Have you ever thought of retirement as spiritual practice? The Inner Work of Age is designed as a tool for anyone looking to the last decades of their lives, particularly those of us who are leaving behind careers and other forms of identity and moving into an uncertain future.
Connie Zweig reflects on retiring from practice as a psychotherapist, journalist, author, and editor at one of the largest publishing houses in New York City. A woman of deep professional experience, she is also a PhD.
There is much that she is leaving behind. This forms about half of this spiritual practice: reflecting on the transition from doing much to doing less, from active achievement to new kinds of wisdom available only to someone with a lot of life experience.
More ordinary and common experiences of older adults — such as serious illness, depression, and memory loss — are also treated as potentially divine messengers. Illness itself become a way of spiritual practice.
The other half of the book focuses on how to re-imagine life as a purpose-filled elder who is available to others. This transformation of moving “from hero to elder” can be extremely difficult. It means letting go of the ego’s agenda and embracing new beginnings. A variety of interviews with experts, reproduced on these pages, offer examples of how others have done this.
Not all elders are alike. Zweig profiles Activist Elders (such as Bill McKibben and Joanna Macy), Spiritual Elders (such as Pema Chodron and Matthew Fox), and Creative Elders (such as Yo-Yo Ma, Meryl Streep, and Mary Oliver). But she says: “The Elder may wear the face of a shaman, factory worker, healer, political leader, singer, storyteller, ecologist, inventor, CEO, scientist, author, therapist, craftsperson, educator, gardener, grandmother, artist, warrior, or friend. He or she may wear your face.”
Zweig offers a range of perspectives and rites to help any aging person break free of worry, denial, and self-rejection in favor of self-assurance, awareness, and creativity. Some of the rites and spiritual practices are active; others are contemplative practices designed “to turn your attention from role to soul.”
She focuses on the shadow side we all have: a spiritual practice – not commonly addressed in books – that is essential to our Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. Some of the questions that Zweig asks us to consider are “Shadow-Work Practices” such as, “Who is the shadow within that stops you from stopping? Who is your Doer, Driver, or Loyal Soldier?” Also, “How is your inner ageist involved?” And “How is your fear of death involved?” Realizing these shadow sides in us is essential to becoming an elder. (For more on this topic, see the spiritual practice link at the end of this review and "Also Recommended" in the sidebar.)
Experts and authors quoted by Zweig include some of our favorite teachers such as Rami Shapiro, James Hollis, Thomas Keating, Roshi Wendy Nakao, and Krishna Das, as well as a variety of psychiatrists.