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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Intentional Aging Redux

A couple of weeks ago, David and I (finally!) had the chance to spend some time catching up and dreaming together about our shared intentional aging aspirations.  The day after that meeting, two of my Gero-babe colleagues and I met to do some dreaming of our own. They asked me to articulate for them what my current thinking is around this thing we’ve been calling “Intentional Aging.”

One of the great pleasures of my life is the opportunity to collaborate with others, and one of the cool things that happens when you collaborate with others is that you find yourself inspired to participate in the creation of new ways of thinking and talking – provisionally, too-the-side, playfully -- about the human aging journey. To whit, “intentional aging.” What can happen over time, though, is that we fall into the habit of using our invented language as if we all have agreement as to what various words (and the conceptual or experiential landscapes they are meant to express or evoke) mean, or as if the meanings of the words are static and final, that what we meant two years ago, or even last week, is what we mean now.

So I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on where my thinking happens to be currently (And – are you surprised? – to ponder the new questions that are emerging as a result of reflecting!).

Some of the strong principles at the heart of my vision of Intentional Aging are:

Aging is a lived experience, a life-long journey that we are all embarked upon, though we are at different stages in the process depending on our chronological age and life-course stage.

We travel through the life-course together and we have much to learn by embarking on this journey together; we can develop deeper understanding by intentionally creating opportunities to interact and know each other, to discover our shared interests as well as all the ways we are unique creatures.

More specifically, we can think together about difficult issues, we can solve problems and create new ways of thinking and being in the world in order to make life better for all creatures. We are experts on our own lives, and we are teachers for each other.

And coming to deeply know each other, being present before each other, thinking together, is about telling each other our stories, as well as creating new stories together. This can become a form of shared legacy-creation.

Legacy is not only about planning for the future, but it is an activity that happens in the here-and-now, in the context of our present relationships with each other, it happens in all directions and amongst people of all capacities, not only from elders to youngers, but it goes in the other direction, too, and between age-peers, as well, and not only from the well-resourced to the less-resourced.  Creating legacy is about planning for the future, certainly, but it is also about how we care for each other now, how we are present to each other and share our greatest resources, ourselves, most especially our loving attention, with the wisdom that what we do now for each other shapes how the future looks for all creatures on the planet.

Intentional aging is a radical concept that has at its core the notion that there are always opportunities for deep development and new ways of thinking and being throughout the human life-course. By “intentional”, I mean to convey that as individuals and communities we can create together ways of thinking about and experiencing the challenges and opportunities of adult development and aging. Wherever we are in our travels through the life course, whatever our lives look like at any given time, we can choose to be present as fully as possible to our experiences.

For me, the promise of intentional aging is that is offers a pathway for deep and meaningful learning, development and growth throughout the adult life-course. Together we can explore the frontiers of human experience with curiosity and hope, we can transform meanings of aging and old age, and we can make a profound difference in one another’s lives.

Yep, that about captures my current, provisional nested conceptual web related to "intentional aging." But what I realized as I wrote this little discourse is that I am actually a bit uneasy with the concept "intentionality," that it has various meanings in Western history and culture, and that some of its strongest meanings manifest from a very particular set of ontological and epistemological assumptions, and these assumptions quite possibly aren't compatible with my framing of intentional aging, let alone my own experiences traveling through the life course as embodied consciousness. In a future post, perhaps, I'll write more about what I mean by "a very particular set of ontological and epistemological assumptions," but for now -- I hope you don't mind -- you'll have to take my word for it. I also realize -- yikes! -- that I still have yet to actually operationally defined what I mean by "intentional" when connected to "aging." 

(Thank you S.C.McC. and M.J for asking me to revisit the dream of intentional aging.)

1 comment:

Mary Ruhl said...

Wow, Jenny. thanks for this. I am going to write a new manifesto for myself with this as a starting point.

Mary r