Michael Gurian is a renowned marriage and family counselor and The New York Times bestselling author of 26 books including An American Mystic and Love's Journey. His interest in elders was sparked during his teen years when his mother, a gerontologist, formed a friendship with Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of Death: The Final Stage of Growth. One of the frontispiece quotations here is from Kubler-Ross:
"It is our purpose as human beings to grow — to look within ourselves to find and build upon that source of peace and understanding and strength which is our inner selves, and to reach out to others with love, acceptance, patient guidance, and hope for what we all may become together."
In this wide-ranging book, Gurian explores the new paradigm for the three stages of age: Stage 1: the age of transformation (from approximately fifty to mid-sixties); Stage 2: the age of distinction (from approximately mid-sixties to late seventies); and Stage 3: the age of spiritual completion (from approximately eighty to one hundred, and beyond). The author has incorporated scientific research and a holistic approach to physical, mental, relational, and spiritual developments. Animated by wonder and optimism, Gurian maps the territory ahead and spices up the proceedings with wise words from saints, poets, philosophers, and sages.
The new spirit of aging that is afoot in our culture requires concentration and focus, embracing a realistic optimism, forming new communities, and growing from "adult" to "elder." Maintaining a "circle of friends is a spiritual ground, a place of health, a time of freedom, a concentration of life force, a source of passionate life-energy."
During Stage 1, the age of transformation, most of us experience a keen sense of the body's weakness and deterioration. But we can muster the confidence to accept these changes and to do the inward work necessary to develop a new fearlessness. This stage of life requires us to relish the wonder of aging.
During the age of distinction, Stage 2, we will ache a lot, our skin will wrinkle, and our brain chemistry will be changed. This is the time to pass on your legacy and to savor the freedom that comes with it. Some people may experience a second wind during this period.
The final age of completion is marked by an increase in spirituality. Some will become more devout while others may start the spiritual journey of renunciation. All people during this stage of life will have to come to terms with their own death and dying.
In a fascinating chapter, Gurian outlines seven differences in the ways men and women age. Other subjects covered include the wisdom of intimate separateness, sexuality, the grandparent brain, a new lifetime of second chances, and the miracle of dying and death. Gurian does a masterful job in fleshing out the challenges, the joys, and the freedom in becoming spiritual elders who have wisdom to pass on to the next generations.