Old Age: Autumn of Our Body, Springtime of Our Soul

Old Age Wisdom

The abbot Daniel used to say, “Even as the body flourishes, so does the soul become withered: and when the body is withered, then does the soul put forth leaves.” [Sayings of the Desert Fathers].

The autumn of our body is the springtime of our soul. How often we wish to transport what we know in old age into what we did in our youth. “If we only knew then what we know now” is a common refrain heard among the elderly.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

[Robert Browning].

Nevertheless, most of us don’t see old age as pretty. As we grow old, we try to replace our waning physical appeal by decorating ourselves with fine garments, jewelry and cosmetics.

Additionally, we acquire luxury vehicles, palatial houses and glamorous accessories to adorn our decaying reality. Pharmaceutical products temporarily relieve pain and discomforts, and cosmetic surgery even offers replacements for worn parts.

Old age carries with it a natural diminution of faculties that translates into ever-increasing dependence on other people. All these physical conditions provoke a sense of mortality and prod us to reflect on the transient nature of our existence.

The elderly brain is less dopamine-dependent, making people less impulsive and controlled by emotion. Older people [are] also less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to younger people. This, in fact is what we call wisdom. MRI scans have also identified the four regions of the brain that contribute to wisdom, with older people demonstrating a higher level of activity between these regions than younger people. [Professor Dilip Jeste of the University of California, San Diego].

Samsara, Groundhog Day and Old Age

When time encroaches upon us without permission, we see it as an invasive intruder. As old age makes inroads into our physical state, our first reaction is to put up barriers to block the advancement. Every new wrinkle and grey hair is cause for alarm.

Sacred texts tell us that material reality is not for clinging. We can embrace it, but hanging onto the impermanent is not recommended.

… be eager to leave the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave. [J. Robertson McQuilkin].

It is noteworthy that the Buddhist concept of saṃsāra considers the endless cycle of birth and rebirth as a condition of suffering and pain. Having a “Groundhog Day” reality is a grievous affair. Who wants to live endlessly without a purpose?

Extending our short physical existence cannot be an end in itself. What meaning does life have if extending our life span is our primary purpose?

This the Lord prescribes by his word, when he tells us that to his people the present life is a kind of pilgrimage by which they hasten to the heavenly kingdom. If we are only to pass through the earth, there can be no doubt that we are to use its blessings only in so far as they assist our progress, rather than retard it. [John Calvin, On the Christian Life].

Ageless Thoughts

Our greatest achievements are efforts of our spirit. Their benefits increase with age, accumulating as profitable experiences that produce wisdom.

As we enter old age and grow more frail, we recognize the impermanence of our existence. We seek a purpose for our existing state, and meaning for our eventual end.

Among all my patients in the second half of life … there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them feel ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers and not one of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook. [Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of A Soul (p.234)].

One of the most rewarding pleasures of scriptural understanding is the realization that this world and its allurements are inconsequential, not worth worrying about. In addition, scriptures offer a purposeful worldview that gives meaning, direction and hope to old age.

As winter strips the leaves from around us, so that we may see the distant regions they formerly concealed, so old age takes away our enjoyments only to enlarge the prospect of the coming eternity. [Jean Paul Richter].

Timeless Beauty

Old age has mystic boundaries that surround and enclose a timeless beauty. These supernal fences protect the fields of spiritual wisdom awaiting us in old age.

Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? [Job 12:12 (NIV)].

With an attitude of gratefulness and thankfulness, no cosmetics are needed to beautify our contemplative spirit. Functioning in the spectrum of Divine light, our insight is clear and our life can now focus on complete devotion to God.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. [Isaiah 46:3-4].

Submission is the spiritual mantle provided by old age. With it, we wrap ourselves in prayer and praise, drawing near to God, bowing humbly, while glorifying the Name Divine.

In faithful obedience, we cultivate piety throughout our lifetime, gleaning from it discernment and wisdom. Then, in our old age, we find it growing naturally all around us. God is most merciful, most beneficent.

CONSIDER the flight of time! Verily, man is bound to lose himself unless he be of those who attain to faith, and do good works, and enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth, and enjoin upon one another patience in adversity. [Quran 103:1-3].

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