Do you know that there are cultures in this world that revere its older people? Both Native American and several ancient cultures looked to its elders for advice and direction. It’s hard to imagine in our society where idealized specimens of youth are plastered on television, in magazines, on the internet and bulletin boards and all forms of advertisements, that this is true. Unfortunately our culture does not recognize that the years we spend here on earth can bring great learning and wisdom.
As children grow up, become adults and age, there comes several stages of development. Each stage has its unique challenges and gifts. Children first learn about the world through the eyes of their families. Adolescents explore other possibilities through their peers. Young adults begin to form opinions and views of the world for themselves as well as begin to support themselves, begin careers, start families and find their place in the world. Mid life often brings a time of re-evaluation. The values and beliefs of youth are considered, careers and life partners evaluated. People begin to think about what regrets they may have or what they would like to be different and consider changes. As people age and as they begin to look at the end of life rather than a long life ahead, there can be a greater sense of urgency about what is important. At the same time bodily changes become more noticeable, a reminder of the natural course of life’s ebbs and flows.
All these stages offer the potential for a person to come to know themselves more deeply. Being human, all people are confronted with aspects of themselves that they like and some they do not. Coming to accept oneself is a major life challenge for all people. Aging, brings this to the forefront.
Additionally, as one ages there are losses; of relationships, careers, physical competence, status, and loved ones. Being human asks us to go beyond those values and beliefs inherent in those images of idealized youth and find within ourselves what is of value in life. Coming to terms with all the gifts and losses, both within and outside are challenges and opportunities of aging.
Believing only the superficial messages given to people by our culture, it is very painful to age. Considering, however our own inner truths of what life has taught us can help us accept aging. No one is too old to consider the meaning of their life, what makes it worth it and what might still make it worth it. Choosing to age with consciousness and be willing to consider what we know on a deeper level can bring about acceptance and healing to this inevitable process.
There are many places where a person can stumble while aging. Counseling can help someone come to terms with the numerous changes, losses and gains inherent in aging. Therapists and clients can move into a more meaningful realm of understanding its joys and challenges. Consideration of our lives is worthy at any point in life. It’s just that as we get older, on the surface, the losses and hardships loom. At closer look, there may be gifts that have great potential which is why the older years can be seen and experienced as the golden ones.