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Spirituality and Aging: The Search for Meaning

The definition of “spirituality” depends on each individual’s perspective. Some define it by the faith they follow and their belief in God. Others see it as something that stirs deeply within their inner being. At its core, spirituality involves a search for answers to the big questions about life:  What is my purpose? How should I live? What is the meaning of life?

People wrestle with these questions all along life’s journey, but for many, spirituality takes on greater importance as they age. Some see aging as a time for deepening their religious faith. Others turn to meditation, volunteer work, or support groups in an effort to increase inner strength, find more richness in life, or seek comfort.

Several factors affect spirituality as people age. Retirement often challenges people to redefine themselves, their purpose and the meaning of life. The loss of friends and loved ones along the way, combined with more time to reflect, can create many soul-searching moments.

“The courage to face loss is key for each person in their journey through life,” says Rabbi Michael Cohen, the director of rabbinical services and programs for The Legacy Senior Communities. “I find the way courage plays out in each person’s life to often be inspiring, powerful and deeply informative as a way to move forward.”

The fear of loss, potential physical and the thought of decreased independence, too, can change the way people view themselves and the life they have lived.

“As people go along life’s journey, they seek awareness of how to answer the question of what it means. Am I satisfied? Have I lived a good life? Will I be judged a good person acceptable to God?” says Rabbi Cohen. He adds that faith doesn’t always have to be faith in a divinity, it can be faith in one’s self and how grounded we are.

“The Jewish high holy days, which begin in October, call us back from the distractions of the world and challenge us to be true to ourselves, to be practical to what our spirit is telling us.”

He points to the story of Rabbi Meshulam Zusya of Hanipol (1718-1800), a favorite lesson, as an excellent example of being true to one’s self.

When the rabbi was on his deathbed, he wept with anxiety over how God would judge him. His students tried to console him, and asked if he was crying because he was worried that the Holy One Blessed be He, would ask why was he not more like Moses. Surely, God would approve of the Rabbi. But Rabbi Zusya told them God would not ask, “Why weren’t you more like Moses or Abraham?” Instead, He would ask, “Why weren’t you more like Zusya?”

“I consider it part of my mission to encourage people to explore how they might give themselves permission to feel more grounded in themselves,” says Rabbi Cohen. “I want to come along side and offer openness, non-judgement and a non-anxious presence so they may have a sounding board to articulate things, sometimes things that they haven’t even articulated to themselves.”

Rabbi Cohen knows well that tapping into our spiritual reservoir generally requires some type of dialogue and a sense that one is not alone.

“We often get set in our ways as we get older, and then we may be afraid to consider new views or practices because we feel it’s too late. I encourage a person to reflect on what thoughts and perspectives may have provided the greatest strength to him or her during their life experiences, and when appropriate, invite them to consider new ways to look at and consider their faith and spirituality that may yield new strengths.”

Every religion offers rituals and study opportunities to help people get in touch with their spiritual core. Torah or Bible study, worship services, volunteer work and joining prayer and community groups at a religious congregation can all add richness and meaning to life and can help reaffirm a faith in both God and self.

Those who don’t follow a particular religion may find activities like yoga, nature walks, listening to music, creating arts and crafts, or sharing stories can make a positive difference.

 

The Legacy Senior Communities welcomes people of all faiths and spiritual backgrounds. We provide a supportive foundation to address all of their needs, both body and soul.

As a Jewish-sponsored, nonprofit, The Legacy Senior Communities was founded in 1953 to provide a home and support services for the aging Jewish community. Our organization embraces Jewish values and supports Jewish culture and traditions. Judaism is not only a faith, but a way of life and a unique identity. The Legacy Senior Communities exists to provide a continuum of care to seniors and their families that includes opportunities for residents to practice their faith and continue the heritage of the Jewish religion.

“The questions that we ask ourselves as we age tend to be true across all faiths and all people,” says Rabbi Cohen. “Ultimately, no matter what we believe in, we all share ultimate concern about the deep mysteries and meaning of life, and whether we have affirmed our experiences of life, itself.”

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