Finally! I have been working for almost thirty years to create a model to integrate psychology and spirituality, and so I will risk proposing a model of healthy ageing.
Life tasks identifies three things essential for maturity. A life task is a work that begins but does not end. Both words are significant:
Life because it begins when we are able and takes a lifetime. Once started it can be under developed or stalled but the responsibility of growth ends only with death.
Task conveys work, usually hard, often painful that is essential to our psychological and spiritual maturity.
The idea of life tasks has positive implications for ageing. It is realistic. We are challenged to work at something: coming to terms ‘what has gone before’ and finding the courage to face what ‘lies ahead’. The key idea is that maturity, gained with age and experience, makes us better able to accomplish such life tasks.
Carl Jung highlighted the opportunity of ageing: “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going forward and letting go of it.” We learn a lot when we have lived decades rather than years. We have discovered that life is a great teacher through intimate relationships, raising children, having honest friends, the experience of nurturing others and eventually when we may need care. We reach an age when growing in self-awareness is natural, though not essential. It is common in some eastern religions to prioritize the spiritual journey in later life.
The later years have been portrayed as a time of spiritual opportunity. Lars Tornstam wrote about gerotranscendence. This optimistic model of ageing was developed when ageing was seen in negative terms, often associated with emotional disengagement or physical and emotional decline. Tornstam saw a potential in ageing for gerotranscendence – a shift from a materialistic and rational view to a more cosmic and transcendent perspective. His model has led to both research and controversy.
I propose the life tasks model. Three tasks are identified:
Discovery: In this process hidden learning is given ‘voice’ and comes into awareness. This is an implicit learning model in which hidden learning becomes aware learning.
Testing: There is no guarantee that aware learning is true. The second task is to evaluate, through a rational process of testing, to determine ‘what is true for me’.
Integration: Both discovery and testing leads to the third task which is to develop a coherent sense of self. This leads naturally to a sense of vocation – living in a way that doesn’t end with the self but is of benefit to others.
This life tasks model is descriptive. It offers some explanation for why people do not make progress towards psychological and spiritual maturity. It is also somewhat prescriptive in recommending a way forward. There is much common ground between psychological maturity and a healthy spirituality. This will be the focus of the keynote I will present at the 7th International Conference for Ageing and Spirituality at Concordia - Chicago.
Dr Bruce A. Stevens (Ph.D Boston University, 1987) is an endorsed clinical and forensic psychologist who has specialized in helping couples for over twenty years. He has written seven books for leading publishers such as Random House, Harper Collins, PsychOz Publications, Australian Academic Press and most recently Wiley-Blackwell. He has given countless professional workshops and is an advanced trainer in schema therapy for couples and individuals. He holds the academic position of Wicking Professor of Ageing and Practical Theology at Charles Sturt University, Canberra, Australia.
Hidden Learning: How we are Wired for Intimacy, a booklet by Dr. Stevens. is available for download here.