Later Life years are not a time to keep our life-long learning process going. It is a time to accelerate it. We speed up our learning as we age, not because we make it happen so much, but by allowing a new kind of learning to happen. We do this on two levels or planes: the outer and the inner lives we enjoy; the material and the psycho-spiritual.

Society with its age-ism—wrinkles are bad, pretend you aren’t aging; keep producing, career people; and women, whatever you do, stay young looking—society doesn’t get development that happens in aging. Having a materialistic bent, cultural lenses look at our bodies and the outer plane of matter and thinks that if it is not the only, the physical plane is certainly the primary plane of existence.  What we see in the mirror, our bank accounts, our travel life and the finer things, like bottles in the wine cellar, are the main thing…  stay busy, consume, be happy.

If this sounds like mid-life measures and social roles extending into later life, it is. And yes some of the fun of later life with these extended lives we live, is continuing the things we used to love to do and still do them. But the main measure in the elder years is on a different plane, the inside and psycho-spiritual. The outer is nice to have and is of course connected to the inner plane: the inner is essential as the outer plane slip slides away, little by slow even with botox and more Amazon purchases.

Certainly society reveres grandparenting and mentoring by elders, and elders working on that very material plane for social justice, job creation, and more. It is not all Amazon purchases. But by and large, as activist M.D. Bill Thomas says, there is a “cult of adulthood” that has invaded both older and younger life stages: youngsters lose their free time so they can learn to perform sports and perform as adults. And the invasion into the later years is easy to see and must be replaced.

The cult of adulthood is insistent in its claims that old age is irrelevant and possibly on the edge of its own extinction (given sufficient progress in pharmaceutical laboratories).  …Many find refuge in treasured illusions about traditional aging.  In truth, the old way of growing old was never as good as we like to remember it….  We really have no choice but to look ahead. The times demand that we create a new elderhood—one that fits the way we live now. We need this new elderhood not only for ourselves (we all deserve a better, richer, more meaningful old age) but for people of all ages.

What the cult of adulthood really misses is the inner life that can grow so rich with wisdom, the heart joys; love for self and others, the relational and service joys; and connecting to the mysterious web of life from which we come and to which we return, the spiritual joys. All this is the grace of the inner plane of existence that parallels the outer plane which can still happen, but is secondary now. The inner learning is the soul growth that rushes on if we but allow it, and stop concentrating on the outer learnings so exclusively.

For me, I am still enjoying rich connections, some of them quite new, to clients and learning communities of all kinds. But the inner connections are the ones fueling me to a daily appreciation I have not known before.

How is your aging/eldering/later life process going? Are you still finding enriching new opportunities to pursue outer learning? They are all over the place with travel, and garden experiments, and classes and book clubs so you read about things, and experience important life pursuits, of which you never knew you had so little awareness. Travel teaches how big and various the human family really is. There are new people to meet and social and neighborly bonds to form. As elders we can still feed our heads. (thank you, Gracie Slick). We can add concepts and facts and see patterns we have never seen before.

Are you finding new ways to pursue the inner learning that is trying to take place within you? How is the mystery of life making its way into your heart? New feelings, meditations, prayers, or new ways of being in the world, as you sit on the porch and see that blue sky, with sensorial-spiritual lenses that were largely unavailable with simpler mid-life brains, minds and hearts.

The special learning process of the elders is the inner matrix that holds and sees the external and outer plane with fresh hands and lenses. We add new perspectives, and deeper more nuanced, feelings and more love and connection to life than we have ever had before.

As Joan Chitester says: “The goal of older age is to live life the way you have never lived life before.”

How we approach this goal depends on two levels of learning. One, the outer learning, we know for the most part. The other, the inner curriculum, we are learning as we go.

Tilted Spheresby Ken Mist Licensed under CC-BY 2.0 Original source via Flickr



But at my back, I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near  
Andrew Marvell

My colleague and master coach and teacher Doug Silsbee is dying. He has a blog on these last months of life that he is creating with wife Walker. Doug had many many like me, proud to call him colleague, teacher, friend.

He has these beautiful words to offer in his March 25th post. He wanted his son Miles to sense how an ending could be conveyed in simple images:

Imagine walking through the rainforest, the green canopy overhead, macaws flying back and forth, a deep, black, still pool far below. I admire the magical reflections in the smooth surface of the pool’s water. I grab a small rock, following the deep male instinct to make a mark, curious to see how the reflected images will change with the rock’s impact. I wing the rock out into space, watching it fall towards the pool, anticipating what will happen.

Then, the lights go out. Everything goes dark. I never see the rock land, can’t know what happens next. It’s over… My energy has put some things in motion, but it’s not for me to know what happened with them. Things go on, the rock will land, events will unfold. But, my time is up.

He has many more poignant passages, so spend some time a-wanderin’ through it. (  (And if you want to know about coaching and presence read any and all of his books.) For me, and all who are reading his blog, they have given us a way to say goodbye and let go gradually, and a sense of his particular presence in the world. And a beautiful and aglow presence it is.

The actuarial tables kick in when we get older. We travel up or slide down that curve, and the statistics that objectify us tell a hard truth not captured in the individual dramas and stories that we participate in with each passing. We lose increasing numbers of family and friends and work colleagues, and we have to be ready to say good bye, and then good bye again, and then again.

At mid-life the generation above us – mentors, teachers, parents and their siblings – are taking their journey to the other side. Then we notice more from our own generation starting to join them and the actuarial curve steepens. Then more again as the curve grows steep and we experience a monthly, or quarterly if we are lucky, reckoning: we lose someone we know and have to let go of the little or big part they played in our lives.

By now, the beginning of my eighth decade, I could spend part of everyday and much time every week just on catching up on everyone’s recent health management, knee replacement, cataract, cancer check move. It is endless. One retired entrepreneurial couple in Kansas City, Barnett and Shirley Helzberg of diamond retailer fame, told us years ago their rule on this later life phenomenon. They were in their ’70s and when they got together with later life buddies. they would each spend one minute on their health – I have since heard this elder report out called “the organ recital”- and then no more talk the rest of the gathering. The health and body realities had space on the agenda, but it was limited and contained and not central to the social exchange.

Doug and Walker are doing the same in a different way: they mention the health and treatment details to a point, then they proceed to the psycho-spiritual journey they are on. And so we learn yet again at the hands of a master teacher.

Thanks Doug. Without knowing it, we started saying good bye to our work together a few years back on a fun call, as you were into your new leadership book and camping about the country. Now I can say good bye and say well-done, you “brought your piece of the puzzle to the table” (Freud’s description of his life) and are still doing so, as you report on our shared mortal destiny and its meaning.


Image above
“PRECIOSA Ripple™ – 02010/25021” by  PRECIOSA ORNELA is licensed under  CC BY 2.0


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