Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has a very different idea of what constitutes positive aging. He makes the case that “elders” are not senior citizens who receive gold watches and retire to “play cards, shuffleboard and bingo ad nauseam.” While older adults have certainly earned the right to enjoy their time however they wish, and while there is nothing inherently “wrong” with spending time playing after all those years working, this is not the definition of an elder, says Schachter-Shalomi.
“If somebody says to me: ‘I’m not happy about the way I’m growing old,’ I talk to them about shifting from aging to sage-ing,” he explains.
In his landmark book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, he describes elders as “wisdom keepers who have an ongoing responsibility for maintaining society’s well-being and safeguarding the health of our ailing planet Earth. They are pioneers in consciousness who…harvest the wisdom of their years and transmit a legacy to future generations. Serving as mentors, they pass on the distilled essence of their life experience to others. The joy of passing on wisdom to younger people not only seeds the future, but crowns an elder’s life with worth and nobility.”
While this sounds like quite an undertaking for one’s later years, beginning to become an elder can be easy as intent, especially in the workforce, where mentoring often happens as a matter of course. As Schachter-Shalomi explains, “Aging itself isn’t the problem. It’s the images we hold about it, our cultural expectations, that cause our problems. To have a more positive old age, we must change our aging paradigm, the model or blueprint that determines the quality of our experience.”
To guide and assist interested adults in becoming elders, Schachter-Shalomi offers a series of “Exercises for Sages in Training.” If some of your reverse mortgage prospects or clients seem inclined towards such a path, his book might be a good place to start. The eleven exercises include:
1. Approaching Elderhood
2. The Cycles of Your Life
3. Turning Points
4. Journey to Our Future Self
5. Healing a Painful Memory
6. Giving Yourself the Gift of Forgiveness
7. A Testimonial Dinner for the Severe Teachers
8. Doing Your Philosophic Homework
9. Scripting Your Last Moments on Earth
10. Letters of Appreciation
11. Acting As An Elder of the Tribe
Each one details the actions a senior will take to complete that step towards sage-ing. And if you’re among this cohort as a reverse mortgage specialist, you might wish to explore Schachter-Shalomi’s exercises as well — then you’ll be a true “wise guide” for the seniors you serve.