As a longstanding educator and researcher in the field of aging, I have seen a dramatic transformation from a focus on “what’s wrong” as we grow older to “what’s possible”! I see this not only in my professional life but in connections with amazing elders such as 91 year- old Erica Leon, a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to Los Angeles from Hungary in her 70s and started painting when she re-connected with her long-lost fiancee from before WWII who was an art instructor! Now arthritis inhibits her ability to paint, but not to write poetry or to Skype her family daily in Hungary.
Erica’s positive perspective on life shines in her life story written at age 80:
You just have to discover the beauty and love in life. There is no sunshine, without shade. And no shade without sunshine. Everything is gray when we don’t have both of them.
We cannot enjoy constant happiness. We’re only aware of the difference when we compare it with our troubled times. The shell has to suffer to produce the pearl – and so it is with our soul. Suffering makes it valuable.
Many times what seems to be bad – turns out to be for our benefit. We just have to wait and see.
Another inspirational elder and progenitor of Conscious Aging is Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now, Still Here, and Be Love Now. In July, 2011 interview, he shared about the importance of seeing people as “souls” rather than “roles” –especially important when illness strikes and we may depend on others for assistance. I recently discussed with him that being cared for and providing care creates a partnership, and that gratitude for being helped and gratitude for having the opportunity to serve is uplifting to all involved. So aging is not just about what happens to our bodies but how we embrace the opportunity to grow, to live with “what is”, and to appreciate the gift of life and the inevitability of death.
To learn more about Conscious Aging and the related movement of Positive Aging, click here.