Expanded Awareness and Extended Consciousness
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Editor's note: Reb Zalman is an internationally recognized loving teacher who draws from many disciplines and cultures. He has been at the forefront of ecumenical discussions, enjoying close friendships with the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and many other leading sages of our time and is the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement which lays out the foundations for 21st-century Judaism. He has been instrumental in inspiring the convergence of ecology, spirituality, and religion and recently has put special emphasis on Spiritual Eldering, or “Sage-ing” as he calls it in his seminal book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older. Reb Zalman is a member of the Second Journey Advisory Council.

When my daughter, Shel, was 8 years old, she asked me, "Abba, when you’re asleep, you can wake up, right? When you are awake, can you wake up even more?"

Awakening is what made the Buddha become the Buddha — the word Buddha meaning: "the awakened one." Prince Siddhartha became the Enlightened One. Every spiritual tradition has addressed this issue and in my own writing I’ve often pointed to the opportunities for extended awareness that are one dividend of our extended lifespan. I often said during my seminars, "If we don’t have extended consciousness to match our lifespan, we are dying longer instead of living longer."

Here are several helpful activities to practice in expanding your consciousness.

bullet Learn a new language or a new skill, if possible, not only with your mind, but also with your body. If you learn a new language, for instance, learn to write in that language and in that script. If you learn a new skill, practice it for about 40 days until you find that your body has integrated it into its habit pattern. That will result in more of the synapses of the brain being connected and accessed and a consequent extension of consciousness.
bullet Exercise your imagination. When you read something stimulating in a book or magazine or see something on the tube, set the source of your information aside and — relaxing and closing your eyes — imagine what happened before, what is likely to happen afterwards. Picture the setting and characters in your mind’s eye so vividly so that you almost feel it. The more you are able to do this, the larger your awareness will have expanded.
bullet Create an inventory of the pleasurable experiences you have had that enhanced your sense of self-satisfaction. Order them from the mildest to the strongest. In your mind, construct a rosary that you can tell at will so that whenever you wish to change your attitude and mood you can consult that album of peak experiences. This will refresh your mind and your body as it works a subtle physiological change, increasing your T-cells (your immune-related cells) and augmenting the vigor with which you face even your diminishments.

Throughout most of history, elders occupied honored roles in society as sages and seers, leaders and judges, guardians of the traditions, and instructors of the young. They were revered as gurus, shamans, wise old men and women who helped guide the social order and who initiated spiritual seekers into the mysteries of inner space. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on technological knowledge that often was beyond their ken, elders lost their esteemed place in society and fell into the disempowered state that we now ascribe to a "normal" old age. Today, as the Age Wave crests all about us and we confront existential questions about the purpose of our extended longevity, we are searching for new myths and models to ennoble the experience of old age.

The model I’m proposing envisions the elder as an agent of evolution, attracted as much by the future of humanity’s expanded brain-mind potential as by the wisdom of the past. With an increased life span and the psycho-technologies to expand the mind’s frontiers, the spiritual elder heralds the next phase of human and global development.

From Age-ing to Sage-ing.

bullet Study the contemplative teachings of world wisdom traditions. Many a time you have had moments of inspiration and ecstasy that, alas, disappeared from your memory. While they are difficult to access, often because you don’t have good concepts for them, studying one form of inner teachings — as can be found in the Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, Sufism, the Vedanta and Buddhism — will give you a grid to better recall those experiences. Then, using your imagination, paint on the inner canvas of thought and feeling a scene that captures that ecstatic moment, that revelation, that theophany. Then, make for yourself a marker, a motto, or a gate which allows you to re-enter that experience at will.
bullet Before you go to sleep, recall some of these ecstatic moments and fall asleep as you hug them, expecting to have good dreams. If you remember your dreams upon waking, record them in your journal.
bullet Mentor and tell oral history to the people in your family or among your friends who would be interested in some of your reminiscences. If they are younger and have a different map of reality than you, then communicating with them is bound to expand your mind in their direction. Consider how the young ones can handle things of complexity like the Rubik's cube and the esoteric parts of computer use with ease. Communicating with them will also help you expand in that direction.
bullet Find a piece of music you are fond of and then, when no one else is in the room, as you play it, dance to it in free-form. Visualize yourself, on the inside, as a great ballet dancer so even it you cannot fully execute the movements that you imagine, your imagination and what you can do will provide you with a way of expanding your consciousness — not only in your head and your heart, but also in your thighs and toes, so that they too will become awakened.
bullet When you enter the December period of your life, it pays to recall loved ones who have passed on in the most vivid way you can. This will open entrance for you into the regions you are destined to inhabit after you drop your body.

These activities will be more delightful if you do them with a trusted friend in spiritual intimacy. Designate a day or a weekend for the two of you to pamper your souls. I don’t want to call this a "retreat" or a "spiritual practice" because these words tend to tighten us up as if we had to produce something rather than nourish our spirit. Such days will be a matrix for the expansion of awareness.

I believe the time is coming when older people will convene councils of elders to share their dreams, meditations, and visions of a revived elderhood. As this happens, we will collectively dream the myths and create the models that will galvanize social change.
— From Age-ing to Sage-ing

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's “Sage-ing” work — work which commenced after he was 60 — was seminal in the emergence of a conscious aging movement in America and the inspiration of our own efforts with Second Journey. For more about this remarkable, gentle soul, visit the Reb Zalman Legacy Project.


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