I looked at myself in the mirror while I brushed my hair, the silver strands everywhere in my long and once black hair. A sweet feeling of seniority filled me. I was born in late 1953 and I feel like I’m starting the path of the Great Return : now, my body does not ask for the blessed search of the external world, but instead the wise walk of the unknown universe that has followed me since I breathed for the first time on Earth. The internal world I claimed for myself. I am entering virgin paths to meet the Great Grandmother, the final Elder that patiently waits to meet me. I feel the tender wind telling me that my Time is getting closer. I want to become one, one with myself, with my inner being. The illusion of separability strongly starts its own destruction; certainly, the Divine Source had been working hard so that each part of myself could meet its complementary side and, then, Unity could be established. I looked at my image in the mirror of life, and I remembered all the Elders that preceded me : my grandmothers, my mother, my grandfathers, my father... a moment of sacred memories where time is shown by opening a beautiful book, the one that nobody can read for me : my individual book, totally personal to me.
I hear in the distance a voice calling me, it is soft and strong at the same time. I stand up to continue working on one of the innumerable journeys on which I focus. I quickly walk on roads flanked by lemongrass and other herbs, feeling the soft smell of eucalyptus, the hallmark of the Terra Mirim Foundation (terramirim.org). I start work with the central topic, death. The hours are mixed up and space and time get confused with Eternity. Each participant in the work dives slowly and deeply within Him/Herself until the small self can no longer exist. Wisdom permeates our steps and, intuitive answers are offered to us. A sweet offertory of bread and wine, food from the Gods. We are guided to look for our internal elder and to be conducted by him/herself. Days and nights are just signs of the cycles that are over. Little by little we rescue fragments of our colourful mandala of existence. For some people the journey is light but for others it is hard and explosive. Personal choices design our return to the Original Way, the one from which no one will be able to escape.
We finished the work with beautiful sharing, but as with every ending, another sequence was only starting.
When I went back home, I felt that something in me was trying to speak. I sat by the door, closed my eyes and saw my internal elder get closer, with her simple, dotted and flowery dress – her hair was straight, and her eyes were as sweet as cotton flakes. She smiled and asked me to lay my head on her lap. A smooth basil fragrance emanated from her skin. Hot and abundant tears rolled down my face. “Relax, my dear”, she said, “here, on me, you can sleep and dream”. I soundly fell asleep and saw elders sitting in a circle talking to each other. I got closer and realised that they were waiting for me. I sat in the circle and felt that it was my place, the near future that was waiting for me. In each of those faces I noticed the sweet expectancy of those people to whom hurry did not make any sense; there was a tender smile of welcome and silence. In that place was my learning: quietness, devotion, deep peace. I stayed in the circle for an undetermined time, when I opened my eyes I was already feeling the coldness of the night.
The following day I started my search for the real meaning of ancestors - my mind wanted to deeply study old age. I needed to be closer to those people that are very little listened to in our culture. After all, that was the field that I was walking into, taking advantage of everything the Lady of Transformation allowed me to do before I left this planet.
Beforehand, I already had the knowledge that for the shamans, old age meant Wisdom, these are the so-called ancestors. In this philosophy of life, when people are getting closer to the final time, they are acknowledged by the tribe they belong to as counsellors, guardians of knowledge, storytellers and so on, donors of memories. They are truly the living sacred book where, in each part of their bodies, the Knowledge that shall be transmitted to the youngest ones is engraved. There are countless stories that make us seriously think about the beauty and depth of the meaning of life - and, why not – of death.
In our culture we are tied to a standard of behaviour where old age, or the age of freedom as I call it – from 60 years on – is a synonym for diseases, weaknesses and uselessness. According to Shalomi and Miller, in the book “From Age-ing to Sage-ing”, because of negative images and expectations that are shared by our culture, people enter the country named “old age” feeling scared, where their bodies do not work as before and they feel defeated by life – they believe they are condemned to live with even less self-esteem and respect. As citizens of this oppressed country, they just wait to see their strength, their joy for life and joy of living be reduced, as well as their social usefulness.
A beautiful discovery for a big reflection: do we, at any time, stop to think about the country named “old age” that is waiting for us? Wouldn’t this be the moment, independent of our age, that we try to make contact with our internal elder? It is interesting because we look for our inner child, our adolescent, our woman/man, but we put aside a part of us that longs to be remembered - our Elder.
Our culture imposes productivity, consumerism and we, slaves of our own upbringing, adopt this culture with an unforgivable level of ignorance. The elder does not produce or consume, so, why worry about him/her? Why including him or her in our beautiful country that is full of consumption and anxiety?
I remember that one of my clients in her seventies told me that she was waking up to the difference between old age and being elderly. “Old aged people are bored, grouchy”, she told me – “elderly people are wise, they have learned that patience means the certainty of the encounter” - with him/herself and with what will come. “I still have Shamanic dreams and I intend to fulfil them”.
It used to make me reflect and while I was researching, many times I saw the definition of that lady ratified by scholars: "Ageing itself is not the problem. The reason for our problems is the image we have of ageing, our cultural expectations. To have a more positive old age, we need to change our paradigms of ageing - the model or vision that determines the quality of our experience”, says one of the scholars on this topic. Yes, it is true and we know that to uncreate something it is necessary to undertake a review of values and, consequently, to unfold a new creation. How to do it? There are innumerable techniques that, currently, are being used by professionals who study this matter. One I consider to be crucial is “ageing spiritually” - where through a process of self-knowledge focused on continually reviewing our self defining values and paradigms, we are able to sieve through our life stories to find and repair the broken links there. This can be achieved through different meditative techniques either learned from Shamanism, Buddhists, Zen Buddhists teachings or others.
These techniques help each individual to discover their named Essential Task, i.e., that one which is dictated by our spiritual aspect. To better understand this question, let us make an analogy between the cycles of seasons – of nature and of our own existential cycle.
Spring, representative of the first period, i.e., the one that encompasses the first three multiples of seven years in our lives (from birth to 21) are the moment when nature shows its beauty and freshness and, like her, we also blossom through our youth with dreams that are nourished by family and cultural patterns. We are ready to face the world!
The sun starts shining strongly, the soil demands care. Summer is getting closer. This is the phase between 21 and 42 years old. Now, we face the world with the tools we have. The need of Having makes you stronger and work is the most emerging objective. We need to do something, whatever it is so that we can exist and obtain what we need. Material treasure-hunting starts and, parallel to that, manifests an adult being built together with the need to get rid of intellectual and emotional rubble that had been acquired by the established patterns. Like Summer, where the soil cleanses through Grandfather Fire its illnesses, we try to cleanse everything that does not fit us anymore.
The third phase starts showing up; Fall is coming closer and with it, a deep time of meditation, blossoming and re-framing is required. We are in the period between 42 and 63 years old. Our task of establishing our social identity and a place in the world is basically finished. We notice that our children are leaving home, retirement is just around the corner, and we start to feel lonely and, almost as an obligation, we are led to find new values and, consequently, new landscapes. The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung calls this period “individuation”, which means to take and express your own singular self. This period in our lives necessarily implies experiencing our soul and spirit, because the impulse that makes us look for personal power in the previous phase is substituted by a broader and deeper vision of humanity.
And finally, Winter comes. The time of harvesting is revealed through the seeds that we planted. We are in the phase that goes from 64 years old until the end of our lives. Everything we have done on our journey so far will now have a flavour that matches our personal taste. This is the moment of the internal life, of the development of the contemplative ability, the moment in which we can allow that our spiritual dimension is expressed and dictated our Essential Task. At this moment, we truly start to become our BEING, the essence that is many times hidden and that lives in each one of us. It is at this moment that we gather everything we have learned and we put ourselves truly in service of humankind. Without doubts or questioning, we become only one ... me, nature, the other, God (Goddess)!
This is the view of the Shamanic Tradition (how I live), where even the passage from one season to another is marked by rituals that are full of meanings and that are rich in learning. In the same way, these cycles can be expressed in the lives of each human being, independent of the age the person is; for example, a person who is 20 can be living an Autumn period, another one who is 40 the Summer season and so on. Also, as existence is not expressed by a linear sequence, we can experience all the cycles in a single day of our lives. The important thing is that we have a broader and more macrocosmic view, without disregarding the more specific or microcosmic view.
Unfortunately, our culture does not properly value the teachings of these ancient Traditions. On the contrary, the Society we created make us do exactly what the other side of teaching tells us to do, i.e., they make us keep a “productive” model, exhausting the possibility of the encounter with our most intimate being. “Youth” becomes the ideal thing and the most significant target is raving consumption. Power, richness and status become our god, until the moment that one day we fall, exhausted, in the face of our own fragility. This is when we are in front of the mirror, we stare at our image and, in solitude, we ask ourselves : ”what is left from my life?”
At this stage we need to search deep in our hearts to review the paths we have journeyed, so that we can arrive at our Winter listening to our “internal elder”, who is lovingly whispering to us about how life starts again and again in every moment.
"Yes, it is true”, - says the Elder Lady who lives in me - lI have the age of Eternity and I feel young and alive and have the lucidity to share my learning... How can then” – she continues telling me - “the human beings who are 60 or older, consider themselves old, decrepit and useless? Ah, these Young people do not really know how to enjoy the Prophecy that is waiting for them, and the sweet Tasks that they still need to accomplish...”
To calm down your mind, these are my suggestions for reading:
Notes from the author: XamAM Alba Maria, or simply XamAM, wrote this text when she was 43; now (in 2018) she is 65, feels free and acknowledges that she had lived the biggest and most significant moments of her life from 50 years old on.