Friday 4th Aug. 11.00
Adam Duncan with colleagues from Life-Stage
Question & Answer
The common perception of later life is that it is populated with sad and lonely people. Paul McCartney’s song, Eleanor Rigby, was written in 1966 and it captures one of our deepest fears. “Father McKenzie darning his socks in the night, when there’s nobody there. What does he care?” conjures up the isolation and hopelessness that is often associated with later life.
Many of the baby-boomers who sang along to that chorus all those decades ago are now approaching later life themselves. Most of us dread the thought of such a tragic ending to life. We see older people struggling and wonder what it must be like to be them. What will it be like for me? In the face of old age, many people feel that there is nothing they can do. They feel helpless. So, understandably, they don’t like to think about it. There is plenty to be getting on with and there are a thousand distractions, so why think too much about a distressing future?
If we believe that ageing is about diminishment and suffering, then there is a strong chance that we will not age well. But what if there was another story? What if we could change the belief? Of course, it’s natural to have concerns about growing older especially in our 50s, 60s and 70s. But we are not powerless. Far from it. We can transform our fears of ageing into a powerful life-force. We can tap into an inner power and access courage and wisdom that we never knew we had.
This book is designed to help you make a conscious choice about how you want to be now and in later life. The chapters take you through three stages of life development – from the dependent child, to the limited world of the independent adult and then, towards the freedom of the inter-dependent, mature adult. It’s a re-framing of the ageing journey and an invitation for you to create clarity about what you want now and in the future.
TWO SISTERS IN A RESTAURANT
The two sisters met at restaurant on the South Bank overlooking the Thames. They were celebrating Ann’s 60th. birthday. Just the two of them. There were kisses, hugs and a bottle of bubbly. Ann said she couldn’t believe she was sixty. It seemed like only yesterday they were still at school”. Ann was a year younger than Charlotte, though the sisters could have been twins. They lived in different towns, but they phoned each other regularly. They would meet for lunch every month or so, but that sixtieth birthday celebration overlooking the sunlit Thames was special for both of them.
Ten years later Charlotte was keen to celebrate Anne’s birthday at the restaurant again, but Ann didn’t want to travel to London. Since her retirement, Ann had become less communicative. Eventually, Charlotte managed to drag her sister out for a meal. Even before they ordered, Ann started complaining. She didn’t like eating out. She hated getting old and she certainly didn’t want to celebrate her age. After a few glasses of wine, Ann admitted that she resented the way her sister’s life was flourishing since her retirement and she hated how her own life seemed to be diminishing.
Some people like Ann are overwhelmed by the emotional turmoil that change in later life can create. A few, like Charlotte, experience an inner freedom as they grow older. Within the same family there can be a stark contrast between how people respond to the challenges of growing older.
Retirement from work is just one of many changes that can affect us deeply in the second half of life. The loss of family or friends, the loss of physical or mental capacity, the menopause or living in an ‘empty nest’ can all cause emotional distress. They can be deeply challenging to your sense of self and what you have to offer to the world. Many lose their self-confidence as they age. Others find a new way forward.
This book is the result of workshops and on-line courses that have been run by Life-Stage over the last five years. It is designed to help people in the second half of life find their inner power and life-force. The text of this book is accompanied by 21 questions about your life. It’s a chance for you to reflect in order to define what it is that you really want for your life in the present moment and in the future. In our Life-Stage workshops, participants ponder on each question for two or three minutes in silence, before writing down a few thoughts in their notebooks. So, you are encouraged to prepare yourself with a special notebook in which to explore ideas and to choose your words. If you have kept a journal before, then you will be familiar with the benefits of this inner adventure.
Any worthwhile transformation requires some honesty and vulnerability, so the invitation is to slow down and take time in order to get the most out of the experience. It is an opportunity to be curious and to explore your inner life. It helps to have an open mind and patience is virtue if you want to get long-lasting results. The experience may bring up some feelings you are not used to. This is not therapy, so if you feel uncomfortable, move on to the next section and perhaps come back to it at a later date. Towards the end of the book, you are invited to start the process of clarifying your life intention. It’s a very personal journey and it may take hours, days or weeks. Of course, you can skim read the book and hopefully you will still get something from the experience.
The book is for those of you in the afternoon of life who have known the ups and downs of life as well as some loses. You may be in your forties and still dealing with the cut and thrust of life or you may be long retired in your eighties. It is for people of all faiths or people of no faith.
And remember, you are not alone. There is a vibrant Life-Stage community with a free monthly on-line discussion forum, regular courses, workshops and one-to-one sessions available. For more information, go to www.life-stage.org
Ageing Not So Well
In a society that prioritises wealth, fitness and appearances, we struggle with ageing. Despite millions spent on research and the best efforts of numerous charities, the ageing problem looms larger than ever. The health and care services are overwhelmed. There’s an epidemic of loneliness and for many the future looks increasingly bleak. So, how is it possible to age without fear?
When people are asked what they want in later life, they often responded with a negative. I don’t want to feel any pain. I don’t want to be incapacitated. I don’t want to be lonely. Such responses are based on fear which is understandable. It’s natural to have concerns about growing older but with courage we can transform the fear and age well. Courage was one of three human qualities that was considered most desirable by ancient Chinese philosophers especially when it is combined with wisdom and compassion.
Some people said you need to be wealthy to age well. But money and power often breed a hunger for more of the same. Rich people often dread the thought of having to part with their money and power. King Lear, for example, had everything … accept the wisdom to come to terms with his ageing. Shakespeare’s tragedy is as relevant today as it was four hundred years ago. Other people said that in retirement they wanted ‘more’ of something. More holidays. More comfort. More security. To acquire more. To achieve more. Many people around retirement age just wanted more time to stay looking and feeling young for as long as possible. While looking gorgeous and drinking cocktails on the beach might be the dream for some, it is not really a sustainable reality for most of us in later life.
Several academic research papers point to a sense of purpose as being a key to wellbeing in later life. A sense of purpose implies that there is stuff to be done - learn new skills, plan a trip, decorate the house. Any of these activities might be said to give us a sense of purpose. Doctors, gerontologists, physiotherapists all encourage us to keep active. Use it or lose it they say. Whatever it is you can do, do it. Just keep busy for as long as you can. While purpose has a role to play in ageing well, it is not the secret to ageing without fear.
Sheila made a big decision to retire from a job that she enjoyed at 59. She would lose out financially, but she decided it was a sacrifice worth making for the sake of Rosie, her granddaughter. When Rosie was twelve, her parents had an acrimonious divorce. Sheila was determined to do all in her power to make sure that Rosie got the support that she needed. It gave Sheila a sense of joy that she never quite felt bringing up her own daughter.
By the time Rosie went to drama school at 19, they saw less of each other but the bond between the two was still strong. When Rosie bought a young Australian actor to have lunch, Sheila felt anxious and the meeting did not go well. In the summer holidays, Rosie and her fella went to Australia to meet his people and they did not return in the Autumn to complete their training.
Now and again, Rosie and her grandmother have a Zoom call, but it often ends in tears. Sheila still has a small social life, but she feels she has lost her sense of purpose. There seems little to get her out of bed in the morning … other than to feed her faithful cat.
A sense of purpose gives us energy and motivation. It can give us a sense of pride in what we do. But beware! It can be fickle. For example, a famous player set his sights on winning the Rugby World Cup. It was what gave his life purpose and meaning for several years. After he achieved his aim and had received abundant praise and glory, the player became depressed. His motivation was gone and so had his life force. What can you do once you’ve won with World Cup? A sense of purpose is generally context bound. It is limited to a certain set of circumstances. While results-orientated thinking might have powered us through our time as a younger adult, in the second half of life, having a sense of purpose may not always be so effective. In later life we need to be aware of what’s behind the purpose. What are the characteristics that drive the purpose? What is our intention?
As we get older it is easy to adopt patterns of habitual behaviour. We may start to live most of life unintentionally. We know what works for us and what doesn’t. We know what we like and what we don’t like. We don’t need to be aware all the time. We don’t need to think too much. But if you were confronted with a terminal diagnosis and were asked how you wanted your remaining days to be, you would probably question some of your behaviour patterns. It is a horrible cliché but we’re all on a terminal diagnosis, though the end of life maybe years or decades away.
So how do you want to be at the end of your life? What if you had an inner power to draw on in the final moments? What if you could access great courage and wisdom from the depths of your being as you face a certain ending? What if you could look back at your life without regret and with a sense of appreciation for your life. If you’ve got to go (and you do), wouldn’t you want access to this inner power.
Power in Ageing
Of course, you can’t buy this inner power on Amazon or anywhere else. You already have it. Whether you’ve have lived a life of reckless debauchery or stoic discipline, we all carry this inner power within us. It’s not in a sacred building, in a shaman or a guru. We won’t find it on the mountain top or in a retreat centre. There is an inner power within each of us, no matter what our religious beliefs. The atheist, the agnostic and the worshipper all have it. It is a natural resource we human beings are fortunate to possess. And it is awesome! Mind-bogglingly awesome! It may lie buried deep within us or it may be close to the surface. It may be operational on a regular basis or your true inner power may never have seen active service. This book is how we can access this power now and right up to our dying breath.
It is not the amount of time we have left on this earth, but what we do with it, that gives us power. To agonise over what steps we should take as we grow older and worry excessively about our demise makes us impotent. Health, money, fitness, diet. These things are important but they are nothing compared with us discovering our power. Everyone has vast resources of courage, wisdom and compassion inside, but these qualities cannot be accessed with the handbrake on. It is only when we take action and stop living in fear that our highest qualities can be manifest. There are bound to be problems as we age, but each challenge can enable us to deepen our confidence in our own power, so that we enjoy our journey as we get older without fear.
for a free link to AGEING without FEAR book launch 11.00 - 12.00 BST
with Adam Duncan and colleagues from Life-Stage Community
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS