Embracing Wisdom: Soaring in the Second Half of Life emerged from a conversation between us personally and professionally. Because we lived in different places, we met on Skype to write together. Each meeting began with a conversation that led us into our writing every word collaboratively. We invite you to listen in.
This is very much in keeping with the traditional way of Jewish learning: two sit and explore an idea together to have insights that one cannot have alone. The following dialogue reveals the intimate learning process that informed our work. It also demonstrates how the work of Sageing is best done: you can’t simply read a book by yourself—even this amazing one–and declare yourself a sage! Sit with a friend to reveal your truth and listen to theirs. All praise to you and your wisdom for taking the first step by buying this book–now go out and buy another copy for the one with whom you will do the work.
MD: Because baby boomers will age as no generation ever has before, we have an entire industry of books that explore the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of aging. Why ours?
NG: So many of the books which have appeared, and continue to appear, tell us *about* eldering, the process and experience. Some offer the good news that we don’t have to age like our parents and grandparents did. Many offer excellent meditations and insights into the aging process. What’s missing is the one book which will take readers by the hand and guide them into their eldering years–the quintessential “how to”.
MD: The book also needs to inspire participation. You can have a better, richer third act if you enter this time with a willingness to accept and embrace the process of aging as a new adventure. I’m thinking about Disneyland when I was a child. They had ride books with the smallest ride being an A ticket up to the Matterhorn which was an E ride. Once you reach 60, you’re finally ready for the biggest and fastest ride, the one that takes you to a place that you didn’t even know existed.
NG: As you were remembering childhood, my association went immediately to a treasure hunt; we need a treasure map to help us find the hidden riches that await us in our elder years, or that place as you say that we didn’t even know existed. We found that map in Reb Zalman’s book From Age-ing to Sage-ing with his new vision for this time of life and the imaginal exercises and spiritual practices he created.
MD: Why didn’t this book inspire the revolution that is just beginning now?
NG: Because our generation wasn’t old enough back in1995! We read the book with interest but without wisdom. It didn’t feel relevant to the lives we were living then. As we began to age, however, we rediscovered his invitation to make the shift from “aging” – something that just happens to us, to “Sage-ing” – an opportunity for a more fulfilling, dynamic and creative last act.
MD: So why not just re-issue a new edition of Reb Zalman’s book?
NG: The book is dated. We don’t need to be convinced any longer of the importance to change the face of aging. Reb Zalman planted the seeds for us to understand aging as an opportunity for spiritual growth and shared his personal practices that had not yet been refined or developed for all of us. We’re loosening the soil and offering a new generation’s perspective.
MD: We’re also adding a different perspective of aging as women, and Reb Zalman asked us to continue his work through our experience of being valued primarily for our appearance.
NG: Yes! And we wanted to write a book that would accomplish three things: to distill the essence of Reb Zalman’s pioneering wisdom on this subject; to offer exercises polished by years of Sage-ing practitioners–our teachers; and to include the latest discoveries that support the vision of an elastic and productive elderhood.
MD: What is the “new elder”? Does the rocking chair no longer apply? I don’t feel as old as my parents were at the same age. Now I’m my grandparents’ ages! We are living longer than any generation before us–we have one third more years than a child born at the beginning of the 20th Century. While I’m sure that everyone at my age–74–has thought about what that means and where did the time go–I know it’s different for me from my parents and grandparents because of our longer life span. When I imagine my grandmothers dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, as I am today, I laugh. At 20 my father bought life insurance for his wife and child.
NG: We want the eldering years to be a unique time abundant with curiosity, enthusiasm, a sense of adventure and purpose. Our generation has changed the meaning of every stage of life for itself. When we approached middle age, we pushed it ahead, attempting never to get there. We thought that if we didn’t grow up, we wouldn’t grow old. So we didn’t “dress the part” or buy those insurance plans. Now that we can’t deny the physical process of aging, we must develop a new perspective.
MD: What shall we call ourselves? Elder has a church ring to it, and senior citizen is of another generation. And let’s remember that the stage that we’re talking about is new: the years of harvest have never been lived before in such abundance. It doesn’t have a single name. Richard Rohr refers to the “second half of life.” Using Erik Erikson’s framework of the eight stages, Mary Catherine Bateson adds another stage, “adulthood II”, and Jane Fonda calls it “the third act”.
NG: Reb Zalman answers your question in the title of his book From Age-ing to Sage-ing. He was calling us to enter a stage of spiritual eldering which he called “Sage-ing”. So when we engage in this process, we get to call ourselves Sages, those very people whom Reb Zalman tells us “expand their consciousness and develop wisdom.”