Known for her deep wisdom around death and dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh (1946–2017) also wrote about the awakening that can occur when we consciously address aging:
Opening deeply to the truth of our own aging is wise. Opening deeply to the truth of our own impermanence is wise. Although such opening may not come easily at first—we all know how the ego tends to resist vulnerability—it is important to do so if we wish to mindfully use the time remaining to us. . . .
To live a life of an elder is to ripen into being that is more than simply elderly, more than just old. It involves ripening into clear-eyed acceptance of the way things actually exist. That ripening involves, for each of us, many difficult reckonings in the multifaceted, multidimensional understanding that everything that can be lost will be lost. . . .
Grey hair and sagginess notwithstanding, many of us still cling childishly to so much that is unreal and inessential. Many of us still cling to reputation, to imagined security, to unexamined habits of attitude and behavior, and to self-image. We have deep aversion to having all of our cherished illusions stripped away by life-in-form’s seeming indifference.
We all have reservoirs of fear, some large and some small and subtle, around entering this new terrain of unknown and mystery: our last years. What will aging to do me? To my body? To my mind? . . . Will I matter to anyone? Will I be a burden? How will I die?
We do not know. We have no clue what these years will hold for us. We have no clue what will happen tomorrow. The “moment that changed everything” usually arrives unannounced.
The only person who can answer the questions posed by the often painful challenges of aging is the person we will be in the moment we confront those circumstances. The shaping of that person into someone with greater wisdom and equanimity can begin in this moment.
For Singh, when we choose to ripen, to awaken as we age, we offer a gift to the world and future generations:
If we are to claim the last years of life as years that hold the possibility of awakening into equanimity and lightness, into the very embodiment of grace, we need to bear witness to the ripening of that possibility. Not only would it be a blessing for each of us, it would be a blessing for a world starving for such witnessing. . . .
Mindful of impermanence, the breath-by-breath arising and abiding and falling of each moment, we can remain in remembrance of our longing to exist in wisdom and love and compassion. We can remain in our intention to ripen into the spiritual maturity that is our birthright to cultivate. There is no more noble way to spend these years than to become an elder, to bear witness to the world as placeholders for peace, love, wisdom, and fearlessness.
Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Aging: Awaken as You Grow Older (Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2014), 12, 16–17, 17–18, 21, 24.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on five consoling messages that transformed people know.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 12, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Trinity Tree (detail), 2022, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 7, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Aging and transformation: the natural cycle of life, learning, growing, sharing. We flower, we leaf, we shed, we become.
Story from Our Community:
I’m writing to say thank you so very much for walking with me in my journey towards greater discernment. At age 72, I have built a very successful “container,” as Fr. Richard would say, to house my False Self. But I admit that I am struggling to find direction in my “second act.” —Jim K.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.