When You're 64

What's the future for

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What do you get when you have about 40 million folks facing 50 next year? An obsession with aging, and as Dan Wakefield writes in Yoga Journal (Sept./Oct. 1995), one heck of a hot topic for 'study, speculation, research, books, films, tapes, workshops, sales and marketing.' Gail Sheehy hit a gold mine with New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, a perky revisioning of the golden years, while Common Boundary(Sept./Oct. 1995) reports how a now-annual 'Conscious Aging' conference 'struck a vein of gold' among mid-age new-agers.

The word on aging from experts across the board is this: Older is gonna be better. Sheehy dubs middle age 'Middlescence: it's adolescence the second time around.' In a U.S. News & World Report (June 12, 1995) excerpt of her book, she says that at 50, more and more people are concentrating on 'becoming better, stronger, deeper, wiser, funnier, freer, sexier and more attentive to living the privileged moments.' As people come closer to their demise, this metamorphosis tends to happen, Sheehy says, because they are searching for life's meaning at the same time that family responsibilities and youthful acquisitiveness wane.

Personal growth all-stars -- spiritual teacher Ram Dass, anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, doctor-author Bernie Seigel, Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, and the late Gray Panthers-founder Maggie Kuhn -- also predict that as boomers become elders, they'll blossom, turning to spiritual growth, and 'sage-ing' to younger generations. And they probably won't be content with just any old folks home. According to Spiritual Eldering Institute founder Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, these elders may end up living in 'spiritual eldering retreat centers,' or in 'urban ashrams' that offer a gathering place to do 'eldering work in the community.'

Enticing as they sound, Wakefield wonders whether such spots might be 'Sun City with meditation instead of square dancing.' Even enthusiasts like Schacter-Shalomi note that currently, the conscious living concept, has 'largely not filtered down to grassroots levels.'

Others believe that any retirement community concept should be nixed. 'Why not stay where you are and share your space with young people?' asked Kuhn, who founded the Shared Housing Resource Center. And some like Wakefield (who's 62) think the ideal is to avoid focusing on age altogether. He recounts a Ram Dass anecdote about how he didn't know his guru's age until he died at 84: 'I hadn't experienced him at any age. It never dawned on me that he was an older man, his mind field was so present when I entered it.

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