I’ve posted several articles recently about fall 2015 fashion. It’s the time of year when we enjoy getting new things for the upcoming fall and winter. But fashion and beauty mustn’t be our only priority as we go into September. If it is, then we’re missing the point of ageless beauty. For merely putting on a great appearance is only half of the recipe of being all that we can be as we age and will leave us yearning for something more. To be complete in our middle years and beyond, we need to pay as much attention to our spiritual nature as we do to learning about how to deal with our aging bodies.
I’m a great follower of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, who believed that during the first half of life our primary goal is to establish who we are in the external world–where we fit in in the world in terms of relationships, professions, social interactions, lifestyle, etc. Then, during our second half our task becomes to develop our internal awareness of who we are in regard to the greater scheme of things. This doesn’t mean that we suddenly become religious and drop out. Religion has to do with believing a certain set of theological ideas. People of all ages can be highly religious. Spiritual aging has more to do with realizing that we are part of something much larger than ourselves and take our place in it.
The process usually begins with a major shift in life. When I talk with older women, at some point every one of them tell me of an experience they had during their midlife that changed them profoundly. Some of the changes were forced upon them, such as an unwanted divorce, a death, their children leaving home, the loss of their job or an economic loss. Many of you can relate to that. Others speak of an internal restlessness that brings up old but forgotten desires or a new awareness of how their lives should be lived. I’m reminded of my friend, Kay, who had dreamed of owning a flower shop when she was a little girl. Life, however, took her in a different direction. But when her last child went to college, the old urge begin to nudge her. That was 10 years ago. Today she has quit her former profession and owns a successful floral business. Five years ago she expanded it into a gift shop with an old-fashioned soda counter.
Whatever the reason for our change, we’re forced to deal with new realities in our lives. To keep sane and learn how to move on we must dig deep into our innermost ourselves and deal with a lot of stuff that we’ve shoved deep within us over the years. I will not lie, the process is excruciating. Yet, if, and this is a big if, we stay with it and allow the process to help us come to terms with what’s going on in our lives, we come out on the other side with a new perspective of who we are and an insight into our greater purpose in life. We gain wisdom, strength and resolve. I can tell you hundreds of stories of women I’ve met and talked with over the past 20 years that attest to the positive impact this midlife journey has made on their lives.
Does this process conflict with a belief in God? Absolutely not! Those who put their faith in God often look to God for support and give God the credit for bringing them through the journey. As a result, they develop a greater understanding of God’s overall purpose in their lives. Jung was a Christian, as am I. Part of my early midlife shift was having to deal with a good measure of negativity from religious training I’d had as a child and teen. My reward was that I developed a strong, positive spirituality. Then, when I was 54, I felt called by God to enter seminary training. I was aghast! I was, a successful professor with three university degrees in, of all things, marketing and fashion. I had a full-time career and a successful book that had led to working with L’Oreal in New York. My personal life was robust. But, I enrolled. Back in my 40’s and early 50’s part of my spiritual growth was taking seriously that still, small voice when it came to me from beyond my own thinking. Whether I wanted it or not, I was being ask to shift again and move forward. It wasn’t easy. My brain at 54 just wasn’t what it had been at 24. I Yet, attending seminary those four years turned out to be one of the highlights of my life.
Having said all that, a belief in God or some form of higher power isn’t a requirement for gaining a deeper and more meaningful spirituality as we age. We all have the capacity to grow in spirit and become who we were meant to be. The only requirement is that we stay open to the idea that we are being pulled toward new direction and do the hard work of dealing with our less-than-perfect past. Even women who don’t think of themselves as being spiritual often take up spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, and/or being part of women’s spirituality groups. Without this type of support, reaching into our deepest corners is all but impossible.
Developing our spirit doesn’t end in midlife. We can continue to grow in spirit until the day we die. The causes for our growth spurts during our elder years will shift to include severe, prolonged illnesses; the loss of more loved ones; and the doubts and fears that come with seeing ourselves age. But the strength and wisdom gained during our mid-years gives us the foundation for moving forward in our quest for greater even more profound spirituality. There is no one more spiritual than an older, wise woman. We should all be so lucky to be among them.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post a series of blog articles on how we can recognize our spiritual path and the ways we can expand endless spirituality. Most likely, you’re aware of some of these already. But it never hurts to have a little brush-up now and then. As we move through the series, I hope to hear from you about your personal spiritual paths. Sharing our experiences will enrich us all. We’re all in this together.