Table of Contents and a Portion of the Introduction
Section One: AWARENESS AND ACCEPTANCE
1. Awakenings: The Story of Buddha
2. Loss as Liberation: The Hindu Life-Stages
3. Embracing Change: The Yin and Yang
Section Two: WISDOM AND THE HOLY FOOL
4. The Wisdom of Age: An Aikido Master
5. The Freedom of the Fool: An Old Woman in Purple
Section Three: SERVICE AND REST
6. Caring for Our World: The Eagle Clan Mother
7. The Use of the Useless: A Taoist Tree
Section Four: LOOKING BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS
8. Completing the Past: Scrooge's Ghost
9. Facing Death and the Deathless: A Buddhist Mother
Section Five: SUFFERING AND JOY
10. Suffering as Gift: The Passion of Jesus
11. Rebirthing the Self: Sarah's Laugh
12. Coda: The Dance of the Sages
Appendix One - Suggested Readings
Appendix Two - A Spiritual Passages Group
Appendix Three - The ElderSpirit Center
FROM THE INTRODUCTION
Time is both a thief and a generous soul. It can steal from us things of great value yet lavish precious gifts in return. For there are gifts of the ripened mind, heart, and spirit. As we grow older, we may finally grow up--attain the maturity that's always eluded us. Yet, we may also grow younger at heart. There's a wildness and a freedom buried inside beneath layers of social convention. Why not let it loose? Why not play?
Then too, maybe the fears that have bedeviled us--of our past mistakes, of death hurtling toward us from the indeterminate future--will finally disperse. We can stand in the present, serene. Maybe the driven pace of our lives, whipping us about like a drunken merry-go-round, will finally slacken. We can rest inside. We can be alone with ourselves in a spirit of joyful solitude, not soul-crushing loneliness.
Yet the soul asks for more, ever more. What loneliness we have felt is hardly the result of a sheer lack of people. We are surrounded by crowds, our days filled with collisions and conversations. But how to really let folks into our hearts? How to find that intimacy which is not just a give and take, but a give and give, each one fed by the other? We crave soul food, the real thing. We won't be satisfied by less.
Finally, this craving carries us beyond the meat of this world. We reach out for...what to call it? God, the realm of Spirit, the One that unites us? The Tao, Buddha Nature, the indwelling Christ? So many different words. They are like fingers pointing to that which, beyond the self, or within the self, will truly makes us whole. Whole, holy, healed. If the passage of time does not bring us this it is nothing but idiocy--moments strung one after another, after another, without deep meaning or purpose.
But the world's religions share a common testimony: that with age we can become sage. There is a wholeness possible in life's second half which often evades us as callow youths. But nobody said that this accomplishment would prove easy. With the passage of years, we stumble in the dark, meet with unexpected obstacles and hazards. In negotiating these we will receive little guidance from our culture. Too often it portrays aging as a senseless thing, a slip-slide toward dotage and the grave.
Yet we need not despair. For, if we but know where to seek them, we will find guides aplenty. They are there in the wise elder of Native American traditions, and the biblical Sarah, a post-menopausal mom. We are taught by a laughing Aikido master, a long-lived Taoist tree, Jesus struggling with pain, mockery, and abandonment. An old woman wearing purple and kicking up her heels. Scrooge confronting his Christmas ghosts. A Hindu sage retiring to the forest to seek the God within. These are stories provided by the world's spiritual traditions, and the pens of artists and poets, that can teach us how to age. In this book we will work through them together.
For most of us, long experience best prepares us for these lessons in midlife or our later years. Hence I focus on this period of life. Yet spiritual passages have no fixed season. Many a younger reader, churned forward by life's turbulence, is already a sage-in-training. Then too, the issue of aging is not only for the "aged." It is something we are all undergoing at every moment, whether seventeen or seventy. The sooner we learn how to work with time's changes, the better we can negotiate through life.
Several authors in our society have tried to map the landscape of adulthood. The psychiatrist Eric Erickson was one such pioneer. Refusing to restrict psychological development to childhood, he charted, as well, the stages of midlife and beyond. In a more popular vein, Daniel Levinson has written on the "seasons of a man's life." Gail Sheehy has sketched the "passages" we age through, including the "flourishing forties," "flaming fifties," and "serene sixties."
The works of these and other such authors yield much of value. They provide an empirical record of what people do experience as they age within our culture. Moreover, they suggest something of what we should experience if seeking to be whole: integrity, generativity, and the like.
My own book draws on and overlaps with such themes. But, finally, it has a different purpose. For something is still missing from this focus on the psychological passages of adulthood. The soul wants more--it seeks spiritual passages to the divine. It wants to dive headfirst into that reservoir of joy and insight we dip from in our better moments. It wants a glimpse of that eternal life that stretches beyond the grave.
So I turn, in this book, to life's spiritual passages. And where better to seek guidance than from the world's sacred traditions? (Admittedly, personal and space limits bound the selections.) Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Native American cosmology, and more. Are these clashing systems arrayed for battle? Or are they like the many colors when light is refracted through a prism--each with its unique beauty, though also part of the one? I prefer the latter image. The divine light refracts through the prism of culture and history. Let us gather up all its shining rays....