It is no coincidence that Death and Rebirth is so central to any healing process.
We can so easily be carried away through the everyday life, deluding ourselves about the fact that from the minute we are born, we are in fact dying. Our society is constantly inventing new ways to defy the ageing process with miracle creams, surgery, photo-shop, and even in holistic practices we talk about rejuvenation through vitamins, minerals, diet and exercises….
We are often terrified of change, of losing what we have taken years to accumulate and yet we know deep down that on our final journey we won’t be able to take any of that with us.
Why are we so scared to embrace the fact that our skin, bones, muscles, organs, and brain cells are losing their elasticity? Why do we hide our older citizens in nursing homes?
From early childhood, we have been trained to think that the secret to our happiness resides on the outer layer: how we look, what we achieve in life, the car we drive, the friends we have, and that the wisdom we seek can be found in books, courses, and teachers from afar, and the further afield, the more we are keen for them to share with us their knowledge and wisdom.
Many travel to ancient sites across the globe to meet the keepers of ancient knowledge with the hope of returning with deeper insights, unravelling some pearls of wisdom and breaking through the blockages that kept them from moving forward in life, often returning home to realise that the journey that is most worthwhile to undertake is the one at the heart of our own country, our beautiful green isle, reconnecting with the wisdom of the land on one of the many sacred sites, leading us to the emerald green of our own heart.
In ancient cultures, older citizen or “elders” were at the centre of everything. They were sought for their knowledge and understood to radiate wisdom. They were honoured because of the depth of their experiences and their huge value to the “clan”.
Could it be that if, instead of treating our seniors as second class citizen, we called on them to advise us, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now? Our seniors have lived through wars and recessions and they have experienced what works and what doesn’t.
Some of the Elders from this land may live across the road from you. What they have lost in physical agility has been replaced by knowledge, wisdom, and a degree of expertise in their chosen fields.
We are so busy getting on with our own life that we fail to realise that besides the erroneous image we have cultivated about growing older, many of our seniors are in fact living their golden age to the full, continuing to develop new skills, bringing valuable gifts to society, sharing their wisdom and compassion with all who care to listen, and reminding us that there are many viewpoints to each situation.
The late John O’ Donoghue describes growing older as “gracious harvesting”, using life’s experiences to help the next generation. Many of our elders spend their golden years discreetly supporting personal and community development, in their own families and in the wider community.
There is a lot to be said about “old wives tales”, for example, with regard to the plants which we describe as weeds, most of which contain medicinal properties which can enhance the healing process for many conditions. The garden of Ireland is filled with hidden of treasures and the land itself can bring us all the healing and wisdom we require to unblock ourselves and move forward in life with renewed hope and positivity.
The keepers of the land are waiting patiently for us to awaken from our trance to the real beauty which can only be accessed through the heart.
We are being called to free ourselves from everything which is of value to us be it material wealth, identity, even our loved ones…
On our very last day, the only thing we can truly ask ourselves is not “what I have achieved” or “what I have left behind” but this simple query: “have I loved enough?”
I have been privileged to work closely with a number of Irish Elders and my findings are available through a 13 parts documentary called “Inspiring Elders”. The majority of the “elders” interviewed are aged between 60 and 90. These include a University Professor of gerontology, medical doctors, an Ayurvedic doctor, a naturopath, an homeopath, a psychologist, a psychotherapist, professional dancers, representatives from positive ageing agencies in Ireland, a drama teacher, a nun, a shop owner, writers, a member of a mixed Catholic community, spiritual teachers, musicians, a retired banker, tango dancers, and healers, all of whom live their golden age to the full and bring valuable gifts to society.
The late Mary Brady, artist, who sadly passed away just as the documentary was reaching the airwaves, shared that when you are doing any type of creative work, you are very much in the present and that it feeds your inner self. As she grew older, she found herself taking things more lightly and laughing at things that are very serious because they come and go anyway. She hoped that she had passed through life and left it better for the next generations.
Eilish Kelly, who teaches Art in disadvantaged communities, reminds us that we always have to remain in the present and come to the heart, to the bigger picture. We need to realise that we don’t have the answers for other people but we can point the way to them and we do so by recognising what we have experienced in life. Knowing what our own creative ability and strength are is very important and we need to work through our gifts with other people and recognise that we complement each other.
Paddy Mac Mahon, who wrote several books on spirituality, shares that from the moment we are born, we are getting older, so it becomes a matter of adjustment to the different ages. Each age has its own particular highlights and as we learn to be accommodating of each age within ourselves, we can remain young while at the same time accepting the limitations of older age.
According to Fred Walker, homeopath, love is the best medicine. If you look at people in their eighties or nineties who are wise and healthy in mind and body, you notice that they are usually filled with compassion, which is extremely healing for those around them. It is about getting self-contained and trust our gut feeling. Instead of getting embroiled in the anxieties fears, and delusions, about life, we pull back into ourselves, developing a greater awareness of our body and becoming more accepting of ourselves and others.
Professor Eamon O Shea, from the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology (ICSG), @ NUI, Galway states that we must recognise the tremendous bounty there is in older age and the major contribution older people are making to society while at the same time acknowledge the fact that some older people are vulnerable and in need of specific intervention and care from our government. Traditionally. older people are wiser and it is important that ageing is seen as part of life. We must strive to maintain the independence and autonomy of older people for as long as possible and to empower older people to participate more in society.
Joanna Banks, Artistic Director of the College of Dance in Ireland and founder member of the Association of Professional Dancers in Ireland, thinks that each generation has something to offer and that whereas older people have wonderful life experience they can use to help others, it is important to listen to people of all generations. She feels that being active in whatever area is good for you is crucial and that it is important to look after yourself and to have a sensible diet.
Eamon Timmins, Age action representative, explains that positive ageing means to live the life you want to live today and to live that life every day and not to be worried about what people think, or about what you should or shouldn’t do at your age. Your age has nothing to do with it: you should live the life you want to live and live it to the full. Ireland needs older people it needs their knowledge, their experience, their civic spiritness, their willingness to give and contribute, to keep our society together, run our clubs, our communities and our societies and the government needs to support older people to enable them to continue to do that.
Dolores Whelan, who facilitates workshops in Celtic spirituality and pilgrimages to the Sacred Sites in Ireland, remarks that being old is nothing to do with a number, it’s to do with your mind and what you perceive to be important. If one is connected with their inner life, with the artistic mythical dimension, it’s always spring time. Wisdom is not found in books: you live into wisdom. The role as an elder is to model a holistic way of living, to embrace life, good days and bad days, and to come towards a place of truth within yourself which we can then pass onto the next generation. To sing and to pray in our own native tongue is hugely important because it connects us with our soul “Éist le mo chroí” Listen to my heart, listen to your heart “oscailt mo chroi” open your heart. The connection between the language and the land and the language and our soul is hugely important.
According to Gabrielle Kirby, member of a Catholic Community, what ages a person is the negative. Having a purpose in life, seeing God’s loving hands in everything that happens, seeing the bright side in everything and living in the moment helps us to stay youthful.
Dr. Eric Dilworth, MD, believes that small children benefit from the grand-parents’ involvement in the family unit. Life is a spiritual journey towards wholeness. What matters is being attentive to each other, compassionate, at peace, being in joy. We need to share patience, simplicity, creativity, awareness, truth, beauty, and abundance with each other. As people get older there is some radiance shining through like the radiance of a new-born baby which is pure life, pure essence, and pure consciousness. It’s all about being in your own space, being still, enjoying whatever comes into your presence and allowing everything in your presence be a welcome guest. Observe life, stay centred, stay present, eat well and you’ll live a long life in peace. Enjoy a sunset, enjoy nature, enjoy being, enjoy fresh air, a smile a laugh, taste life, enjoy it. It’s all very simple.
Mairead Conlon who organises spiritual seminars feels that we have to make the best of everyday and live each moment with joy and if we do something regularly that we love it keeps us young. Smile and the world smiles at you; weep and you weep alone. In the long run it’s your life: You are in control of what you do with it, not anybody else.
Lucy Johnston, singer, feels that as you become older, you become calm and content.
The late Mary Morsisini who taught dance to her very last day, shared that it is important to have something to stimulate your brain and that no matter what type of exercise you do, you must exercise all your life and you will feel much better for it and remain healthy.
Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, founder of FOCUS Ireland, shares that we all need intellectual inspiration and nourishment; we all need our bodies cared for; a fulfilled life is when there’s that holistic approach to life.
Tom Wynne who discovered the Energy Core, has come to acknowledge that the bodies that we have been given are the physical expression of the spirit that we are so if we look after our body, our spirit will rejoice, will be happy.
Dr Don Brennan, GP and doctor In Ayurveda highlights that in Ayruveda, it is said that if you have the right diet, you will never need medicine and if you don’t have the right diet. what use are medicines? In other words even with the best of medicines, you won’t gain health unless you also take care of your nutrition. If mind and body are balanced, you express all that is good; however any imbalance blocks our inner being from full manifestation and expression. When we are in our middle years, it’s a time for fulfilment and activity, but after fifty our bodies are more sensitive and we need to take better care of them, be more restful, have a better routine, eat properly, nourishing food and particularly after seventy five, the actual routines that we live in and the foods that we eat, are more gentle. By keeping the body balanced at this time when it’ s growing a little bit more sensitive, we allow the mind to retain increasing integration and increasing connection with our own immortal being.
Sister Rachel, who practices Reflexology, believes that God’s pharmacy is our garden, our fields and that we have an obligation If we do know anything, to share it with others.
Mo Griffin, who wrote a Trilogy on numerology and sacred geometry, believes that we will be the ones producing the miracles and producing in the change. Looking after ourselves, our planet, our laws, and the way we live our lives in a gentle way, is the responsibility of every single human being on this planet.