On October 4, 5, 6 and 7, 2016, the 6th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality will take place in the USA for the first time in Los Angeles, CA. The driving force of the conference is the belief that the spiritual in life is essential for providing creative, integrated, effective wholistic services to and with older adults. The reason is that the older adult’s spirituality is the sum total of all their past experiences, all dreamed dreams, all struggles that expanded personal insight, all happy moments, all successes and failures. Rather than being one part of an older adult’s life experience, their spirituality is the core of all that they are, affecting all domains of life even as that core is affected by those same domains (see diagram above) A person does not need to be religious to be spiritual. For some their core beliefs – their spirituality - is money and the power that money brings. For others their spirituality can be success as an athlete or even one’s family. A person’s spirituality guides all actions, all beliefs, all values, all emotions.
Jane Thibault, Clinical Professor and Clinical Gerontologist, University of Louisville School of Family Medicine and Geriatrics, correctly describes the experience of aging as a “natural monastery.” To enter a monastery a person must surrender old habits and beliefs in favor of the new that is, and continually will, break through personal defenses. At the same time, to enter a monastery one has to surrender individualism for the inter-commitment of the community. One lives alone in a solitary room while at the same time, does everything else communally. In monastic life, inconvenience, afflictions, even suffering is expected and embraced as being the doorway to deeper knowledge of one’s real values and beliefs.
Such is the way of aging. All the disciplines of aging-care view the experience of aging as a decline. Physicians seek to plug the holes and stem the tide of an inevitable physical tsunami. Social Workers encourage the elderly to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses, calling attention to what they can do rather than on what they cannot do. Psychologists help a person cope (survive) with all of the finitudes of the latter years. Only religion, only a view of the spirit, encompasses aging as a time of potential growing and becoming. Only spiritual care views the challenges of aging as a potential advantage, a window to the soul, the core, of who we are pointing the way to an authentic “golden age.”
Thus I encourage you to attend the 6th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality which will be held in Los Angeles October 4-7, 2016. Presenters from all over the world will engage in conversations on the validity and purpose of the spiritual in older adult lives and also share ways to effectively engage spirituality, that elusive but essentially core of the human person.