By Elaine Voci, Phd. Certified Lifecycle Celebrant, Life Coach, Autho
By 2030, the US Administration on Aging predicts that there will be about 72 million people aged 65 and older which will represent 19% of the population. The senior years of life can be a time of great spiritual, emotional and psychological growth, a time to celebrate a life, to harvest the wisdom of our years of experiences and a time to share our legacy and our stories with others. Mixed messages from society about aging, how seniors are viewed and the value they bring can add confusion and challenges that lead to frustration. As a friend recently said to me “Approaching a ticket booth and being automatically given a senior ticket to an event can feel like being handed a card that says “No longer relevant.”In response to these societal attitudes and influences, a social movement referred to as Mindful Aging, or Conscious Aging, has emerged and it offers seniors support in being proactive about their own aging by:
1. Making a personal choice, using the will to change, and setting an intention to make positive, life-affirming changes and build daily mind-body practices that bring awareness and attention to what is life-giving and healthy.
2. Adopting daily habits of mindfulness, building new neural pathways and behaviors to strengthen resilience, create a healthy lifestyle, and an intentionally positive outlook as a senior citizen.
3. Seeking guidance from wise teachers, inspiring books, and getting together with like-minded peers, to strengthen the resolve to surrender to life gracefully while maintaining a positive self-image and dignity.
I would advocate for one more important element to be added to that list: using the services of a Celebrant to help reframe self-limiting beliefs and cultural stereotypes; to harvest the meaning and wisdom of life experiences, and to enhance the sense of connection to others while recognizing our shared humanity in the aging process. Because Celebrants are trained in the art of ceremony, they can design and facilitate meaningful rituals and celebrations to help support these mindful activities. Here is an example is drawn from my own practice of how I was able to help and support a senior in need of a new and clear vision for her life: My client was a woman who lost her husband to cancer in her sixties; after a few years of struggling to find meaning and purpose again, she sought me out for life coaching. Once we had met for several months, I suggested that we do a ceremony at her kitchen table with the intention of allowing her to bless and release her former life and welcome her new life as a single older woman with conscious awareness of her choices. Because she loved art, I included in the ceremony a Mandala art project, along with her statement of intention, and a life plan to celebrate.In the center of the table was spread a mandala tablecloth, a variety of small votive battery candles and colored glass hearts, along with some of her favorite angel figurines and a small framed photo of her husband. We opened the ceremony by me striking gently a Tibetan singing bowl and reading a short poem about New Beginnings by John O’Donohue. We discussed the changes she had already been through, and how she had arrived at this point in her life, looking ahead to at least 20 more years of living. I asked her to speak to her husband about this time of her life and to ask for his blessing and acknowledgment of her widowhood. This conversation was emotionally freeing, and tender, recognizing that, while he would always be with her in spirit, she no longer had his living companionship.
I had asked her to prepare ahead of time a written intention statement that described how she wanted to age and live in the remaining chapters of her life. I asked her to light the candles on the cloth and then read her statement aloud. She wrote something along these lines, “I am a strong, courageous force for good in this life, talented in loving myself and others with benevolence and kindness to all. What I say and do matters, so I choose to speak and act mindfully, with intention and purpose.”
She then colored and personalized a Mandala chosen from a Mandala coloring book which took about 20 minutes to complete, during which she shared thoughts and feelings as they arose. I listened actively, asking for clarification when needed and encouraging her to express herself fully. To companion with her, I also colored a Mandala page taken from the book.
When she was done coloring, I asked her how to describe how the Mandala drawing symbolized her intention statement and her vision of aging with purpose. We discussed how she could let this drawing and her written intention statement continue to inform her plans going forward by placing them somewhere in her home where she could access them regularly, even daily.
I read the poem about a new beginning once more, and I asked her to describe the most meaningful insights she would take away from this ceremony. As part of her awareness, she told her husband’s photo that she would never forget him, or their life together and that she would live with purpose in part because that is what she felt he would have wanted her to do. We then closed the ceremony with a simple prayer of gratitude, and she turned the candles off, one by one, consciously. We drank tea together and ate some small cakes I had brought, with music in the background that she had chosen, and we talked and reflected on how life calls us to our destiny, through sadness and joy, as part of our shared common humanity.