The question grates, especially when a round number announces yet another decade looming ahead. While the 40s suggests respectable maturity, the 50s have an aura of old gold best valued by insurance and investment companies. Once you enter the 60s, no matter how rich, poor, active, passive or just blissfully sober, public consensus puts you in line for the moot title ‘retired.’
Once you get over this pesky label, there’s a perk – time slows.
Perceiving life in slow motion has been called wisdom ever since people recognised that slow time reveals hidden dimensions, realities other than those experienced in the speed-lane. Within the present digital pulse of life, days, seasons and years skip ahead at a dizzying velocity. The phenomenon has shortened the shelf life of people, ideas, and objects. A few years ago the motherboard of my laptop crashed. The young man at the IT shop looked amazed. ‘They shouldn’t last that long.’ My laptop was 5 years old. I guess it’s supernatural that my 25 year old Bosch washing machine still works perfectly.
When young, I lifted off, ascended, sped across horizons, acted out and engaged intensely with life. Youth in itself brings of course no guarantee of ascending. Age holds similar uncertainties. Ideally, it allows one to slow down, descent inward, assimilate and integrate experiences, develop patience and insight, re-connect, and grasp the myth of one’s life, and the myth of one’s century.
My point is – descent has a vital function in society. If we can manage to work part-time, or independently during the second half of our lifespan, we may gain the freedom to reflect, attend to the body’s intelligence, and find our inner rhythm. A thought sculpture may develop, a mood may linger. Communicating may happen along deeper wavelengths. The experience and perception of slow time has a calming influence on the collective psyche, like the prayers and contemplations observed by nuns and monks in monasteries are said to keep the world in balance. I truly believe this.
For those who practice a vocation they love, or develop a passion that keeps them curious and focussed, aging is a side-issue. New technical procedures may not be instantly absorbed, but they provide food for thought. The movie occasionally rolls on silently. Memos reappear, which the younger self, swept along by the speed of progress, may have overlooked, but which in a wider context assume new significance.
The manner that informed wisdom in past cultures and classic times may have remained the same, but elders today have a more complex task in finding apt metaphors for what’s been happening during our single lifetime, poignant lessons that could guide us onwards. When young, our mind feels eternal, we make thing happen, are in sync with the pace of progress and create the future. But what if wisdoms assimilated during inner journeys and the deeper comprehension of present lifetimes are not sufficiently communicated?
The next round of ascent may be hampered by ladders with broken steps, leaving us stuck with unsurmountable problems and senseless social systems. All is not well. The ascending and descending energies working through our present decades are askew. Unless elders have acquired eminence, their voices, their stories, the harvest of their unique experiences, are easily considered useless. Wisdom is not equivalent to the IQ flatland that education systems bank on. Wisdom is more about questions than answers, more like a dance, a tracing of patterns and parallels. Wisdom employs the imagination, re-shuffles knowledge, re-interprets and re-connects ideas to create new meaning.
There’ll always be young ones born old and wise, and old ones who turn young and adventurous. Intangible experiences and the insights of all age groups seek expression and must be circulation, because we are animated by forces not accessible to us. Fate cannot be controlled, but nudges us from the dark. It’s therefor essential to bring our light not only to matter, but to the totality of the psyche, including the unconscious layers of our past and our future, our unknown human potential. We need spaces to make visible what inspires individuals. In this the arts must serve.
The arts need public support in providing free spaces, and funding for everyone, young and old, to engage with and share their imagination in any form that moves their heart. In a culture that prizes speed above all else, the inner journey, the long view, listening, trusting, gratitude, the appreciation of difference, small things, and the cultivation of inner silence from which conflict resolution, intuition and creativity can spring, has never been more important.
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Our vision is of a world where people live in peace, conscious of their common humanity and their shared responsibilities for each other, for the planet and for future generations. We see a world in which there is universal respect for human rights; in which poverty has been eliminated; in which people are free from fear and oppression and are able to fulfil their true potential.
Initially the concept emerged from a conversation between Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel. Together, they took their idea of a group of global elders to Nelson Mandela who agreed to support it. http://www.virgin.com/unite/leadership-and-advocacy/richard-branson-birth-elders