Rarely do we see images of an enlighted concept of aging. In fact, the two prevailing models of aging are firstly, one of disease, frailty, uselessness and dependence; and secondly, one of older people that act and look young--called 'successful aging'. Both are extremes and both are stereotypes.

Thomas Cole points out in The Journey of Life that the 'successful aging' model gives priority to physical health as the plan to salvation, but leaves out the spiritual dimension. He says that modern gerontology treats aging as a problem of social engineering to be solved through technological means. This one-sided drive to alter, reverse, or somehow control the biological process of aging actually impoverishes its meaning. So-called positive aspects of aging turn out to be disguised efforts to restore youth, rather than attempts to appreciate growing old as an important and fundamental part of human existence.

However I have discovered a new perspective on aging, a revolutionary paradigm, that has not only offered me a positive direction, but also opens up the aging experience to be a transformative one, of living a life of joy, meaning, service and love, In short to become more of who we are--our authentic selves, rather than society's expectations of who we should be.

In elderhood, we can derive our identity more from the level of being, rather than doing. As we become more contemplative, we can rely less on finding self-worth through our performance/status in the work world. Gradually we find another dimension opening up in which our identity comes not from what we do, but from who we are, from being rather than doing. In lives dedicated to inner growth and development, our physical appearance and even its functioning become less important.

Spiritual Eldering offers a new model of aging whose goals are to reclaim and transform our elder years from our socialized notions of aging as useless to valued, from empty and alientated; to involved, fulfilled and full of meaning. Spiritual eldering seeks to reverse society's ageist attitudes so that we may live our older years as vital, dynamic and useful, complete human beings.

According to Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi, elders are wisdom-keepers who have an ongoing responsibility for maintaining society's well-being and safeguarding the health of our ailing planet. They are pioneers in consciousness, people who practice contemplative arts from our spiritual traditions to open up greater intelligence for their late-life vocations. Using tools for inner growth, such as meditation, journal writing, and life review, elders come to terms with their mortality, harvest the wisdom of their years, transmit a legacy to future generations and prepare for death. Serving as mentors, they pass on the distilled essence of their life experience to others.

In Jewish tradition, our older years are particularly a time of quest for a life of meaning. This message is embodied in the concept of mitzvah. Through mitzvah, or religious obligation, the older Jew can achieve a profound sense of self-worth and social value. Abraham Joshua Heshel suggested that it is through being obligated that one truly exists. Older adults who believe that they are still obligated see themselves engaged in the central human task of tikkun olam; repairing and redeeming their world through observing the mitzvot. In turn this practice shows them that their actions matter, that they can transcend the narrow confines of their current lives, which may have been influenced by debilitating messages from the culture around them.

Thus, spiritual eldering affirms and nurtures the potential of elders, encouraging and teaching them to become more aware of the wisdom from their life experience and to use this wisdom for the benefit of themselves and others. There is a special purpose to this stage of our life cycle which is unique and different from the other stages.

And I, like Betty Friedan (in The Fountain of Age) began this quest with my own denial and fear of age. And for Friedan it ends with acceptance, affirmation and celebration. I'm not quite there yet, but I do look forward to every birthday with gratitude and pride, and yes, a lot more fun too.