By Theresa Reid, PHD
Host of CTN’s “Aging for Life”
We cherish a fantasy of old age as a time when we’re finally wise and calm, immune to emotional storms and full of sage observations about life. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Why Survive? geriatrician Robert N. Butler observes that “the myth of serenity portrays old age as a kind of adult fairyland.”
Now, as geriatrician Bill Thomas observes in Second Wind, “A room full of eighty-somethings inevitably contains more wisdom than a room full of twenty-somethings.” But wisdom isn’t a given as we age, it’s not an inevitable byproduct of aging, like wrinkles, sagging skin, and graying hair. (Sorry.)
Perspective and insights about life accumulate, sure. But turning decades’ worth of experience into wisdom takes more than just living through it. It takes reflection, self-assessment, deep processing. It takes persistent kindness, generosity, forgiveness—toward ourselves and others.
There are lots of routes to gaining wisdom as we age. Therapy can help. Inclusive religious practice. Spiritual development, formal or informal. Many older people are turning toward Sage-ing International or the Center for Conscious Eldering, and books like Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s From Age-ing to Sage-ing and Ron Pevny’s Conscious Living, Conscious Aging. I’m practicing mindfulness meditation, which I began through the invaluable free online program, Palouse Mindfulness, based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course developed by Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Now I’m taking a course in MBSR through the Ann Arbor Center for Mindfulness. The IONS Conscious Aging workshop series, which I offer locally, is another great way to open up your path to wisdom.
If we pay any attention at all to the events of our lives, we all get smarter as we age. And research by psychologist Laura Carstensen, founder and director of the Stanford Center for Longevity, found that we humans tend to be happiest at the beginning and end of our lives. But wisdom? That takes work.
Theresa Reid, PhD, is Executive Producer and Host of Aging for Life, a podcast and television show she’s developing with Community Television Network in Ann Arbor. Dr. Reid is a Certified IONS Conscious Aging facilitator. This is the first of a series of occasional columns by Dr. Reid. Contact her at email@example.com.