Health, Spirituality, and Looking Forward
Searching for deeper truths . . .
With the discussion of health care reform so present in the press and news cycles, I thought it a good time to examine some of the implications of health and spirituality. It seems that the two, not surprisingly, may be related and may impact our longevity as well as our sense of meaning and purpose.
Some of you may be aware that this subject has gotten a lot more attention in the academic world in recent years, undoubtedly because many of those doing the research are themselves aging, and (pardon the cynicism) there are dollars to be had for research. In 2002, in the journal The Gerontologist, a series of scholars reviewed a famous study in successful aging that was done by the MacArthur Foundation.
The group urged that future studies include an aspect of what they called positive spirituality, which they defined as a person “developing an internalized personal relation with the sacred or transcendent that is not bound by race, ethnicity, or class and promotes the wellness and welfare of self and others.” It is interesting to note that this definition is personal. Positive spirituality, it seems, does not need an organized community. This is one of the great developments of the baby boom generation and how we view our aging and our sense of spirituality.
In the surveys that I used to help create the Reform movement’s program on Sacred Aging, we found a strong sense of positive spirituality. Indeed, there was a division between the boomer generation and those respondents who were in their 70s and above. For the latter, there was a closer connection between one’s religion and one’s spirituality. For many of the boomers, however, there was a division. Many boomers who remain members of synagogues had no trouble identifying the fact that were searching for some deeper spiritual truth and were comfortable looking outside of their own congregations to find it. I think this has manifest itself in normative church-synagogue communities in the development of smaller, more personal gatherings.
I know within the Jewish community in which I work and travel, this unease or search among many of the boomer generation is palpable and expressed more openly than ever. Part of this is, I am convinced, the need for serious and sacred relationships. Our world is intensely privatized and, in many ways, anti-communal. Almost every pop culture symbol that we have speaks of a private world. Ride any airplane or train or subway or bus and observe (across generational lines) how many people are in their own private world of sight and sound. How many of us work in cubicles? How many of us are addicted to the virtual community of cyberspace and feel naked without a Blackberry?
All of this, I think, makes the need for personal relationships more important and of even greater value as we age.
Published August 1, 2009