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On Faith: Entering into a new stage of life

August 06, 2011|By Rev. Deborah Barrett

Turning 60 provides a special opportunity for spiritual growth. The milestone birthdays — whether sweet 16, of-age 21, over-the-hill 30 or a centenarian at 100 — naturally invite age-specific reflections about life, a summing up of what has been learned so far and a fine-tuning of aspirations for the future.

Each age of life brings its own challenges and satisfactions. In the Hindu tradition, a child's first eating of solid food is ritualized, as is the first hair cutting and the other amazingly rapid developmental steps occurring in the first year of life.

The "terrible twos," "adolescent identity crisis," "midlife crisis, "middle-aged" and "empty nest" are familiar terms that underscore common experiences in our life journey. According to the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, I am now in the stage of life described as "old age."

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Erikson viewed the human life cycle in eight stages: infancy, early childhood, play age, school age, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and old age. Gerontologists added "young-old age" (60 to 74), "middle-old age" (75 to 85) and "old-old age" (86 and older) to further refine this long and varied 35+ year season.

Is it true that "age is a matter of mind: if you don't mind, it doesn't matter?"

Birthdays remind us of when we were born, but they also remind us that we will die. The older we are, the longer the alarm rings. According to the online government Social Security calculator, my life expectancy is 85 years and 3 months. If I am average, I still may have 25 years left, but 60 are definitely behind me.

I checked a few "real age" or "health age" calculators and, despite a sedentary lifestyle, weight management problems, and parents who died before 65, I am surprised to find I am 52 in biological age and have a life expectancy of 91! Yet deaths that come at 70 are considered well within the natural order of things and an average or expectancy is no guarantee.

I don't plan to retire as long as physical and mental health permits. As a pastoral counselor and Zen teacher, I believe my best years are still ahead of me. My spiritual mentors were in their 70s when I studied with them, and they continued to work very productively well into their 80s. What plans can I make for the smooth transition of the Zen Center and my counseling practice?

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