As I do each High Holiday season, I took the time to reflect, to study and to revitalize my soul. This year, I read and contemplated my way through Be Still and Get Going. The author, Alan Lew, was a Rabbi and spiritual innovator who died too young. In it he writes about three core transformational stories in the Torah, Judaism’s central sacred text. They are Jacob’s awakening to discover he was in a sacred place he hadn’t recognized, Jacob’s wrestling with an angel and surviving the encounter wiser and humbled, and Moses’ encounter with the bush that wasn’t consumed though it was engulfed in flame as he reluctantly learned his life’s journey was going to involve much more than tending sheep!
Ancient wisdom stories are so multi-layered. They rarely reveal their meaning directly or simply. Hints and implications are more often their method. At their core, the stories are never-ending mysteries that reveal new truths and divulge new meanings that can comfort, guide and challenge readers of each new generation and each individual’s particular life circumstances.
That is what I found to be true for myself this past week. I am actively seeking to make sense of what I’ve learned about how to age in a way that is not defined merely by the passage of time. Science has uncovered many “facts” that impact the biological imperative we call aging. And yet, science also acknowledges factors that are not easily reducible to the objective facts that are science’s treasured currency. These factors involve how we connect to others and how we deeply connect to our authentic purpose. In writing Staying Sharp, I was swept away by these ageless factors- most of them having a more powerful impact on aging when compared to all the vitamins, exercises, and sleep remedies combined.
With that in mind, I read Lew’s stories and found myself understanding clearly what was not explicitly written in his book or in the Torah. Sure enough, my life experience, professional research, and intuitive knowing all pointed in the same direction. Opening the portal to vibrant aging involves three important steps:
- Awareness: Like Jacob, we are too often oblivious to signs and signals to a richer and deeper life that are all around us. Cultivating mindful awareness skills expands our horizons beyond the tips of our noses and fingers to reveal the rich world of opportunity to enlarge our lives that is ever-present.
- Encounter: Again, like Jacob, awareness of a more purposeful path that can better serve others eludes us until we risk a true and honest encounter with our nature. We can hide from our darker urges. We can mask our fears and numb our yearnings. The price is to live smaller lives that don’t unleash our full potentiality. Jacob wasn’t perfected by his encounter, but he did begin to live an enlarged life that better served others…and so can we.
- Engagement: Awareness and honest self-encounters are pre-requisites for a more authentic life, but they lack an essential element. Action. To live life with more purpose and authenticity requires wading into a world of uncertainty and complexity and of passion and purpose. Engagement requires what researcher/author Angela Duckworth calls Grit, which is a combination of passion and perseverance. There will be setbacks. We will be stymied. We will be overwhelmed. But, the question is whether we will ultimately be deterred.
When we combine these three steps, my deep-felt sense coupled with the objective facts I’ve gathered along my journey thus far, is that we will discover ourselves solidly on the road to living our best and most authentic life going forward.