In this book Zalman Schachter-Shalomi looks at what the sage in our world could look like and how he/she can reach the fullness of his/her elder hood. He proposes that a sage offers experience, balanced judgement , and wisdom for the welfare of society and is an important asset for our ailing communities – however we may all need some training to maximise out full potential in this role .
He refers to the likes of Barry Barkan of the Live Oak institute who are looking a new ways of ageing;
an elder is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for and connection to the future.An elder is still in pursuit of happiness joy and pleasure and her or his birthright to these remain intact. Moreover an elder is a person who deserves respect, honour and whose work it is to synthesise wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy of the future.
He also quotes Dr Gay Luce who founded SAGE, a revitalization program that became the prototype for current work on aging:”elder hood is a time to discover inner richness for self development and spiritual growth.It is also a time of transition and preparation for dying, which is at least as important as preparing for a career or family. Out of this inner growth come our sages,healers, prophets, and models for the generations to come.”
In popular culture old age means wrinkled skin and chronic disease. Schachter suggests we are not senior citizens who get gold watches,move to sunbelt states and play cards,shuffleboard and bingo – “we are not wrinkled babies succumbing to trivial purposeless waste.” Instead “Harvesting’ is an important step to take as one enters into elder hood.
First steps towards harvesting is to ask ourselves questions such as If I was to die now what remains incomplete in my life? The aim is to set new priorities in our personal and work lives.
This generation of boomers have a great opportunity to create a conscious ageing movement : we are the first generation to apply insights of humanistic and transpersonal psychology and contemplative techniques to our lives. All these amazing teachings such as Yoga, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism, Sufism, Kabballah ,the growth in humanistic psychology,transpersonal psychology,journal writing,and life reviews are entering the mainstream.
He talks about how now people enter elder hood mostly unprepared to take on the new responsibilities, and how there is a need for an elder university ,for elder rituals and rites like a Barmitzvah in the jewish tradition.He elaborates his ideas of how that could be.
His dream is that as new elders, we can use these tools to activate our dormant powers of intuition, to help feed wisdom back into society.He talks of the need to educate people as they enter elder hood,to help them become elders. There should be elder groups where this happens, where people learn meditation and other skills , where they learn to harvest their life experience, through journal writing etc .He gives wonderful exercises for this in the book, to help people decide in a group where his/ her skills can be best used for the community and for service , whilst at the same time discovering the answer to what has been left undone in their lives .These groups could serve as core support centres to then come back to and make sure that the individual is on the path to doing their contribution , and to fulfilling themselves.The groups become enabling.
In these elder hood courses people would talk about and face death , face the demon head on. As is the case in many traditions such as the Egyptian and Tibetan , as described in their books of the dead ,elders would write their own obituary and imagine how they would like their funeral. As is the case in all traditions where death is part of life, the life ahead becomes all the more poignant , important ,and put into perspective.Life becomes more vibrant.