These days, there’s a lot of debate about which name is best for people in their later years. Should we call ourselves “senior citizens”? “Older people”? “Golden-agers”? The problem is that any name will tarnish if we continue to nurture negative feelings about becoming older.
That’s why I think we should choose a positive term and embrace it, regardless of whatever stereotypes the culture at large may hold. The only way to overcome negative projections from other people is to remain confident and proud of who you are, and to live in a way that defies the prejudices we face.
The term I would like to suggest is “elders.” While this term can mean any older person, its truer, original meaning refers to leaders within a community. To be an “elder” is to be a wise one, a leader, a sage. “Elders” are people to whom the young ones turn in times of trouble. Doesn’t that sound like something that we need? The question is whether today’s elders are ready for that role. We have been conditioned to seek youth and avoid becoming older. So, transcending this resistance to aging, how can we become the enlightened elders that our society needs?
Step 1: Celebrate This Time of Life
The first step toward enlightened elder-hood is to embrace the role. You have a unique chance to become something truly valuable in this world: an example of how to live your life with purpose, right to the end of your days. This can only be done, though, if you cultivate a positive, loving mindset toward the world and toward yourself. Do you believe you have value? Do you know you have wisdom to share? Do you think you can still make a difference in this world? Your ability to become an enlightened elder depends first and foremost on your positive, proactive mindset.
Step 2: Understand the Meaning of Enlightenment
Being an enlightened elder is something even more valuable than an being an everyday elder. An enlightened elder understands that there is a greater purpose to life beyond just material satisfaction and worldly status. Especially after retirement, elder-hood can be a time of letting go and detaching from our responsibilities and preconceptions, which in turn may allow you to contemplate your deeper, truer identity.
No one can claim, though, that they are enlightened just because they are older. This requires a continuous process of self-examination and self-training that allows the soul to grow toward completion. For this, I recommend some definite daily practice, such as meditation or contemplative prayer.
Step 3: Establish Your Vision
Many elders speak of their legacy in terms of their families and estates, but your legacy can extend beyond that. How have you contributed to your community and the world at large? You may have not done as much as you would like to have done because the pressures of daily life didn’t allow you to do much beyond making a living, getting the kids ready for school, and washing the dishes. All of these things help society, but they may not bring ultimate fulfillment. Our later years, though, offer a chance to live a simpler life, one without so many responsibilities. But this does not have to mean that this time is spent unproductively.
To give life meaning and purpose, I recommend that all elders establish a clear vision for their lives, something that comes from their hearts and gives them motivation for life. As for me, even though I am past retirement age, I have saved some of my biggest visions for this time of my life, including the establishment of an Earth Village in New Zealand. Your vision does not have to be some huge idea, though; it can be something simple, so long as it fulfills your soul and gives warmth to your heart.
Step 4: Make Your Life Your Practice
For an enlightened elder, there is no artificial separation between your spiritual practice and your life. Younger people often only briefly glimpse the spiritual world by going to church on Sunday or meditating for a few minutes now and then. Other than that, they are pulled around by the demands of bosses, children, and spouses.
Through your vision as an enlightened elder, you can directly impact people’s lives and happiness, but remember that you also have this chance in the more mundane moments of life—at the checkout counter, while chatting with a neighbor in the park, or during any connection you make with another human soul. Elder-hood is a time to be your True Self, to let your soul shine through during every moment of your life, because how you live is the best way to communicate the wisdom you hold to those who need it.
To learn more about living as an enlightened elder, check my new book I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years.