My partner and I were recently enjoying one of those lazy weekend mornings just chatting about life in general when we got onto the subject of getting older and how we feel about it all. I made the point that my passion and The Eldering Institute® is about transforming our culture’s view of aging and teaching people that we can change how we relate to the future—and, as a consequence, we can have more choices, more possibility and more ‘aliveness’ than what most people can expect as they grow older. Moreover, I reasoned, once people are empowered as they age, they are free to contribute more, build partnerships with the young and make the difference they always wanted to make—to even take on the world’s intractable problems.
She rightly pointed out that I was talking in a context of ‘more’ in terms of possibilities and opportunities to contribute, ‘better’ in terms of quality of life, and ‘different’ in terms of offering alternatives to conventional retirement options. In effect, I was speaking about my vision for improving life as we age but doing so with in the same system of values and expectations of “more, better and different” that we’ve been living with all our lives. She suggested that perhaps successful and satisfying aging has more to do with consciously ‘giving up’. For example, giving up the personal, cultural, economic and sometimes political expectations around which most of us have organized our lives and our patterns for living. By this, she didn’t mean becoming resigned or succumbing when we don’t get what we want. We discussed consciously giving up our:
Beliefs that may no longer serve us
Longstanding habits to conform to cultural norms or societal expectations
Need for positive feedback to validate our behavior or our personal value in the world
Egocentric certainties, and (by extension)
Fears and resentments.
What if wisdom has more to do with ‘giving up’ our beliefs and attachments than ‘getting’ more insights or having ‘more, better and different’ of whatever we think is important?
What she shared was one of those ‘bolts’ of insight that rocked me to my foundation. For the past 30 years, I have been working with the idea that transforming aging was about ‘more, better and different’ varieties of the ‘good stuff’ and a way of ‘getting out of the box’ and letting go of or transcending the ‘bad stuff’. It is important to understand that there is nothing wrong with living in a ‘more, better and different’ perspective. In fact, we have no choice about that, since it is the prevailing paradigm of our times. The question is are we choosing it and if so, can we then have a possibility of not choosing it—of giving it up.
Giving up something—whether it’s a pattern, a belief or a habit—that we’ve lived with for a long time isn’t so easy. In fact, from one perspective, most of our behavioral apparatus is so intertwined with “who we are” (or at least who we think we are) that it would be just as accurate to say that we are used by or addicted to our beliefs, patterns and habits. So to consciously choose to give up one of these ‘items’ that we believe make us who we are is something akin to a small ‘ego death’, a passing from one relationship with life and the future into another one—a transformation.
The irony is that I have known for a long time that transformation is not ‘just another’ point of view or paradigm. Transformation is a way of thinking about our thinking, a way of observing our observing, a point of view about our points of view. Transformation is the distinction that allows us to escape a reactive, deterministic and self-referential (Cartesian) world view of causes and effects in which we lose the capacity to differentiate between our ‘self” and our ‘thinking’. In effect, transformation allows us to recover our capacity to choose—it is freedom. I now see that transformation is also the basis for a definition of wisdom where wisdom is giving the best of who we are and our experience to others—along with the space for them to accept or reject what is offered and without any attachment to how it is received.
I now also appreciate that Eldering is about changing our relationship with the future ... at any age. It is not about ‘more, better or different’ varieties of what we already have. By the same token, it doesn’t preclude that either (if that is what we are freely and consciously choosing). Eldering is coming from age being transparent already. Eldering is choosing each moment to be exactly what it is. So whatever we choose inside the context of Eldering, whether it's 'more, better or different' or something else entirely really doesn't matter. We can give up ‘giving up’. What matters is being conscious of and responsible for our choices.