SPIRITUALITY ISSUES AT THIRD AGE1 Leda Lísia Franciosi Portal2 Valéria Moura Venturella3 OLD AGE OR THIRD AGE

? The Egyptian philosopher and poet Ptá-hotep wrote about aging 4,500 years ago:
The last days of an old man are so difficult and painful! He gets weaker every day, his eyes can hardly see, his ears get deaf, his strength faints, his heart knows no peace, his mouth shuts and says no word. The power of mind weakens and today he cannot remember what happened yesterday. All his bones hurt. Things that so far were done with pleasure are now painful, and his appetite vanishes. Old age is the worst misfortune that can distress a man (Viorst, apud Mello; Abreu, 2001, p 1).

The passage reveals the author’s deep frustration with the limitations imposed to human beings by the process of aging: the decrease of visual, aural and verbal capacities, the gradual loss of memory and appetite, the growing weakness of bones and muscles. These limitations, among others, such as the decrease of sexual desire, are common in advanced age. Old people become little by little aware of the deterioration of their own health: constant visits to physicians, greater amounts of medicine, and the real possibility of illness caused by weakness or by old age. The increasing physical limitations, imposed by the advancement of age, provoke in the person who ages the loss of a significant part of the physical attributes considered attractive in our society, what can deeply affect the old person’s self-esteem (Gianiselle, 2001). Old people become more and more dependent on young people to do tasks that they did all their lives. This situation can cause feelings of insecurity, of dependence and of uselessness and devaluation, which can easily lead to melancholy and even self-destructive thoughts, aggravated by the fencing of their personal freedom and autonomy. Along with the physical limitations, the old person faces the losses caused by retirement: distance from work, routine and good part of social contacts. Besides that, as time goes by, the aging person starts viewing the world from a different angle. It is common for old people to evaluate their lives and reckon achievements and frustrations, losses and gains, good and bad choices made along the way. The death of close people forces them to
1 Article published in 14th. International Seminar: Later Life Learning: International Themes and Perspectives, 2004, Coventry. Talis 2004 Third Age Learning International Studies. Saskatoon, SK, Canadá: Talis Network, 2003. v. 1. p. 31-36. 2 Doctor on Education from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul; adjunct professor at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul. 3 Master on Education from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul; professor at the Pedagogy Course at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul – Uruguaiana.

become aware of the proximity of their own death, which cannot be put aside as easily as it was commonly done during their youth (Mello; Abreu, 2001). Kleos César (1999), author of the inspiring book entitled I was young, now I´m old… so what? points out that these events are peculiar to advanced age and, although they can be attenuated by the advancements of medical science, cannot be stopped. The aging person must see them as natural so that they can live with satisfaction. In her article Representations about old age: being old and being a third-ager, Dias (1998) affirms that this phase of life can be perceived in two radically different ways, which she named being old and being a third-ager. Being old is being “in the end of life, waiting for death” (p. 60), regardless how old the person is. According to the author, the phrase states a position that brings along the ideas of stagnation, inflexibility, uselessness, isolation and dependence. One of the most evident signs of this posture, the author adds, is rigid clinging to values of the past and difficulty to deal with changes, both personal and in the world around. Such situation generally fosters nostalgia and yearning (César, 1999), along with difficulty to find joy in the present. The lack of objectives is common in this phase of life, which can trigger demotivation and inertia. On its turn, being a third-ager is an attitude, a posture towards life which recognizes new opportunities, both of self-fulfillment and of sociability. The old person that considers this new era of life not as the end, but as a new beginning or as a continuity with possibilities, far from just accepting limitations, faces them as a motivating challenge.
By experiencing the decline and the deficiencies of aging, the person can face the facts as a challenge. The limitations, trials and sorrows act as stimulus and incentive to awake the inner strength and creative power that will help the person to discover and develop new human dimensions and to transform defeat in victory (Deecken, 1973, p. 32).

For the person who considers to be a third-ager, this is a phase of transformations, of search for new alternatives, of dedication to new ideals and projects. Moreover, it is a moment to find answers to many of the personal interrogations made throughout life. It is also the opportunity to profit from accumulated experience, patience and calmness, factors that enable the person to lead a better life (Dias, 1998). Above all, the author adds, third-agers see the opportunity to continue experiencing personal identity, that is, the feeling of existing as a person, with social roles and functions. They see the chance to find new meaning for life and to discover, in their own personal way, the joys of coming of age (Deecken, 1973). It is possible to conclude that, although the limitations and problems caused by the natural aging of human beings are inevitable, it is possible for old people to feel happy in a

global way and to have a life with quality. Far from bringing only natural losses, old age offers many rewards – the experience of a long life and the gift of wisdom, which is the greatest heritage that a person can leave to future generations (Mello; Abreu, 2001). The old person does not necessarily need to be afraid of coming of age. It is possible to accept aging, assume it with grace and appreciate it as a process that will result in a new phase of life (César, 1999).

THIRD AGE: A LIFE WITH QUALITY AND SPIRITUALITY Once we believe that a life with quality in advanced age depends primarily on the attitude that each individual adopts towards life, we must attempt to understand what factors can lead the old person to have a positive perception – and, consequently, a positive attitude – towars existence. According to Marques (1996), the phrase “quality of life” can be defined – beyond measurable indicators – as the perception that individuals have of their real conditions in life. That means that people will have high quality of life if they are satisfied with the way they live and if they attribute high value to their lives. The author states that “people that are fully developing their human condition will certainly perceive their lives as having quality” (p. 57) and adds that the development of the spiritual dimention, once it enables people to place themselves in a global perspective, determines the way they evaluate their life conditions. Thus, it is possible to directly relate the development of spirituality with a life with quality. Alfons Deecken (1973), in his book Knowing how to age, states that the the perception of meaning is crucial in anyone’s attitude towards life, and in the way people lead themselves along their history. The author states that one of humanity’s worst problems is the incapacity to perceive the meaning of life, which can lead to frustration, to dispair and to what he calls “existential vaccuum”: inner emptiness and loneliness that can be the cause of many neuroses and other problems present in our society, such as delinquency, drug abbuse and suicide. The search for meaning in life must be the primary concern for each person, for, as stated by Nietzsche, quoted by Deecken (1973, p. 57), “the one who knows the why in life can endure the how”. In advanced age, this search becomes even more important, once the perception of meaning allows for a new significance in living this phase, in spite of its limitations. It is common for aging people to deeply question the meaning of their lives and their importance in the world. Failing to find meaning and importance cause negative feelings towards themselves and the world, and – many times – the impulse of giving up on

everything. What these people feel – although they are unable to express it – is that their lives are meaningless. As they feel demotivated and empty, many old people look for psychologists, psychiatrists, gerontologists and social assistants for help. Although these professionals and their sciences are extremely valuable for the global well-being and for the leading of a life with quality in advanced age, we know that science alone cannot offer us complete understanding of reality, especially of the reality of the human spirit, once science is only capable of describing the world in a limited and inaccurate way (Morin, 2001) . It is no longer possible to use only reason and rationality to understand both the reality of the world and the inner reality of each one of us. We realize that there are other types of knowledge – such as intuition and sensitivity – that we have been neglecting. As we open ourselves to them, allowing our emotions to emerge, we will be allowing the development of our spirituality (Portal, 2002). The word spirit derives from the latin term “spiritus”, which means breath of life, soul, the element that animates and energizes living beings, differenciating us from the non-living. From the definition of spirit, we can understand spirituality as the deep wisdom about the soul, the spirits and the energy of each living creature. Spirituality is a way of being, a mode of experimenting conscience in a transcendental dimention (Marques, 1996). The human spiritual dimention permeates the others: physical, emotional, mental and social. When it is developed, the spiritual dimention provides for harmony and equilibrium in the different areas of life, as it stimulates an elevated consciousness of integrity. Spirituality is a broad perspective, a total vision of live and the world, which allows deep comprehention of the real meaning of everything (Deecken, 1973). In third age, the integration between body, mind and spirit is even more important than in earlier times of life (Marques, 2002). As we age, we become less materialistic, and the worldly pleasures that used to bring joy in youth, even when possible for aging people, no longer give the same sort of satisfaction. In this age, people find the opportunity to discover and develop deeper levels of their “self” (Deecken, 1973), and questions of integrity and spirituality receive more attention and become stronger. Moggi and Burkhard (2000), in their studies on human development, state that around the age of 60, after going through the moral phase, dominated by cognitive energy, people feel free to release feelings and creativity and to enter the mystical phase. In this phase, people tend to search for a new mission in life, generally connectd with well-being and “welldoing”. According to American psychotherapist Cristina Grof (apud Marques, 1996), spirituality is an intrinsic feature of human psyque, and it emerges spontaneously as the

processes of self-knowledge and self-exploration achieve the adequate profoundness. It is, then, a personal and intimate search, which involves deep knowledge of oneself.
If you want to know yourself Look at the world. If you want to know the world Look at your own interior (Rudolf Steiner)

As it involves existential questions, the development of spirituality has deep implications in human well-being, and can be considered as a holistic view of health. Several studies show that people who see life in a spiritual perspective tend to cultivate good habits and good relationships with others. Thus, it is possible to determine a connection between spiritual and existential well-being and low levels of feelings of loneliness (Marques, 2001). The development of spirituality also enables us to attribute meaning to our good and bad experiences, including illness and suffering, what becomes especially important in the old age. Spirituality can also play an important role in the soothing of feelings of depression in face of mourning, a recurring experience in advanced age. Spiritualized old people do not even fear death, because they strongly believe that they are part of a higher universal project, which they do not control but understand in all its complexity. Above all, the development of spirituality attributes meaning to the way each one is connected to what is around. Morin (2001) affirms that the cosmic order is integrated in the interior of each living being. While a person who is little developed spiritually is generally unconscious of the presence of this cosmic order, the spiritualized ones hold a profound feeling of belonging to the universe, and believe that there is a greater cosmic process, of which they are part, in spite of not totally understanding it. It is precisely this sense of belonging to the universe, and the deep respect and reverence for everything that exists – whether or not observable – that gives spiritualized people the sensation of completeness, of purpose and of meaning in life, the sense of being in the world with a task and a mission. Spirituality is a feeling of connection to a superior order that offers people the consciousness of never being alone (Deecken, 1973). The cultivation of spirituality is, thus, a powerful tool in experiencing third age with plenty of meaning and quality. Spirituality is an attitude of faith towards universe,
an everlasting energy source which favors this connection of the person with his or her own self and with the others, engraving transcendental sense and ultimate purpose and meaning on all actions, elevating human consciousness to a realm of clearness, lucidity and disposition (Marques, 2002, p. 460).

AGING AS A PROCESS “One of the happiest and most encouraging experiences of many third-agers is the growing consciousness of the triumph of the spirit, even when physical strength abandons them”, says Deecken (1973, p. 32). In this passage, the author expresses the satisfaction felt by spiritualized old people with their set of values and beliefs and with their attitude towards existence, even when their lifestyle has already been altered due to the passing of time. Although we commonly assert that it is always a good time for people to start the journey towards self-knowledge which will lead to the development of spirituality, we must wonder if it is really necessary – or recommendable – to wait for the coming of age to allow for spirituality to emerge. We know that aging is a process, a construction that takes place throughout life, and that old people’s attitude towards existence is a consequence of the way they hold themselves along their history (Dias, 1998). Along adult life, people normally dedicate most of their energy to working and to producing wealth. Thus, due to lack of time or care, spirituality is not sufficiently nurtured, which can cause negative consequences in people’s lives and in the society as a whole.
The demands of the present world, the challenges of survival, competition, unemployment, illiteracy, the dismantling of family, the absence of principles for good living, materialism and the social and economical objectivity in which we are drowned lead us to the construction of a society that is spiritually stupid and atrophyated (Portal, 2002, p. 19).

Spirituality, as it contains elements that are common to all religions – love, ethics, respect for life and for others, integration, search for meaning, free will – is the foundation of an integral and valuable life. If spirituality is not developed, matured and experienced during youth and adulthood, questions about life will sooner or later strike us in a very negative way (Deecken, 1973). So we can see that investing in the discovery of our mission is one of the most important objectives of our existence, it is a responsibility of each one of us, a responsibility which can bring us the deepest feeling of satisfaction with ourselves, with the world and with life. “Nothing fosters greater capability for overcoming and resisting problems and difficulties than the consciousness of having a mission to perform in life” (Dyer, 1994, p. 29).

REFERENCES CÉSAR, Kléos Magalhães Lenz. Fui moço, agora sou velho... e daí?. Viçosa: Ultimato, 1999. DEECKEN, Alfons. Saber envelhecer. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1973.

DIAS, Ana Cristina Garcia. Representações sobre a velhice: o ser velho e o estar na terceira idade. In: CASTRO, Odair Perugini de (org.) Velhice, que idade é essa?: uma construção psicossocial do envelhecimento. Porto Alegre: Síntese, 1998. DYER, Wayne. A verdadeira magia: criando milagres na vida diária. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1994. GIANISELLE, Francisca Garcia. A vivência de uma terapeuta idosa junto a um grupo da mesma idade. In: Boletim Clínico, n. 10 – may/2001 [on line] Available: http://www.pucsp.br/clinica/boletim10.htm. MARQUES, L. F. Qualidade de vida: uma aproximação conceitual. In: 4Psico, Porto Alegre, v. 27, n. 2, p 49-62, jul/deC. 1996. MARQUES, L.F. A saúde e a espiritualidade: uma integração necessária na terceira idade. In: TERRA, Newton Luiz (org.) Envelhecimento bem-sucedido. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, 2002. MELLO, Anamaria Schrepel de B.; ABREU, Beatriz Castro de. A possibilidade de elaboração psíquica das perdas na psicoterapia de grupos para idosos. In: Boletim Clínico. n. 11, may/2001 [on line] Available: http://www.pucsp.br/clinica/boletim11.htm MOGGI, Jair; BURKHARD, Daniel. O espírito transformador. a essência das mudanças organizacionais do século XXI. São Paulo: Infinito, 2000. MORIN, Edgar. Introdução ao pensamento complexo. 3. ed. Lisboa: Instituto Piaget, 2001. PORTAL, L. L. F. et al. Espiritualidade: um potencial a ser desenvolvido. In: TERRA, Newton Luiz (org.). Envelhecimento bem-sucedido. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, 2002. ZOHAR, Dana; MARSHAL, Ian. Inteligência Espiritual: QS. O “Q” que faz a diferença. Rio de Janeiro, Editora Record, 2000.

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