Ep. 215: True Elderhood No Matter Your Age

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First, know that this episode is for people of all ages, because we are all elders to someone (there are always people younger than us!). These concepts help shape how we age and the choices we make at all stages of life. 

 

Now when we think of growing old and retirement, people are expected to be excited about the idea of spending the rest of their days being somewhere warm and traveling to beautiful places…or stereotypically playing golf or relaxing on a beach every day. If you retire early, you get to do all of that even sooner! 

 

This might seem like an oversimplified romanticization of retirement, but it’s really kind of sad that this is the best we ask people to hope for after a life of … LIFE. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, is not for the faint of heart. 

 

The reality is, this is evidence of how contemporary, industrialized, commercialized culture often marginalizes older adults, reducing their roles to passive, leisurely pursuits.  

 

When I trained with Bill Plotkin he used to tell us that elders are put out to “pasture and play.” Once we’re no longer productive, like cattle, we’re sent off to just be until we die, or if we’re lucky, to engage in fun activities. Yay. 

 

What happened to recognizing that our elders have the potential to contribute as wise members of the community – with life experience worth learning from and that is essential to our communities? 

 

But I get it…perhaps it used to be “Hey, go ask grandma or grandpa for advice about that,” but these days what I hear more often is something along the lines of visiting grandparents and tolerating infantile emotional outbursts or sweeping judgmental statements or trying to skirt the familial drama… 

 

Or at best, because many also have grandparents they genuinely love and appreciate, people are spending time with them because they’re so sweet and were so FUN and loving…but we wouldn’t go to them for any advice or wisdom. And certainly not for spiritual guidance in the deepest suffering of our life. 

 

There’s also a cultural obsession with youth, beauty, and physical prowess in modern industrialized society. I see this with many elders in Alaska and in my outdoor adventure community all over the world: a hyper-focus on being able to climb the same peaks they did in their 20s, to run marathons after knee and hip replacements… 

 

All of this isn’t necessarily bad, but I’m just going to take a stance here and say that there IS something wrong with that when that’s the main focus – to look and feel as young as possible and be able to do the same things for as long as possible. 

 

Because that is NOT the fucking point. 

 

Elders are supposed to play an active role in educating and guiding younger generations and be essential to the wellbeing of our communities. 

 

One elder who I feel holds this role is Dipa Ma, a renowned meditation teacher. To me, she exemplified true elderhood and spiritual maturity. She was deeply dedicated to mindfulness and compassion. She had so many personal tragedies, and also was a householder and mother. AND she transformed her suffering into deep spiritual practice, which was inspiring to so many (including me). 

 

Even later in life, Dipa Ma was an active teacher and mentor and was deeply involved in the spiritual lives of her students. She taught until she died, sharing her wisdom with as many as she could. 

 

She showed me that elderhood can be a period of profound influence and meaningful activity, instead of only the “pasture and play” of retirement. 

 

Another elder I look up to is Joanna Macy. She’s an environmental activist and Buddhist scholar who, for me, embodies the principles of true elderhood through her lifelong commitment to social and ecological justice. Her work emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of active participation in healing the planet. She’s still deeply engaged in environmental activism and teaching, and this is evidence that elders can play a crucial role in addressing current pressing global issues and mentoring future leaders. 

 

I want to live in a world where elders are seen as wisdom keepers, guides, and mentors for the community. Where they possess a deep knowledge and understanding that is invaluable to younger generations. 

 

And this won’t just happen. We need to see this as our role to our people, and make our life decisions from that place. Instead of just sitting around and saving money to retire and travel, we can make our spiritual growth and maturity intentional. 

 

And in case you’re worried, this doesn’t mean to never have fun or travel or relax. Joy is a factor of enlightenment, and rest and play are essential to caring for this precious human life. When we have Spiritual Maturity, we know how to balance all this. 

 

Rather, this is an invitation to invite true elderhood + spiritual maturity as our North Star. As the guiding force in how we live our lives, the decisions we make, and how we show up in the world. 

 

What better purpose is there than to know our life experiences – our joys and our suffering – are contributing to the wisdom, love, and compassion we will have to pass on to future generations?  

 

Then, perhaps, we will have more true elders to help us in these challenging times. 

 

Will you join me? I hope so. 

 

 

You will learn: 

 

// Why thinking of true elderhood and spiritual maturity matters at ALL ages 

// How we often view elderhood vs what’s possible  

// Why taking responsibility for our spiritual maturity is crucial for playing an essential role in our communities 

// Why modern industrialized society doesn’t hold reverence or wisdom the possibilities in aging 

// Some examples of elders I deeply respect and look up to and the lessons they taught me 

// How we can continue to challenge the idea that aging is a period of decline 

// How spiritual maturity allows us to make our spiritual growth intentional AND still leaves plenty of room for fun and relaxation 

 

Resources: 

// Joanna Macy & her work 

 

// Dipa Ma & her work 

 

// Nature and the Human Soul, by Bill Plotkin 

 

// Episode 154: Off the Cushion – Activism + Spirituality 

 

// Episode 191: Soulcentric Adulthood 

 

// I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a review on the Rebel Buddhist Podcast on iTunes by clicking here    

 

// If you want to dive deeper into this Soul-level work and create a life of more freedom, adventure and purpose, head over to JoinFreedomSchool.com. It’s got everything you need in one place to build a foundation for a lifetime of self-exploration and freedom.  

 

// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.