The Elder as Sage, Old Age as Spiritual Path: Towards a Transpersonal Gerontology
V, Quinton Wacks, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology
ABSTRACT: In 1990 and again in 1994 the author called for a new field, "transpersonal gerontology," that would integrate transpersonal psychology and gerontology and would "include such topics as personal and ultimate meaning and purpose for late-life existence, late life spirituality, life after death, spirituality and life span development, spiritual autobiography, wisdom and compassion, and the Elder-Child" (1994, p. 98). In the fifteen plus years since the publication, the need to further define and develop transpersonal gerontology has accelerated, given the continuing and even growing lack of meaning and purpose of the later years, especially in terms of positive, growth oriented, and spiritual models and the Baby Boomers beginning to reach retirement age. This article addresses elements, applications, and practices of and possibilities for late life spirituality to establish a knowledge, research, program and practice base for transpersonal gerontology predicated on the premise that our later adult years provide special and ideal conditions for such psycho-spiritual development.
The Baby Boomers' (1946-64) huge numbers will challenge most every institution in this country as well as those in many countries around the world, and transform aging and old age beyond anything known up to this point in human and world history. Given the composition and experience of this cohort, their lived experience will take unforeseeable and unimaginable expressions throughout the next 30 years. Generally speaking, the current elderly are living somewhat marginal lives limited by their and societies' expectations. The Baby Boomer generation is beginning its odyssey into the retirement years and this group, more than any preceding group, has the freedom and means to expect more of their later years. The current post retirees are asking and even demanding much more of their retirement period that may span 20 or more years and encompass one fourth of their lives. It is hard to imagine one fourth of life as being marginalized especially during the period, unlike childhood/adolescence, when we finally know who we are, what is really important, how we can contribute, and maybe even how life works and why we are here. So what is possible in and for the later years beyond what has previously passed for being enough or all that could be expected?
This article provides an overview of what can be possible from a psychospiritual perspective in the later years, serves as the lead article for this special issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology on the new and emerging area or field of transpersonal gerontology and provides the reader as well as current and future elders, researchers and service providers with an introduction to what could be possible for the last fourth of our lives.
For some, perhaps for many readers, a psycho-spiritual transpersonal perspective is familiar but its applications and practices for the later years may be new. In this article, the knowledge base and practices of transpersonal psychology are taken into the last fourth of life, in the forms of elements, applications and practices available or possible. A subsequent section of this article addresses the many possibilities for the future in terms of research, publications, instruction, programs, services, experiences and visions.
In so doing, it is hoped that the reader will (a) gain a greater personal and professional understanding of the many expressions of spirituality in the later years; (b) realize the potentials of new program and research possibilities in late life spirituality, (c) contribute to the development of this new area of study and practice, and (d) recognize how the later years provide conditions and opportunities ideal for spiritual practice and as a spiritual path. This new field is predicated on the premise that these years are the most spiritual years of the lifecycle and offer special and even necessary conditions for expressing our spiritual selves, natures, and essences. …