders, called Guardians of the Community, monitor the proceedings of their local city councils on a regular basis. Serving as upholders of the common good, these public-interest groups carefully study issues and make recommendations to council members before important laws are promulgated. When lawmakers are tempted to enact legislation that would benefit a powerful interest group to the detriment of other citizens, the Guardians act as whistle-blowers who mobilize public support to oppose the issue.        

·         Unified in their desire for a healthy planet, groups of elders throughout the country act as ecowardens, protecting the environment from shortsighted business interests. These environmental activists frequently protest the construction of shopping malls and freeways that compromise the integrity of local habitats and that destroy biological diversity in their bioregions. Identifying deeply with the land and its many endangered species, they relate to the natural world as a loving “thou” to be appreciated and defended, rather than a lifeless “it” to be exploited for economic gain.  

(pg 212) … a confluence of social, political, and spiritual forces is giving birth to a new wisdom culture.  In The Five Ages of Man, Gerald Heard posits that the emergence of long-lived elders in second maturity will usher in an era of unprecedented human development.  

The widespread availability of psychotechnologies from the world’s spiritual traditions, as well as recent advances in brain-mind research, have given elders the means to develop extended consciousness to match their extended longevity.  While elders can now bring their lives to completion for personal reasons, in this era of ecological devastation, individual transformation has planetary consequences.

… I believe that the emergence of long-lived elders is occurring at this time in Earth’s evolutionary history because the accumulated wisdom that comes from personal harvesting has planetary survival value.  

(pg 213) …On a tiny planet with advanced technology and limited re-sources self-actualized elders show us how to outgrow our obsessive concern with status, wealth, and possessions, the hallmarks of materialism. By exploring the spiritual dimension of life, they encourage younger people not to equate standard of living with quality of living.   As both older and younger people learn to find fulfillment in nonmaterial ways and consume less of the Earth’s, they reduce the damage inflicted on the environment and become willing collaborators in healing the planet.

(pg 213) BEYOND PRODUCTIVE AGING   In their search to lead meaningful lives, many elders are beginning to embrace their newfound spiritual vocation as planetary spokes-persons. They feel that the recent emphasis on keeping the elderly in the harness of “productive aging,” although an improvement over the traditional pattern of education, work, and retirement, scarcely addresses their deeper spiritual needs. Under the conventional approach, elders who reach retirement age disengage from the work world. Elders who practice productive aging, on the other hand, continue working in an attempt to remain youthful, vigorous, and economically competitive with younger people.   

In advanced indusial societies such as our own, elders have become passive recipients of social services, medical care, an government entitlements such as Social Security. Saddled by the staggering national debt and rising health care costs, some young people view elders as “greedy geezers,” unproductive parasites motivated by self-interest who devour the lion’s share of the federal budget. (More than one half of all federal domestic spending goes to seniors.)   As a social policy, productive aging both eases and aggravates intergenerational tensions by encouraging older people to seek employment in the job market. Insofar as this approach combats age discrimination and mandatory retirement, I support it.   After all, in today’s uncertain economy, many elders will be forced to continue working just to make ends meet. The question is: Will they compete with younger workers, extending their middle-age posture into old age, or will they work as elders?     

(pg 214) Because spiritual elders have gone through a transformational process, they no longer work with the same motivation as those who compete for success and status in the workplace. Having released their addiction to the youth culture, they seek to transcend the ego motivations that drive most productive activity. Ina society addicted to personal success as life’s summum bonum, those who attempt to free themselves from self-serving motives become role models of a more mature human development.  If elders must remain in the marketplace, then by adopting a service orientation, they can model to their younger colleagues how to transform work from cutthroat competition into a source of inner fulfillment.  At the same time, they can reduce generational antagonism by refusing to invoke age, rank, and experience as a means of oppressing younger workers who are eager to climb the social ladder of advancement.   Unfortunately, because few people have gone through training in spiritual eldering, we rarely find such open-hearted behavior in the work world. Many elders fell obliged to maintain the same productive levels as their middle-aged colleagues, inviting their contempt and envy-contempt, because they cannot produce as quickly as their younger counterparts, and envy, because of their seniority and because in areas of wisdom, experience, and competence, they pose a threat to the career-minded who are seeking advancement.               

“While productive aging propagates the image of elders as active, engaged, and vital, ultimately it presents a rather weak and incomplete vision of life,” says Harry Moody. “By insisting on the productivity of the old, we put the last stage of life on the same level as the other stages. This sets up a power struggle over who can be the most productive, a competition that the old are doomed to lose.        

“By celebrating efficiency and productivity, we abandon the moral and spiritual value of life’s last stage, stripping old age of meaning.  What we need is a wider vision of late-life productivity that includes values such as altruism, citizenship, stewardship, creativity, and the search for faith. In short, we need a spiritual vision that recognizes the value of elders’ noneconomic contributions to society.”


…What do spiritual elders contribute to society? Elders evoke our higher potential by widening our vision of human unfoldment. They contribute wisdom, balanced judgment, and enduring values to a society whose moral and spiritual foundations have eroded over the past several centuries. They serve as models for our own aging Self, enabling us to embrace the movements of our own life cycle with deepening hope and faith, rather than paralyzing fear. They affirm our basic worthiness, strengthening our will to live, our aspirations, and our devotion to ideals. In this way, they act as representatives of Earth’s long-term investment in evolution and as guardians of the commonwealth of species fighting for survival in the natural world. 

…The elder, commissioned as it were by life to carry forward evolution’s higher intentions, stands beside us and blesses us as we struggle to grow beyond our current level of understanding into new light. By holding the field— by recognizing our inherent potential, by desiring the fullest expression of our unique gifts, and by empowering us to act through an infusion of loving wisdom—we receive a spark, comparable to a spiritual battery jump, that enables us to embrace our destiny and to move courageously into the future.  

(pg 216)…Because elders can hold the field for individuals as well as the greater community, they help weld disparate elements of society together in wisdom and understanding.  Elders can hold the field for a young man or woman seeking a career, for a husband and wife having marital problems, or for various factions of a community gridlocked over racial issues.

(pg 217)…spiritual elders do not express their influence primarily through political or economic fiat. Functioning essentially as an advisor, the elder “is consulted only because he can give the inspiration of true seership,” [Gerald Heard] writes in The Five Ages of Man. “He can give a true picture of the process as a whole, in which frame of reference all the executive functions must operate or they must in the end miscarry. Yet his influence is all the more authoritative precisely because he exercises no personal coercion. He must be obeyed because instead of having to enforce his rulings, the nature of things carries out the enforcement. The authority of those who really know the laws of life and nature is self-sanctioning.” 

…elders must change their orientation from the predominately “doing” mode to the more contemplative “being” mode.


In the following sections, we will look at three areas in which elders can contribute to our greater well-being: in family life, in the political sphere, and as ecowardens for Gaia.

…[elders] should work with mindfulnesss and equanimity, holding the field as sages motivated by the well-being of the whole.         


…as empowered elders return from the periphery to the center of the modern family, they can model for their children and grandchildren how to meet life’s challenges with spiritual wisdom, grace, and courage. As mentors to younger people, whether in their immediate families or in the larger community, spiritual elders encourage the inner side of human development. By example as well as by instruction, they can help family life become a training ground for contentment and inner satisfaction.  They can model how to slow down our feverish pursuit of material possessions by embracing inner-directed values that stress unconditional love, self-acceptance, and service to others.

(pg 222)…When we activate and accept the elder within us, we will more easily embrace the aged as our future selves and welcome them into the family.  The family will become a support system and a source of spiritual nourishment, rather than a seedbed of dissatisfaction and dysfunction. Our sense of social rootlessnesswill diminish as neighbors and neighborhoods join together in awidening net of true community.    

Chapter 10 Spiritual Eldering Comes of Age

Appendix: Exercises for Sages in Training

Exercise 1: Approaching Elderhood         

Elder Creed:

An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for, and connection to, the future.

An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy, and pleasure and her or his birthright to these remains intact. 

An elder is a person who deserves respect and honor.

An elder is a person whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations

Exercise 2: The Cycles of Your Life
Exercise 3: Turning Points
Exercise 4: Journey to Our Future Self
Exercise S: Healing a Painful Memory
Exercise 6: Giving Yourself the Gift of Forgiveness
Exercise 7: A Testimonial Dinner for the Severe Teachers
Exercise 8: Doing Your Philosophic Homework
Exercise 9: Scripting Your Last Moments on Earth
Exercise 10: Letters of Appreciation
Exercise 11: Acting as an Elder of the Tribe

About the Spiritual Eldering Institute

Others Reviewers Perspectives

1)      The following excerpts are from a sermon entitled “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” 
Rev. Gail Collins- Ranadive

there must be a reason that we are living well beyond our reproductive years. Back when Social Security was first instituted, our life expectancy was a good deal lower than it is today. That we are now living longer could well mean that evolution has something in store for the world that can only come through people in their later years.

At least that’s the premise of Rabbi Zaiman Schachter-Shalomi in the book from which I’ve taken the title of today’s sermon: From Age-ing to Sage-ing.    Inside he cites some recent research on our triune human brains, each layer of which represents a stage of evolutionary development that adds unique neural capacities and behaviors.   He goes on to say that while we need all three layers of the brain to build a workable life, evolution apparently isn’t content with our present level of development:  thus there remains a vast, untapped area of the neocortex associated with intuition, an area of the brain that holds the wisdom of the millennia, the dreams of tomorrow, and the capacity for communion with the cosmos (p45).   The three layers of the brain that we have already developed represent an immense gift on the part of nature, Shalomi continues. With our current level of cognitive sophistication, we have traveled to the moon and tamed the atom. However, this level of brain-mind development is insufficient to heal the planet from the ravages of technology.   To accomplish this, we need to evolve the intuitive level of the brain, which enables us to overcome our alienation from nature and live in harmony with the Earth.

[Elders] are also the ones to now take advantage of their extended life spans to activate that vast new cognitive domain-the intuitive level- by using the contemplative arts.   Because the evolutionary plan calls for developing latent brain potential in the afternoon and evening of life, elders have the special responsibility to act as leaders in healing the planet and ensuring our continued survival, Shalomi assures us (p.47).

For the ability to develop that dimension of human potential does not come about automaticaiiy. You must be intentional about it, as other cultures have always known:  the Indians, for instance; BOTH the Hindus and the Hopis have built in expectations of and for their elder population.   Just because you have reached a certain chronological age does not guarantee you the exalted status of wise one in the culture. You have to be initiated into that phase of your life, just as to all the earlier ones.  Becoming an elder is as much of a process as any other life transition, and just as demanding. We have our own inner work to do before we can become the sages of our tribe. The problem is that WE don’t have role models, guides, mentors.  Throughout most of history, elders occupied honored roles in society as sages and seers, leaders and judges, guardians of the traditions, and instructors of the young. They were revered as gurus, shamans, wise old women and men who helped to guide the social order and who initiated spiritual seekers into the mysteries of inner space.  But beginning with the Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on technological knowledge that often was beyond their kin, elders lost their esteemed placed in society and fell into the disempowered state we now ascribe to a ‘normal’ old age (p.6).               

And I attended a forum here this summer on age-ing and listened to folks lament that they couldn’t see as well as they once did, and couldn’t keep up with the computer skills of their grandchildren, and I found myself wanting to stand up and shout out: What if that’s not the point?! What if your job is to stop focusing on the details and see the bigger picture?! What if it’s less about being stiff when we get up in the morning and more about accessing the wisdom encased within our bodies?      

And so I say unto you young whippersnappers out there this morning: it is never too early to begin reprogramming your mental computers to prepare for moving into a newly evolving image of elderhood, one that does more than restore the elder to a position of honor and dignity based on age and long life experience, but one that also envisions the elder as an agent of evolution, attracted as much by the future of humanity’s expanded brain-mind potential as by the wisdom of the past.  And to my contemporaries out there, the over sixty crowd that has become the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, let me say that it is time to take back the negative image of aging and to redefine the rest of our lives in terms of Spiritual Eldering.              

So where/how do we begin this process, this new phase of the life journey?     

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi suggests we begin by embracing the art of life completion.      

To begin successfully harvesting our lives, we must come to terms with our mortality by shining a new light on the death instinct, thanatos…in spite of the prevailing attitudes of our death denying culture.

We are all going to die, it’s the price we pay for sexual reproduction: the parents have to depart in order to make space for the new generations. It’s an evolutionary fact of life! 

Thus we must redeem our fear of death and welcome it as the initiator into the wisdom that’s within us.

 We can do this:

  • by consciously encountering our mortality,
  • by coming to terms with the past,
  • by reframing failures as successes,
  • by healing our relationships,
  • by embracing breakthroughs in forgiveness,
  • and by resurrecting our unlived lives.    

Only as we do this preliminary work of completing our lives will we begin to move into a future of expanded potential.           

At the back of Rabbi Shalomi’s book there are several Exercises for Sages in Training.  These include:

  • journaling around positive images of aging,
  • exploring the cycles of your life and discerning the turning points,
  • journeying to your future self for guidance,
  • healing painful memories,
  • giving yourself the gift of forgiveness,
  • holding an imaginary testimonial dinner for your severest teachers,
  • doing your philosophic homework,
  • scripting your last moments on earth,
  • preparing letters of appreciation, and finally,
  • acting as an elder of the tribe.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were something in our churches for elders besides the busy work of committees, as important as that is?!   What if your elders were to consciously become the visionary thinkers who are pointing out how the modern world is going though what Rabbi Shalomi says is “an unprecedented shift in premises and practices that will reweave humanity into the fabric of nature as its consciousness and guardian? For as elders make their inner riches available to the world, they can help midwife this process and safeguard the survival of the planet     As spokespersons for Gala and her many peoples, elders can ‘hold the field’ for a world of sane consumption, social justice, and spiritual renewal based on celebrating the sacred within the natural world.  In this way, the elders of the tribe can serve as leaders in giving birth to a more humane planetary civilization’’ (238).               

So then, if we humans are indeed the eyes and the ears of the planet becoming conscious of itself, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to make a bloody big production out of everything, especially out of growing older.

2)      The following are excerpts from “Becoming a Spiritual Elder” by Robert Atchley, contained in Aging, Spirituality, and Religion, by Melvin Kimble & Susan McFadden

"Becoming a spiritual elder is also an evolution that couples a mature inner connection to the sacred with action in social roles." (Reference) "Wilber (1996) pointed out the importance of using appropriate methods of knowing for differeent levels of consciousness. To know the phenomenal world we use the body's senses. To know what is logical or rational we use our calculating minds. To know the spirit, which exists beyond our bodies or minds, we use our contemplative capacities. Each of these ways of knowing has its own methods for coneecting with reality, achieving illumination, and confirming our insights. Because the essence of spirituality is neither body normind, we can know spirit fully only through methods of contemplation such as meditation and contemplative prayer." (Reference)

3) The following comment is from " There aren't enough minds to house the population explosion of memes," Daniel C. Dennett , Philosopher; University Professor, Co-Director, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University; Author, Darwin's Dangerous Idea

“… we could start projects in which (virtual) communities of retired researchers who still have their wits about them and who know particular literatures well could brainstorm amongst themselves, using their pooled experience to elevate the forgotten gems, rendering them accessible to the next generation of researchers. This sort of activity has in the past been seen to be a stodgy sort of scholarship, fine for classicists and historians, but not fit work for cutting-edge scientists and the like. I think we should try to shift this imagery and help people recognize the importance of providing for each other this sort of path finding through the forests of information. It's a drop in the bucket, but perhaps if we all start thinking about conservation of valuable mind-space, we can save ourselves (our descendants) from informational collapse.”