ON FINDING THE VALUE AND JOY OF AGING
By Donald W. Mathews
“The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different . . .”
“. . . it would seem to be more in accord with the collective psyche of humanity to regard death as the fulfillment of life’s meaning and as its goal in the truest sense, instead of a mere meaningless cessation.”
” As a rule, the life of a young person is characterized by a general expansion and a striving towards concrete ends; and his neurosis seems mainly to rest on his hesitation or shrinking back from this necessity. But the life of an older person is characterized by a contraction of forces, by the affirmation of what has been achieved, and by the curtailment of further growth. His neurosis comes mainly from his clinging to a youthful attitude which is now out of season . . .”
— C. G. Jung
Carl Jung often took prevailing ideas about life and turned them upside down, providing new clarity and understanding of a process I find rings true from my own experiences. As I engage life in my mid-eighties, I find the above Jungian principles with regard to aging are true, and continue to give direction and meaning to my every day experiences—both those desirable, and the undesirable.
So, how do we find value and joy in these later stages of life? Jane Wheelwright, one of Jung’s students who lived well into her 90s, wrote about the necessary 7 basic tasks based on her experience of “conscious aging.” She said the oldster must master these 7 tasks to find full value in all of life.
1) Accepting the reality of death as a part of life moving us toward living more deeply (as Jung advocated in the quote above).
2) Reviewing and reflecting on one’s life to find its inherent value before releasing it (much as Jung did in his retrospective activities in his 70s and 80s).
3) Acknowledging consciously that one’s life has finite limits—letting go of goals no longer appropriate or obtainable, often painfully recognizing one’s limits of time and energy.
4) Letting go of the dominance of the ego—the outer developed persona, seeking a new inner guided deeper self.
5) Encountering and honoring the Self—the self that has integrated dark or undeveloped aspects of the psyche, thus yielding the divine or spiritual wholeness that can be found within us.
6) Finding and articulating the deeper meaning of one’s life, both inner and outer, and life in general. The fruit of biological life is children, but the fruit of psychological and later life is meaning.
7) Finally, engaging unused potentials creatively in the act of living joyfully, playfully, and fully present with whatever life presents. Living itself becomes the point, and the unexpected becomes the raw material of its creative exploration.