Age is the antidote to personal destruction,
the call to spiritual growth,
because age finally brings us to the point
where there is nowhere else to go
but inside for comfort, inside for wealth,

inside for the things that really count.
~ Joan Chittister

PROFILE

Sister Joan Chittister writes prolifically and speaks to power around the world on spirituality, social justice, feminism, hospitality, and aging.   Her voice flows from deep roots in Benedictine spirituality, social activism, and interfaith outreach.  In her weekly blog and her 45 books, she engages the reader with a humble, inclusive conversational tone.

Current books of special interest include:

The Gift of Years To Read my book review
Monastery of the Heart
Happiness
Welcome to the Wisdom of the World
Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir
Uncommon Gratitude with Archbishop Rowan Williams.

I am drawn to her vision of spirituality:

Go from here with gratitude for many blessings and confidence in the love of God;
Go forward with hospitality, openness, and creative action;
Find or create community for loving action.

Sr. Joan’s commitment to community is evidenced in the many organizations she has founded and/or led to bring seekers together for action: Global Peace Initiative for Women, Network of Spiritual Progressives, Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, The Rising Great Compassion, and  International Committee for the Peace Council.  She is a board member for Council of the Conscience for the Charter of Compassion.

Quotations on Spirituality

Find the thing that stirs your heart and make room for it<

Every question in life is an invitation to live with a touch more depth, a breath more meaning.

Every word, every action, every effort of our lives has a ripple effect.

Hospitality means we take people into the space that is ourselves. . . . It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around one heart at a time.

Unity is more than solidarity and more than uniformity. Unity, ironically, is a commitment to becoming one people who speak in a thousand voices. Rather than one message repeated by a thousand voices, unity is one message shaped by a thousand minds.

Quotations on Aging

A blessing of these years is to have the opportunity to take on the role of thinker, of philosopher, of disputant, of interrogator, or spiritual guide in a world racing to nowhere, with no true human goal and no lived wisdom in sight.

These are the capstone years [old age], the time in which a whole new life is in the making again. But the gift of these years is not merely being alive – it is the gift of becoming more fully alive than ever.

The young hear memory in the voice of their elders and, delighted by these voices from the past or bored by them, too often miss the content behind the content. Memory is not about what went on in the past. It is about what is going on inside of us right this moment. It is never idle. It never lets us alone. It is made up of the stuff of life in the process of becoming the grist of the soul.

To sit and listen to a person wander through the storied fragments of their lives is to come to know what worries them, what delights them, what love did to them, what rejection dampened in them, and what is left to deal with now if the press of past failures, the loss of past loves are ever to be stitched into a healthy whole in the here and now.

TIPS TO KEEP YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION TO WRITE

Many of us have resolved to take steps in this new year to fulfill our dreams of writing.  Here are a few tips:

1-    Write Morning Pages – three pages everyday, just keep your pen moving
2-    Make appointments to write with a buddy
3-    Explore websites with writing prompts
4-    Join a writing group
5-    Try an online writing workshop or course

CREATIVITY AND AGING

The Creativity and Aging project is a website offering a great educational resource on aging with film clips expertly selected and excerpted:

Theme 1: Creativity in Mentoring (e.g. Il Postino)
Theme 2: Creativity in Music  (e.g.,  Young @ Heart; Buena Vista Social Club)
Theme 3: Creativity in Preserving Cultural Tradition (e.g.,  Karate Kid)
Theme 4: Creativity in Relationship (e.g.,   Surfing for Life)
Theme 5: Creativity in Service (e.g., Pete Seeger; Gandhi).

For each theme a Discussion Guide and Student Reading/Handout are provided so that the clips can be used with students of any age.

BOOK REVIEW by Tanya Bechard

The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind

Barbara Strauch. New York: Penguin Group, 2010

The brain, like a good wine, will get better with age. That’s the message this provocative text aims to elicit while taking a detailed look at new research on the complex workings of the middle-aged brain. The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain endeavours to provide insight into the talents of the middle-aged brain in a compelling way that has the reader excited to turn the next page. Throughout the text the reader will meet neuroscientists and psychologists who have shown how the middle-aged brain has been greatly underestimated.

Through a series of chapters on different aspects of the aging brain, Strauch unfolds a new perspective on aging.  She uses a delightfully humorous writing style with illuminating anecdotes to explain how the brain—as opposed to the rest of the body—can actually improve with age and how the human brain will hit its prime between the ages of 40 and 60 which is much later than previously believed. Although Strauch admits that as we age we become forgetful, she explains that the important stuff is not forgotten.

One longitudinal study that has major significance examined the test scores of people aged forty to sixty-five and compared their scores with the scores earned by the same group of people when they were in their twenties. It was found that the older subjects scored higher in four out of the six areas tested, leading the researcher to conclude that peak performance is not during young adulthood but rather is reached during middle-age. One reason Strauch gives for this finding is that humans begin to use more of their brain as they age—a process called bilateralization.

One example of bilateralization is explained through a study involving volunteers learning pairs of words.  Strauch explains that, contrary to the long-held view that older people use less of their brain, this study found that younger adults only used their right frontal lobes while recalling the word pairs, while older adults used both the left and the right side of their brain. According to Strauch this is “much like using two arms instead of one to pick up a heavy chair, which is not only a better way to lift the chair but may also be a more efficient way to use a brain.”  Additionally, researchers found that the amount of myelin that insulates the nerve fibres will actually continue to increase during middle-age leading to an improved processing capacity that “increases bandwidth” and puts people “online” allowing a “more integrated and comprehensive view of the world”.

Strauch’s book paints a radically different picture of the brain and middle-age than past research. Not all age-related losses can be compensated for, but most middle-aged people have accepted changes in their bodies. The middle-aged brain loses processing speed and what is termed “episodic memory,” but it compensates with increased power in other areas, such as the ability to “de-accentuate the negative.” Strauch explains that middle-aged people who find themselves “on the foggy planet of lost keys and misplaced thoughts” may have to learn new ways of coping, such as list-making, but they are rewarded with minds that have the ability to see the big picture and that are capable of flashes of insight that can solve problems of immense complexity. Forgetfulness may just be a small price to pay. So instead of viewing the middle-aged brain as “diminished, declining, and depressed,” we should acknowledge and appreciate “the surprising talents of the middle-aged brain.”

QUOTATIONS

If you are mindful that old age has wisdom for its food,
you will so exert yourself in youth that your old age will not lack sustenance.
~ Leonardo DaVinci

Like the corn, we have hidden
deep within our living process
a wisdom that reaches
back to all knowledge
and beyond to all possibilities.
~ Anne Wilson Schaef

Until next time, I will say Adieu with another of my shadow photos,

Ellen