When You’re 64

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
(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
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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