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Dennis Patrick Slattery: Aging in Body, Eldering in Spirit

Seldom is it an easy task to rethink and revision a paradigm or set of beliefs that have guided our thinking and behavior for decades.  However, through reflection, writing suggestions and noticing the guiding patterns of our journey, we can become more aware of our progress towards embracing the “Spiritual Elder” in us. In The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul (2021) by Connie Zweig leads us into how an Elder is more than a person simply growing older. There is a spiritual quality to the Elder that deepens their sense of being a guide, a mentor and, more importantly, cultivating a wider orbit of awareness of their place in the world.

         The core of her thinking is that we can continue to evolve spiritually later in life by shifting our focal length so to “see ourselves in relation to a larger system,” open to others’ points of view and allowing our own needs “to be relativized.” This spiritual awakening includes muting our ego-driven wants and desires so that a fuller sense of our self can be heard, nurtured, and shared.

         At the heart of such a shift is a continual impulse to “expand our awareness and bring that awareness into the larger culture.” My sense is that our culture is hungry for voices of elders to share their wisdom with us, to counter the fierce energy of adolescent flames that insists on “my” and “me” to the exclusion of “us” and “we.” 

         Zweig identifies the qualities of a Spiritual Elder: “inclusion, holism, harmony, interconnection and a non-literal spirituality.” Another strength of her study is interviews with Spiritual Elders like Ken Wilber, who offered that “Growing old is an opportunity to reset our priorities, a continuing chance to drop things that aren’t important.” Easier said than done when we each have our own shadow figures haunting us to keep everything in place. 

         When Zweig asked another Spiritual Elder, Michael Meade, how one can identify oneself as an Elder, he responded, “when someone sees you that way, you become an Elder.” He states a truth that each of us might accept regarding our internal wisdom: “All Elders have medicine—physical, emotional, musical, story. Let’s give our unique medicine to the world.” 

         Each of us is called to a destiny, to a life that only we can live; if we deflect it, the world will never experience just that specific possibility. This call later in life is grounded in what Zweig calls “a holy longing.” It may take the form of  “Elder Activism.” For instance, any number of volunteer avenues, adding one’s voice in reading groups, or serving the community’s food bank or other organizations “that help the helpless, the marginal.” 

         If we are so fortunate, we may engage in “Conscious Grandparenting,” a form that my wife and I enjoy immensely with our three granddaughters. In this way we extend our borders out of our own narrow range to larger pools of both curiosity and need. Grandparents have perspectives and angles of wisdom that may be unique to them; if we don’t share it with our grandchildren, that part of their life will be left malnourished. Simply having conversations with our children’s children while throwing the frisbee in the front yard after a meal can be rich moments of intimacy with two other generations of our family. 

         Spiritual activism is one rich avenue of encouraging awakening to the larger story that informs all of us. Perhaps just making space for silent time as a rich field for meditative reading and journaling can deepen our conscious awakening. The point of aging is not to be trapped by what one can no longer do, but to notice where there are openings to further affirm a life well-lived.

Copyright 2022 Dennis Patrick Slattery

Dennis Patrick Slattery is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Mythological Studies Program, Pacifica Graduate Institute. His many books include Varieties of Mythic Experience (Daimon, 2012).

Source: Family Search

7 comments on “Dennis Patrick Slattery: Aging in Body, Eldering in Spirit

  1. Lisa Zimmerman
    December 24, 2022

    This essay gave me heart.


    • Vox Populi
      December 25, 2022

      Yes, Dennis and I were friends when we were young and we recently re-connected. How wonderful to discover that he’s grown into wisdom.



      • Lisa Zimmerman
        December 25, 2022

        I would like to be a crone, in the truest sense of the word–an old woman with wisdom!


  2. Loranneke
    December 18, 2022

    What an optimistic essay — and I, as an 79 year-old, feel a loot of truth there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      December 18, 2022

      It’s strange that in our culture it needs to be argued that old people’s experience is an important resource. In traditional cultures that idea would have been a given.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Rose Mary Boehm
    December 18, 2022


    Liked by 1 person

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