Supporting Elders in Shining Their Light

Katia Petersen, PhD, is the executive director of education at IONS. She is a clinical psychotherapist, an author, a renowned trainer and educator, and the winner of two Emmy Awards.

Our society's family landscape has changed drastically over the past several generations. Families used to stay in the same town, and even the same neighborhood, and younger people would apprentice to and then take care of the elders in their community.

Growing up on a small Island in the Mediterranean, I was surrounded by elders within my family as well as within the community. I was everyone’s child and knew I was loved and supported fully.

I witnessed how elders were included in important decisions, looked up to for their wisdom, and given full care by their loved ones. However, as distant societies and economies have become more interconnected, our younger generation has become more global and more mobile, with a trend towards moving away from one's family.

In today’s fast-paced, youth-obsessed society, there’s a mindset that productivity equals value, and that elders are somehow lacking or diminished as people of value. This directly contradicts traditional perspectives which hold great respect for the wisdom and contributions of elders, and which obligate younger generations to care for them.

This growing lack of respect and inclusion for our elderly is resulting in fewer opportunities for them to thrive. Elders can find themselves increasingly depressed, anxious and irritable over time, which in turn makes it harder for loved ones to support them.

Luckily, our society can remedy this by collectively deciding on a commitment to Conscious Aging.

What can we do to support our elders?

We can create hospitable spaces and invite elders to actively participate in society, share their abilities and wisdom, and encourage a renewed sense of purpose and passion. Some of these opportunities already exist:

  • Service Learning programs focus on youth providing assistance to or simply conversing with elders. These programs have fostered strong intergenerational bonds in which elders and youth are learning and benefiting from each other in a mutually respectful way.
  • Pre-schools sharing space with nursing homes and retirement communities create opportunities for children and elders to swap stories, share meals, and play together — all of which creates a new platform for learning, and emotional and psychological growth.
  • Organizations such as the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) are developing innovative educational and engagement programs for older adults.
  • Programs such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes provide retirees with engaging creative, service and travel opportunities in over 120 centers in all 50 states.

Despite the challenges of aging, elderhood can be a time for personal development and being of service to the community. As a society we need to prioritize this and deliberately build pathways toward thriving for elders and their caregivers.

How does IONS Conscious Aging support elders to age consciously?

IONS Conscious Aging is an eight-week transformative program that engages participants through explorative conversations, reflections and exercises. It‘s designed for people who wish to reflect and examine their own aging process, as well as for practitioners who lead groups.

Research shows that aging consciously involves building self-awareness, recognizing our strengths, reflecting on the wisdom we gain and have to share, building and maintaining a community of support, and exploring the depths of our inner world — all of which combine to enable a fulfilled, meaningful and purposeful third stage of life.

IONS’ Conscious Aging program encourages individuals to identify and utilize resources and skill sets they already have — in a conscious and intentional manner — in order to create ingrained habits that promote a thriving and connected life.

By choosing to be fully engaged through self-compassion, forgiveness and self-reflection, elders are able to experience the beauty of their present moment, and how to embody this part of their journey as they move into conscious elderhood.

Elderhood then becomes an opportunity to celebrate, harvest the wisdom of those experiences, and to share what is meaningful in the company of others.

For more information on the Conscious Aging program at IONS, click here.

To purchase the program, click here.

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This article appears in: 2017 Catalyst, Issue 5: Transforming Aging