When I turned 60 I asked myself how I wanted to live the “bonus years” of my life, a time in which I am still healthy, have financial security which offers an opportunity and freedom in which to choose how do I want to live? I wondered are there other people out there that are asking themselves the same question.
Mary Catherine Bateson’s book Composing a Further Life, An Age of Active Wisdom, proposed that the boomer generation needed consciousness raising groups like those that women that formed in the 60’s and 70’s in order to “free themselves from limiting stereotypes of who they were and what they wanted out of life.” Would such a process help to break out of old stereotypes about aging and help us create lives that reflect how we want to be in the world? What is life asking of me at this stage of life and how do I want to respond?
My response to this mandate was to start a group called In Search of Active Wisdom: Consciousness Raising for Adulthood ll. The group would meet at the local Senior Center for four weeks. Our search for answers would not to be found with one of the many gurus who are proposing solutions. A solution wasn’t what we needed, since it wasn’t a problem that we had. Instead the group would use the wisdom to be found in poetry, psychology, Op-Ed writers, and mostly in the dialogue we had with each other. Using the group discussion to reflect on the readings and our own life experiences. The readings and discussion helped challenge us to move out of old established habits of mind and allow us to imagine alternative ways of thinking and possibly living, during this stage of life. There were no promises made to find more happiness, satisfaction, or spiritual growth. What such a process did offer was a time and space in which we would live with questions, an opportunity to loosen tightly held beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Our Active Wisdom group has been meeting for four years and is more about our questions than acquiring more information. Using a process of reading, reflecting and dialogue, we explore together new ways of being and living during this phase of life.
Research by Keith Oatley and Maja Dojkic at University of Toronto (NYTimes, Dec. 21, 2014) shows that reading can transform us. The more artistic the writing, more powerful it is in getting us to think of about ourselves anew. If we are seeking new ways of being at this stage life, a time when many of us may find ourselves living with freedom that that was not available in the past, what do we do with it? Is the current paradigm of aging well, with its emphasis on health and financial security the only possibility for “happiness,” another promise held out by current models of the good life? Can we imagine something other than what is available through our culture? Holding a space and time to re-imagine life after 60 creates the possibility to continue the human potential movement that many boomers were a part of in their youth.