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From the editor...

With this issue of Itineraries, we begin a yearlong exploration of The Spirituality of Later Life.  Noted gerontologist Robert C. Atchley provides an overview of the topics of the next four issues, followed by his own reflections on contemplation, mysticism, and the spirituality of aging. Then guest editor Ellen B. Ryan introduces the content and the contributors to this Winter 2011 issue, whose special focus is Writing As a Spiritual Practice.

— Bolton Anthony, Founder

Out beyond ideas. . .
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

By Robert Atchley

— Rumi

The experience of spirituality and the various ways it can be invited and nurtured in later life will be the constant thread weaving together the four issues of Itineraries during 2011. Later life is life after 50, when the responsibilities of adulthood have often become routine. With our less cluttered lives, there are increased opportunities for inner reflection and the development of awareness skills that allow us to tap into more of our inner life and to integrate this new awareness into our approach to life.

Spirituality is one of many words that are used to refer to a field of experience in which we feel intensely alive, able to see clearly what is called for, and connected to something much bigger than our personal concerns. Other terms that point to this field include religious experience, mysticism, transcendence, and humanism. But none of these terms fully captures the essence of the field because what is being referred to is not a thing, it is a field, as Rumi wrote in his famous poem above.

  • Writing as a Spiritual Practice, the Winter issue, emphasizes the act of writing — in various forms — as a way of getting in touch with spiritual experience and a way of opening ourselves to our sense of joy, sorrow, meaning, and integrity.
     
  • The Inner Work of Eldering, the Spring issue, deals with various practices that clear the inner field of obstacles to spiritual growth, allowing spiritually grounded wisdom to blossom in later life. Healing past conflicts, learning to forgive, and coming to accept one’s life as it has been lived are examples of practices that can clear the ground.
     
  • Serving from Spirit, the Summer issue, is about how growing spiritual awareness affects our ability to tap into the compassion needed to truly serve our communities and our planet.
     
  • Rites of Passage, the Fall issue, concerns the importance of clear transitions from one life phase to another. Traditionally. rites of passage were pro forma events that conveyed the cultural meaning of life changes, such as puberty, marriage, or death. But in today’s world, people have begun to see developing their own rites of passage as a way to consciously close the past chapter of life and focus on intentions for the upcoming life stage. In later life, spirituality can play an increasingly important part in intentions for one’s future. . .

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In this issue...

Click on the author's name
or photo to access the article.

■ Ellen S. Jaffe in “Writing Your Way” explores writing in a journal as a creative writing practice central to reflective aging. Writing bears witness and attunes us to inner guides. Her practical exercises invite the reader to sit down with pen and paper for the joy of writing.

■ Nora Zylstra-Savage in “Tapestry of Your Life” reviews six alternative formats for writing memories of our lives, ranging from comprehensive life review and autobiography to selective focus on specific experiences or themes. The life circle exercise is offered as preliminary to choosing the appropriate format for one's own life story.

■ Paula Papky in “Writing in Groups” chronicles her own experiences with the ways in which individuals can grow in wonder, gratitude, imagery, and sense of community when writing together. She offers springboards for fast writing and underscores the value of reading one's fast writing aloud within the group.

■ Rhoda Neshama Waller in “Elder Wisdom: Walking the Path of Poetry” highlights how reading and writing poetry in a group can increase awareness, creativity, and community. Moreover, the multisensory heightened awareness of poetry spills over into greater appreciation of the present moment.

■ Karen Bannister in “Writing to Reclaim Identity” uses memoirs written by persons with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease to illustrate writing as a pathway to personal wholeness. Through journaling, the authors cited express their frustration, concerns about the future, and grief as well as work out solutions to everyday problems related to their progressive disease. Writing for publication creates new contributing roles – chronicler, educator, counselor, and advocate. Older individuals who cannot write their stories on their own can benefit from a writing friend to facilitate this path to spiritual growth – a unique service opportunity for writers.
 

 
 

the word sits
poised to move
this word will tell you
what I need you to know
it is my word
i will speak it to you
wait with me until it comes

By Ellen B. Ryan

— Dorthi Dunsmore

Aging is a time for visiting the temple of our memory, integrating our life, and coming home to ourselves. Writing is a spiritual practice through which we can contemplate and abide and be drawn to a sense of purpose.

The experiences of aging call us to personal growth in wisdom and compassion. Changes in body, mind, daily responsibilities, and social contexts lead us to reflect on who we are now, who we have been, and who we are becoming.

Writing regularly in a journal can help us find our inner voice. This practice enhances many spiritual practices: paying attention, finding beauty, seeking truth, showing compassion, saying thanks, cultivating silence, reviewing life, and identifying purpose. The very act of writing is a creative expression which affirms our human spirit, connecting us with ourselves, those around us, the world around us and with our God. Writing about the highs and lows of our lives — past, present, and possible futures — gives us perspective, offers strategies to solve problems, reveals feelings we might not otherwise have recognized, and helps us move from "Why me?" to "Why not me?" Journaling usually combines reflection and decisions for action — in the domain of writing and beyond.

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You will find poems and excerpts from poems sprinkled generously throughout the many articles in this issue. The anthology which is the source of most of these poems — Celebrating Poets over 70 — was published in October 2010. In the final article in this series on Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Marianne Vespry  — who, along, with guest editor Ellen Ryan, co-edited the anthology — draws us into the anthology, selecting examples from its 12 themes — some more obviously age-relevant than others. The poets, many in their 80s and 90s, demonstrate across all themes how their writing practice moves them — and us — toward aging with spirit.

 

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Brief Notices...

Call for submissions

Ron Pevny, guest editor
of the Spring 2011 issue

The Inner Work of Eldering” is the theme of the Spring issue of Itineraries. The issue will explore the range of psycho-spiritual practices that support the transition into conscious elderhood.

Healing past conflicts, learning to forgive, and coming to accept one’s life as it has been lived are some examples among many such practices.

We invite you to submit an article (1000-2000 words). Newly-written pieces, as well as previously-published articles that deserve a wider readership, are welcome. Don’t worry if you are a less-than-accomplished writer. Some editing assistance will be available. What’s most important is your experience and knowledge of how to support conscious eldering. 

The deadline for receiving completed articles is April 15. If you plan to submit a piece of writing, please let Ron Pevny know, providing him with a summary of the article. You may contact him at (970) 247-7943 or by email.


Slippage

They keep slipping away, the words.
Is it reverberate, or is it resonate;

Is this the beginning of the end,
the dreaded end
of not remembering, not knowing?


Will I know them, will they know me?
What to remember in this new time
of not knowing?
Will I be aware of not knowing
or will that also slip away, elude?

They call it dotage, second childhood
but childhood is fun, this is worry.
Will I roam, unlock the night door
and slip away
like my slipping words?

— Desiré Lyners Volkwijn

 


At times my outlook on the chances for survival of the earth as we know it has been very dark. What saves me from despair are people who are deeply aware of environmental crises and profoundly concerned about their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. Because they are aware and concerned, they continue in what I have come to see to see as “practices of hope”...

Remembrance as a Spiritual Practice

I enter the stillness at the core of the great heart of us all. Though the waters remain waters of unknowing, I sense in the unknown a presence of love and compassion, joy and peace... And I can say with Lady Julian of Norwich that “all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

0

While redwing blackbirds
shriek protest
and spring-mad pig frogs
rumble amours,
I cross weathered boards
among nesting wasps to
reach the observation platform.

I peer across heat-wavering acres
of hyacinth-purpled marsh grasses
to open water where
hundreds of white birds flock.

Ibis posture and pluck at the fringe,
the ubiquitous gulls clatter.
At the center,

 
priestly barques—
rare white pelicans
with albino pink bills.

Even now, if I close my eyes,
I can see the pelicans alone;
they retrace luminous curves
on the tannin-stained pond.

Inexplicably they refigure
lost worlds:
  the journal stolen,
  the homestead burned,
  the friend dead—
phantom sacrifices
on a watery altar.

I see them through
time's unreliable glass,
focused then dispersed
like incense in the sun glare—
images of what I've loved
but cannot will to hold.

From The Sourdough Dream Kit: Poems by Nancy Corson Carter (Bellowing Ark Press:  Seattle, WA,  2003)

Walking Our Talk:
Prescriptions for Responsible Living


. . . powerful incentives to change are activated when our sense of the possible is expanded and we glimpse better, more fulfilling ways of living, grounded in a celebration of genuine community. . .

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