Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Growing Older and One's Purpose

A Stress-Free View

My ears perked up when I heard a story on NPR's Morning Edition yesterday morning, "People Who Feel They Have a Purpose in Life Live Longer."
 http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/07/28/334447274/people-who-feel-they-have-a-purpose-in-life-live-longer  The story cited a study by Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, which says having a purpose in life, defined by Hill as a "compass or lighthouse that provides an overarching aim and direction in day-to-day lives," may protect against the harmful effects of stress. My first thought was sure, that makes sense, as long as fulfilling the purpose doesn't cause more stress.

A common question when one retires these days seems to be "What are you going to do now?" My father, who is almost 91 and only fully retired for a few years, can't imagine someone intentionally retiring. He asks me with great concern, "What will Bruce do with himself?" Well, give the man a chance to find out! Besides, I wonder, is "doing" something the same thing as having a purpose? 

I know many people wait for retirement in order to do something --to spend more time working for a cause or to return to an interest that was set aside in favor of raising and providing for a family, such as painting or woodworking, or others have passports ready and are eager to visit all the places of their dreams. Many are eager for more time with grandchildren. Do those plans count as purpose? Is a passion the same as purpose? If I want to spend the day sitting in our garden reading a mystery, am I without purpose? Must I be purpose-full in order to live longer? 

Spirituality and Purpose
It seems to me the purpose of this stage of life is a spiritual one. 
Whatever we decide to do with whatever years we have in these elder years is almost beside the point.  The point is that there is purpose in aging itself. This is a time of assimilation of all the other stages of our life. This is a time to shed the layers of acquisition and ambition, of denial and delay, of illusion and image. This is a time to remember how God lives in us and we in God. 

This morning I started reading a book called A Season of Mystery, 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing A Happier Second Half of Life by Paula Huston. There is wisdom here.
    …old age is the most challenging stage of life we face. We
    must be able to tap into all the wonderment of childhood, 
    the hope of young love, the patience of parenthood, and
    the determination of middle age if we are not to be defeated
    by it.Yet it is calling us to be better people than we've ever
    been, while at the same time, it is diminishing our capacities
    for serious effort. p.xi

Huston acknowledges that our culture mythologizes the aging process. Look young. Feel young. Be young. It doesn't take long to discover that aging can be the worst of times. However, when we become realistic about the inevitability of aging for as long as we live, that is, and also realistic about the promise that we will die, it can also be the best of times. Huston talks about living an "admirable" life or "what we might become if only we had enough courage and faith," and that seems about as good a purpose as one can live. "It is the difficult, admirable life that calls out of us what is highest and best and most satisfying." 

I know there are areas of my life that need cleansing. Areas where I need to forget and clear the space; inner work waiting for my attention and intention. Along the way, I hope to still do some good for others, to use my gifts, and to contribute in some way, but I suspect doing will be a by-product of the being I am learning how to accept and understand. 

Risk of Death
Back to the report on NPR. The report said the study showed a "15 percent lower risk of death" in those who had purpose compared to those who said they were "more or less aimless." Oh, how we would like to believe that. The lines forming to proclaim one's purpose would go around the block, but you know and I know, we all know, there is a 100% risk of death. Purpose or no purpose, we will each die. Let's just be clear about that. 

What is the Purpose of This Time?

Now is the time to stop and reflect.
Now is the time to reach inward and touch our essence.
Now is the time to strip away the many faces of the roles we have  played, and recognize who we really are.
Now is the time to understand that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Now is the time to understand that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Now is the time to perceive our spiritual dimension--the strong, silent presence of our spirit.
Now is the time to reflect on our lives and recognize the strength of spirt that has been there.
Now is the time to acknowledge that our purpose on this earth is a spiritual one, and was determined before we came here. 
Now is the time to listen to the daily inner whisperings of our spirit.
Now is the time to find out who God is for us now.
Now is the time to mourn our past and embrace the promises of the future.
Now is the time to revisit our retirement dreams and make them come true.
Now is the time to look deep within ourselves and refocus our energies on the goals that are most important to us.
Now is the time to love and appreciate ourselves and others in a new light.
Now is the time to look back over our lives and appreciate the progress we have made.
Now is the time to make friends with our feelings about retirement and other issues in our lives.
Now is the time to search the corners of our lives for unfinished business, and finish it.
Now is the time to look forward to death with acceptance, knowing it is just another door in the progression of our existence.
Now is the time to enter and relish each moment we are given.
                 Creating a Spiritual Retirement, A Guide to the 
                 Unseen Possibilities in Our Lives
                 Molly Strode, pp. 169-170

An Invitation
When you think about "purpose" at this stage of your life, what comes to mind? I would love to know how you would complete the phrase, "Now is the time…" 

Bonus: Here a link to a list of The Best Books on Aging. Well worth checking out. http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/the-best-books-on-aging.html

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