Old age is generally a time for great life changes, stresses, and multiple losses for a maturing adult. An individual’s capacity to manage stress fluctuates with age. There are optimism and positive energy in youth, along with physical stamina to meet demands of life and cope up with conflict. With advancing age, and consequent physical illness, bereavement and fears, people suffer a deterioration of their mental stamina in negotiating challenges of life (Gonzalez et al., 1988, 15). With an increasing sense of loneliness and insecurity about life, aging adult face a completely different level of problems that relate more to continuity, meaning and purposefulness of life, rather than meeting its material accomplishments.
A major aspect of an individual’s life that is ignored through a greater phase of life is that of spiritual realm (Suggs, 1999, 78). Understanding this spiritual side and its transformational powers on the regular functional traits, thought processing, decision making and evolving a philosophy of life liberates mind from constraints, illuminating its path for a peaceful and meaningful journey in the later phase of the life.
Spiritual dimension and well being
Spirituality forms the core of life which is more extended than sum of all our physical reactions and daily experiences. People view it as life force, God, nature, or sense of existence. However through all the myriad interpretations, it emerges out as the way to realize and identify the meaning and significance of life, helping people to understand life choices, circumstances and complexity of death and regions beyond that by taking a holistic view of good, bad, and combining them in the fabric of life to provide answers of questions about personal significance of one’s own journey through life (Chee, Levkoff, Noguchi, 2001, 42).
Spirituality is a personal expression in the context of physical structure, social class, gender, and age. It represents all our essences, beliefs and aspects of our life that make us individual beings and continue to take different dimensions as we continue to age (Suggs, 1999, 79). The crucial dimensions of spirituality and aging, as identified by Blazer (1991) are
1. Self-determined wisdom -encompassing knowledge of the larger system where one lives.
2. Self-transcendence-crossing the boundary beyond the self.
3. Meaning- the meaning of aging in living to an age where physical and mental capacities are gradually lost. Individuals constitute the answer of this meaning in the framework of spiritual knowledge.
4. Acceptance- acceptance of the totality of life, life cycle and people significant to it.
5. Revival of spirituality- leads to the pleasure of aging in finding relaxation of defenses, emancipation from worries and freeing individual to new tasks of self identification and infusing life with hope that provides a better life for oneself and others.
6. Exit from existence- The realization that death is an integral part of life, and a natural consequence of living and therefore it must be accepted as such so that a person can be at peace in the world.
Aging, health and spirituality
Gerontology, the scientific study of aging through its biological, social and psychological settings, considers the illness and syndromes associated with the process of aging. However it is insufficient in itself to provide relief from fears of dependence, morbidity and death that occupy mind of people in later stages of life (Chee, Levkoff, Noguchi, 2001, 44). Spiritual healing helps people by resolving the fundamental conflict of mind-body duality and aligns the infinite dreams, wishes, ideas and hopes with the limited, vulnerable feeling bodily existence (Suggs, 1999, 80). It gives a sense of celebration of human body, emphasize embodiment of human spirit and elevates the mind to reflect on human relationship with soul and God.
Spiritual maturity is on going process of realization of personal roles in context of community and relational interdependence with between God and the self. It provides a moral and ethical strong hold in the old age, bringing stability when most of the world and even one’s own existence appears ephemeral. It helps understand that aging is not necessarily the end of world or even life. Old age, through the healing effect of spirituality transforms into a time of peace, comfort, growth and satisfaction (Chee, Levkoff, Noguchi, 2001, 44). By coordinating life with its ultimate meaning of action and performance, while opening visions to further territories beyond death, spirituality fills the life again with same positive energy where people, instead of being crippled with fear of the inevitable, look forward with hope and enthusiasm