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Sep 08

Spirituality and Aging: Lessons in Letting Go



It happened to me again.  I was in the market shopping.  The aisle was a bit tight with two other people trying to pass at the same time.  I turned quickly to get out of the way and out of nowhere a sharp pain grabbed my hip.  I stumbled, almost falling, but caught myself on one of the shopping carts.

You may have had a similar the experience.  It happens sometimes, usually without warning.  Arthritis seems to grab at a joint in my hips or knees.  There’s a sharp pain and it’s as though for a moment I lose control of my body.  I know it’s not uncommon.  I often hear people my age talking about their bodies just not doing what they want it to any longer.  That’s exactly what happens to me.

One of the unsettling things about aging is the loss of control.  As I begin to experience these little interruptions that catch me off guard, like a sharp hip pain that causes me to stumble, I pay more attention to those who experience far greater losses in mobility.  If I allow my mind to wonder, I recall the crippling effects of arthritis evident in my mother and the years my father was bed-ridden with Parkinson’s.  I try not to think too much about those things because it leads me to wonder:  how long before I am next?

Yet, when I’m reminded of the increasing limitations in my own body, my experience of loss of control, I try to keep focused on this loss as a natural process.  I hope to ease into it.  I also remind myself that this physical process parallels the process of spiritual growth and maturity.

When one becomes more attuned to the spiritual dimension of life, experiences of self-fulfillment, peace, and wholeness are common.  In these early stages, spirituality is often equated with personal well being.  But that’s just the starting point for nurturing the spiritual dimension of life.  (And yes, it is an essential place to start.)  With maturity comes the growth is letting go of self, self-fulfillment, and self-satisfaction to allow for the experience union and communion with that which we experience as greater than ourselves:  the universe, the Divine Mystery, the heart of transcendence.  This maturity requires us to let go of control over self and, in a sense, to allow self to melt away in moments of communion with something more than we can easily describe.

The process may sound odd and mysterious or perhaps even absurd.  Yet, we experience this process each evening when we sleep.  In order to fall asleep, we must let go of all control over our activities and responsibilities, allow our minds to clear and our bodies to relax, and in doing so, we let go of awareness to sleep and to rest.  This pattern is part of the natural cycle.

The pattern of maturity that leads us to let go and not have control is a basic pattern in life.  That pattern is found in the rhythm of sleeping and waking, of growing in spirituality so that we release egoic preoccupation to experience communion with the Holy One, and in the physical changes we experience in aging.  Just as we cannot prevent the sun from rising and setting or the seasons from changing summer to autumn, so too this cycle of losing control is part of what it is to be human.  It’s something to simply embrace as a unique dimension of what it is to be alive.

While it may seem trite to some, perhaps the simple wisdom in Twelve Step programs says it best:  when we want to hold onto the illusion of control, we just need to, “let go and let God.”  The control we think we have over life is nothing more than a passing illusion.

I’d honestly prefer not to have arthritis.  The stiffness and occasional pain is frustrating.  I don’t like how it slows me down.  But slowing down….that’s at the heart of living a life of balance rooted in the spiritual dimension.  Keeping this in mind, perhaps the aches and pains of growing older can be a way to refocus on our need to let go and be open to the deeper Mystery which sustains all life.


Photo credit:  CCO License Source: pixabay.com

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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