by Bob Calhoun
On my 74th birthday, I received a card and package from a life-long friend. The card read, “Dear Bob, Once upon a time we were fostered and enriched by books by Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Maslow, John O’Donohue, Phillip Newell, Frederick Buechner, David Whyte, Frost, and Richard Schwartz. They were tools of knowledge that we used when we were young. But those times have passed. We need new literature to help us deal with the new challenges we face as we age. I hereby gift to you the tools you will need going forward. Happy birthday.”
Opening the package, to my surprise, I found more than a half dozen children’s books including the titles Frog and Toad are Friends, The Rabbit Listened, Blueberries for Sal and Nobody Hugs a Cactus. I am sure my friend was clearing out books his grandchildren had ‘outgrown’, and they will be great additions to my grandchildren’s bookshelf. But the message that jumped out to me became quite clear: On this elder journey, having been blessed to still be alive, we are being called to let go, to return to the deepest parts of our true self, to what many call the great not-knowing.
Many of the great spiritual paths speak of developing the beginner’s mind or seeing like children see, where the miracle and mystery of life can be fully experienced. In this latter stage of life, we are drawn spiritually downward toward the True Self where a lifetime of gained wisdom and perspective merge with the simplicity and awe of the uncluttered child mind—where each moment, each new day is a new adventure to be cherished, waiting in anticipation of the next miracle to emerge before us. It is a path of letting go (of ego, striving, fear, self-protection) and living more in the present, aware of our connection with all things living and not living, and staying open to the gift that each moment offers…and the first words spoken each day are words of gratitude.
My spiritual work over a lifetime not only brings me ‘back home’ to a calm center, but comes as well to my aid as I enter and embrace this elder time in my life and face the many challenges of aging and embrace more fully my mortality. A deep spiritual center offers me a space in which to step back. At a cancer support group I recently attended, a line from a John Bell hymn (‘We Cannot Measure How You Heal’) was shared by a fellow group member and caught my attention: “Lord, let your Spirit meet us here…to disentangle peace from pain, and make Your broken people whole.”
Disentangle peace from pain…the pain from loss of loved ones, of abilities, of opportunities and anticipated losses to come. Disentangle peace from fear of the unknown, depression, anxiety, physical discomfort from illness My spiritual space offers a perspective of the larger view and the impermanence of my life journey. The various ‘pains’ are never eliminated but my spiritual center, my soul, is the place within where solace can be found, wisdom and loving presence can be felt and shared with others, as I continue to engage in the gift of life.
Another birthday gift I received was from my wife, a gray t-shirt with the following phrase printed on the front in large, bold, black letters: “Do The Work”. Our spiritual nature and knowing are gifts with which we were born. They have always been a deep part within me. Even though there are times over my lifetime when I have been surprised by insights and truths, moved by coincidences, taken to new places by a Something I cannot explain, I still need to “do the work’ to nurture my spiritual center, my soul, my True Self. The work is varied, from silent reflection, meditation, and writing, to long walks in the forest, sharing honestly with others…and staying open to the wisdom that comes out of my ‘dark nights of the soul’. But it is work well worth my efforts on this Elder Journey.
I end with a poem I wrote during a Conscious Eldering retreat in the desert at Ghost Ranch.
Receiver of Doubt
Spirit of the East
for the transforming power of your presence,
I am forever thankful
I entrust in you, the doubts that block my eldering journey
into your care
they are lifted by gusts
of evening wind beyond the towering red walls
I now embrace my truth and doubt myself no more: free to live and walk the Elder Journey
Bob Calhoun is a retired counseling psychologist and passionate writer of poetry about the human spirit, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.