Older age is a time of change, and that makes it a time of great opportunity. Many retirees take the advantage of a newly-open schedule to take up a charitable cause, explore a new hobby or travel. Why not also consider older age an opportunity to get in improve your spiritual health? Given the importance of spiritual health in older age, one of the great opportunities in this stage of life is the chance to strengthen your spirituality and explore outlets for spiritual growth.
There are few people spending more time thinking and talking about getting in touch with spirituality in older age than Mary Ann Spina, a Pastoral Associate at Holy Cross Church in Deerfield, Illinois. Spina recently gave a presentation at CMSS on spirituality and aging. Here are a few of Spina’s insights for improving your own spiritual health:
Calm your mind
Spina recommends practicing activities that quiet the mind, such as meditation, breathing exercises, prayer or even walking. The key is repetition. The repetitive mental or physical action frees your mind, and helps you gain a new perspective on any problems you may have. Spina cautions that you won’t experience a breakthrough every time you meditate or practice another calming activity, but that developing your skills over time will help to make these activities spiritually rewarding.
At CMSS, some of our residents find this sort of calm in artistic pursuits as well. Try thinking about your own personality when choosing some types of calming activities to try. Do you tend to feel more centered while engaging in a physical activity, or when you can be still? How much time do you personally need to truly reap the benefits of quieting your mind? Don’t be afraid to try a variety of practices to learn which ones feel right to you.
Seek human connection
As an older adult, it’s totally normal to experience moments of loneliness, especially after life changes such as retirement or the death of a spouse or close family member. When you’re lonely, it can be tempting to withdraw from the world even further. But Spina is firm in her conviction that this is not the answer to loneliness in older age, and says, “Instead of waiting for the world to come to us, one of the spiritual tasks of aging is to reach out to other people.”
This spiritual practice can take any number of forms. Consider making the first move to reconnect with an old friend, volunteering for a good cause or joining a class to learn a new skill or hobby. At a public event, if you see someone sitting alone, ask if you can join them and introduce yourself. If any given attempt to connect does not succeed, don’t despair. Just keep trying to build new relationships, understanding that you won’t click with everyone you meet.
View changes as possibilities, not limitations
Spina is adamant about the role of individual perspective in aging. She says, “Change itself does not destroy us. Our attitude toward change makes all the difference.” As you age, embrace the new possibilities and the opening doors, rather than focusing on the aspects of your life that are ending.
For example, the transition to retirement is difficult for many, but once they are retired, the same people often find that their new schedule offers all sorts of new opportunities to pursue their interests and devote time to themselves. As Spina says, “That’s the freedom of age. We get to be our best selves, what we’ve been developing all our lives. We can concentrate on our best qualities.”
She urges older adults to think of aging as you would a fine wine. “You don’t want a new wine. It has no personality, no character. But an aged wine, now that’s developed some character, some flavor, some interesting aspects.”
Aging is a part of life, but it need not be a process of diminishment. “Don’t take the gift of life and return it unopened,” Spina says, “Rip it open and love it for all it’s worth.”