Nine Practices for Conscious Aging
As I live into my own process of aging, my worldview has been informed by the depth and insight of many great teachers. These include masters from different wisdom traditions, health care practitioners, friends facing end of life, and researchers studying the transformative nature of death, dying, and beyond. For decades, the team at the Institute of Noetic Sciences has conducted research, created educational programs, and engaged in conversations on transformations in consciousness. We have been led to an ever-expanding appreciation for the aging process and its transformative potentials. We also have found ourselves moved by a great calling to help reduce the suffering that so many experience. During this process, we have identified nine practices that can help people engage the fullness of their lives, each and every moment.
1. Reflect on Your Assumptions. Stop long enough to reflect on your worldview, beliefs, stereotypes, and assumptions. How might they be limiting you or holding you back? What do you need to change to reflect your highest values and most noble aspirations?
2. Reframe Your Inner Talk. Take note of your critical self-talk, bringing the inner critic into more conscious awareness to help reframe these internal messages as more positive and self-compassionate. As you invite equanimity and self-compassion, wonder and awe into your daily life, even the most mundane aspects of experience can become sacred.
3. Shift Your Perspective. Clear a space in your life that turns away from the popular media and the weapons of “mass distraction” that shape the dominant culture’s view of aging. Find opportunities to pause and ask yourself where you find joy, goodness, and connections. Write down major moments of transformation that have led you to who you are and what gives you meaning. As philosopher Soren Kierkegaard noted, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”
4. Practice Mindful Attention. Bring your attention toward greater self-awareness through simple activities such as meditation, contemplative prayer, journal writing, walks in nature, gardening with mindfulness, and somatic subtle-energy body practices. What do you need to surrender or leave behind? How can you conserve your energy for what has heart and meaning? What still needs healing or forgiveness?
5. Set Intentions. Ask yourself, “What matters most? What values do I want to adhere to?” Based on these reflections, you can craft an intentionality statement so that when challenges and opportunities arise, you will have developed an inner compass with which to navigate and make more conscious life choices.
6. Build New Habits. Challenge your brain with new learnings, explore new activities, dance often, connect with people of different generations, ask a child about his life, or do something new every day. Neuroscience offers us hope that such new habits are possible as we lay down new neural pathways that can help us see the world and ourselves in new ways. As Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
7. Find Guidance. Find a skilled teacher, a study group, and/or a social network that supports your explorations. Whether in virtual or proximal social settings, connecting with others offers a way of living into new patterns and behaviors.
8. Move from I to We. While aging is a personal process, conscious aging is more than a personal quest. It can infuse your life as you promote the transformation of your community. Altruism and compassion born of shared destiny, rather than duty or obligation, can emerge and add joy and purpose to your actions.
9. Death Makes Life Possible. An important part of positive trans-formation involves a reflection on one’s own cosmology of what happens after we die. There are many maps or worldviews on this question, revealing a wide range of viewpoints. In considering them, people can find comfort and a set of possibilities for their understanding. As people grow older, as they come to face their own mortality, they can bring greater awareness to the transformative process that allows a deeper experience of their life journey.