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Friday, January 27, 2017

There's more to later life than "letting go"

© Imelda Maurer, cdp
Aging is a universal experience. That is why anyone and everyone can speak to the issue, can speak of their experiences.  There is an inherent risk of error and misinformation, however, when the speaker/writer has a public venue, is an expert in other fields (theology or spirituality for example) and speaks to an audience authoritatively about aging.

It has been my observation that these writers/speakers interpret aging experiences through the bias of popular culture rather than from honored, acceptable theories of aging and from gerontological research-based data. The result is the all-too-familiar one-dimensional approach to aging as loss and diminishment. It is the view that saturates our popular culture. This approach is often 'spiritualized' by teaching the spirituality of aging as circumscribed by the task of "letting go".

This topic merits much more comprehensive attention than a short blog post. I make two abbreviated points here though.

First: we human beings experience loss throughout our entire lives. It is a part of change.  Before a new thing can happen, the old thing has to end. Before we got our adult teeth we had to lose our baby teeth. In this change (read growth), there is always a simultaneous loss and gain. This is true multi-dimensionally:  physical, emotional, cognitive and social. We do not experience change for the first time when we retire from ministry, that period often referred to in religious literature as a time of transition.  Every change is a transition. Change happens throughout the life cycle. Perhaps the most profound change we human experience is leaving the warmth and intimacy of our mother's womb where heartbeat and voice are heard and felt in a warm, safe environment. The consequences of not going through that loss need no explanation. Loss and gain -- simultaneous in any change and present throughout the lifespan.

Second: There is potential for growth and development throughout the life span -- up to our very last breath. The popular culture tells us that when our hair grays, when our collagen lessens and we wrinkle, that this loss and diminishment circumscribes or defines aging. We are more than our physical bodies and in the presence of physical changes there are also emotional, cognitive and experiential changes that are NOT losses.

If this whets your appetite for more, read the book, "The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain" by Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.  Here is a blurb from about this amazing, authoritative book.

"The Mature Mind delivers good news for those in the second half of life, with an extraordinary account of cutting-edge neuroscience, groundbreaking psychology, fascinating vignettes from history and case studies, and practical advice for personal growth strategies. Gene Cohen, a renowned psychiatrist and gerontologist, draws from more than thirty years of research to show that surprising positive changes in our brains have the powerful potential to enhance, not diminish, our lives after fifty."

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