Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy

Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy

by Thomas Moore


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Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore is the renowned author of Care of the Soul, the classic #1 New York Times bestseller. In Ageless Soul, Moore reveals a fresh, optimistic, and rewarding path toward aging, one that need not be feared, but rather embraced and cherished. In Moore’s view, aging is the process by which one becomes a more distinctive, complex, fulfilled, loving, and connected person.
Using examples from his practice as a psychotherapist and teacher who lectures widely on the soul of medicine and spirituality, Moore argues for a new vision of aging: as a dramatic series of initiations, rather than a diminishing experience, one that each of us has the tools—experience, maturity, fulfillment—to live out. Subjects include:
*Why melancholy is a natural part of aging, and how to accept it, rather than confuse it with depression
*The vital role of the elder and mentor in the lives of younger people
*The many paths of spiritual growth and learning that open later in life
*Sex and sensuality
*Building new communities and leaving a legacy
Ageless Soul will teach readers how to embrace the richness of experience and how to take life on, accept invitations to new vitality, and feel fulfilled as they get older.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250135810
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/10/2017
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 48,758
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

THOMAS MOORE is the New York Times bestselling author of Care of the Soul, as well as many other books on deepening soul and cultivating a mature spiritual life, three of which have received the Books for a Better Life Award. At turns he has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist. Today he lectures widely on creating a more soulful world and on spirituality. He lives in New Hampshire.

Read an Excerpt


The First Taste of Aging

In adolescence, individuals start to perceive their age more in social and psychological terms and, indeed, frequently report feeling significantly older than their chronological age. This process continues in early and middle adulthood, yet the subjective experience of age now starts to take the opposite direction and individuals report feeling younger than their chronological age.

The first taste of getting old can be unsettling. You have been cruising along without giving much thought to age. But then you notice an unfamiliar stiffness and soreness after exercise. You can't stand up from a crouch as you used to. You see some wrinkles and a new crease. People treat you differently, offering to help you and asking about your health, saying how wonderful you look in a way that says: "You look good — for your age!"

Each decade feels different. When I turned thirty, I didn't know I was young. I never thought about age. When I became forty, I felt a jolt for the first time and became aware that I was older than some of my friends. A faint scent of aging. When I turned fifty, I could no longer deny that I was getting older. I began receiving mail for the senior citizen at my address. But I was in good shape and didn't notice many physical indications. Sixty was not an easy birthday. I was in Ireland, and a neighbor was celebrating his fortieth at the same time. I felt ancient in comparison and began to wish that I had been born twenty years later. Your comfort with age is delicate and easily upended.

When I consider aging, I think of my friend James Hillman, who was one of the most remarkable people I've ever met. He began his life as a writer and then became a psychoanalyst, basing his work largely on the psychoanalytic pioneer C. G. Jung — for years he was the head of the training program at the Jung Institute in Zürich.

But James went his own way in a community that honored every word Jung wrote, making revisions to Jung where he thought fit. He was an original thinker, always turning old and familiar ideas upside down, and he was passionate about bringing soul to every aspect of life. He didn't want to define therapy as just having to do with an individual's deep process. In his later years he was especially interested in the soul of the world, and he wrote eloquently about transportation, politics, city planning, racism, architecture, and gender issues.

When James turned sixty, he threw a big party to celebrate the big turn in his life. He told me privately that at sixty he wanted to enter old age consciously, and not let the years slip past. On a small outdoor stage in the round at his house in rural Connecticut he put on a talent show accompanied by a smoky outdoor roast, and several of his friends performed. He himself did a lively tap dance.

But after the party, to all appearances, he didn't change much. He kept his vigor and was active and productive. I felt that the hoopla he created was premature in some ways, and yet for him sixty was an important marker. Maybe the party was an unconscious way of keeping old age at bay.

In my mid-sixties something happened that forced me to think seriously about aging. I was on a book tour in San Francisco, walking up and down the steep hills, when I felt an unusual pain in my back. I went on to Seattle and again felt the pain and became dizzy even on a flat street. I stood at a corner amid heavy car and pedestrian traffic and held on to a post for a few minutes, my head spinning. I thought it might be pneumonia, which I had contracted on two previous tours. When I got home, my doctor suspected a heart problem and scheduled a stress test.

It turned out that I had considerable blockage in one of the main arteries. Having them cleared out with tiny boring tools and receiving two stents wasn't painful, but I found it difficult to recover emotionally. As soon as I got home from the hospital and lay back on a comfortable reclining chair, I felt Saturn place his buttocks on my chest. I went into a mild depression. My wife says that I became a different person, softened and more relaxed. I certainly felt older.

Even now, ten years later, it seems that those days of recovery were a turning point in which I really began to feel my age. The slope tipped in a downward direction. But the depression didn't last long. Besides, I felt so good after the treatment that I also gained back some youth. In the years since then I have had an active and productive life, both in my career and with my family.

I took up golf as a way to get more exercise, and I found the game relaxing and fun. This game that many find silly or only for the upper crust helped me relax, get more play in my life, and develop new friendships in a light and happy context. While playing at down-home local courses, I met a variety of people from all backgrounds and enjoyed many deep and moving conversations. The game also put me in a meditative state, and sometimes I'd come off the course with a story in my mind. I collected and published eighteen of these stories, each making a certain subtle point about human nature.

As we'll see, sensing your old age and your youth at the same time is a signal that you're aging well. After my surgery I felt both older and younger and enjoyed the benefits of each. In part, my new peace of heart came from entering the new flow of aging, in contrast to any attempt to stay inappropriately young. Any traces of the ambitious hero seemed to fall away.

Now seventy-six, I notice when someone in her early fifties or even forties complains about growing old. I'd love to be fifty-five again, when my daughter was four. I liked telling her, when she asked my age, that I was "two nickels," or five-five. I felt good and was able to do anything physically. I had no worries about my heart or other things that might be falling apart. But I understand that an awareness of aging comes in steps and phases. You get glimpses, and those hints accumulate into a loss of youth. Professional psychology calls it "subjective aging." I think of it as the aging of the soul.

Fleeting Youth

We say that youth is fleeting. By that we usually mean that our youth goes by fast and it's gone before we know it. But in mythology, stories full of insights into what is eternal and essential in human life, young people are fragile and often live short lives. It isn't just that the years go by fast; there is something about youth that is brief and vulnerable. The well-known phrase "eternal youth" means that when we are young, we may feel that youth will last forever. So then, as we notice signs of growing older, the shock is strong. The shiny glass sphere of eternal youth develops a crack.

In Greek mythology young people often come to a quick end, and that myth stirs whenever we hear about a young person whose life has been cut short. Icarus is well-known for putting on wings crafted by Daedalus to fly up high into the sky, only to have those wings melted by the hot sun. He falls, plummeting into the sea. Phaethon was a young man whose ambition was to drive the chariot of his father that made the sun rise each morning. He tried but came down in a fiery crash. We idolize movie actors who die young, after being "stars," and some of us mourn young people close to us who lived short lives.

Lessons in the ageless soul are sometimes bitter. My daughter lost a friend not long ago, a gifted, bright young man in her Sikh community. He fell off a mountain cliff while on a simple hour-long hike. It has been two years since the accident, and the community is still in shock. A promising young man losing his life throws his community into deep and painful wonder about the nature of things.

We have to find our way toward appreciating the ageless soul, the meaning of a life that wasn't allowed to reach full maturity, to say nothing about old age. We are forced to consider that the life of the soul may be complete and full without the usual span of time that includes getting old. Aging, in the sense of becoming a whole person, is not the same as growing old.

We can learn several lessons from the mythological stories about young men. One is to keep our ambitions even and moderate. Peaking too high can cause a painful crash. This could mean, psychologically, that youth and old age should be joined together as long as possible, the mature element in us keeping the valuable immature part from reaching too high and the spirited youth keeping us ever on the adventure, not giving up because we're getting old.

When I was a music student in my early twenties I had a professor who was something of an Icarus. Donald Martin Jenni had been a musical prodigy and was also remarkably gifted in languages. When I met him, he was working on a degree in world literature by reading all the assigned texts in their original languages. I remember the time when he was reading War and Peace in Russian. One story is told of how he stepped in at the last minute to be the translator for a Vietnamese speaker who was visiting the college. He was also a musical genius with an ear beyond normal human limits. I sometimes wonder if the reason I didn't pursue my career in music — I was a composition major — was that I was discouraged by having such a genius for a teacher. I knew I could never equal him.

Don embodied one of those soaring boys of myth. His gifts and talents were remarkable. But for the most part he didn't show signs, not to me at least, of reaching too high. For all his abilities, he also had the discipline to study hard and balance his genius with hard work. In style he was somewhat aloof and some would say arrogant, but I found him remarkably even and humble. I was his friend for six years, but I couldn't keep up with him. I was a mere mortal and he was born on Mount Olympus.

From reports I heard, in later life Don kept his even profile, though he continued to astonish with his talents. His students loved him as a professor, and he made significant contributions to education and to his art. I mention him as an outstanding example of someone who was filled from birth with the spirit of youth yet able to suffuse that creative spirit with qualities of the mature man. You can do the same.

You do it not by surrendering your adventurous spirit in the name of maturity, but by taking your vision seriously and doing the hard work required to keep it alive and effective. Don's soaring imagination inspired him to study hard, do research, and prepare for challenging concerts.

You may not be a genius and yet still enjoy a strong youthful spirit. You need to enrich that youthful spirit, as early as you can, with a corresponding seriousness and willingness to engage the world, be close to people, and do the hard, sometimes routine, and uninteresting work. When the first taste of aging appears, you can worry about it, if you want, but welcome it as well. Understand that it has much to give you and can be a way of providing the other half of life, the one you've neglected by indulging in your youth.

At that first taste of old age, you may realize for the first time, in your own body and soul, that the youth you've taken for granted is fleeting. You didn't know this when youth reigned, but now you'll never forget it. That first taste is a turning point with no going back. Now you will probably appreciate your youth more than ever, but don't give up. You can keep your youth forever.

I was at a neighborhood party, standing in line for a potluck dinner, deep in thought about this theme, when the man in front of me introduced himself. I noticed that he had gray hair at his temples, and his wife looked younger than he did. I told him that I was writing a book on aging. Immediately he frowned and said, "I'm forty-five and just recently came to the realization that I'm getting old. I decided that I have to do some things right now so that when I get old I'll be in good shape. I have to eat right and exercise and enjoy my youth while I have it."

The line at the food table stopped as this unsettled man described his problem with aging. It wasn't the best occasion to mention that he might be fighting age too vigorously. Clearly he was upset at the perceived loss of his youth and was anxiously doing his best to combat it.

Often we try to head off age by doing what society tells us will keep us young. But it might be better to welcome age and honor youth at the same time. My dinner mate was trying to be clever and block the aging process. He spoke in favor of youth but wanted to frustrate aging. I kept hoping to hear him say something good about getting older. Had he forgotten that youth has its downside as well?

At the same party, I had a long talk with my old friend Gary. He and I see life much in the same way and often compare notes and laugh at the human condition. He's interested in what we're going to do as a society when the system of work and money we have collapses because we have not taken care of the planet or the majority of people on it. "Yes," I said. "I'm writing about aging as a personal matter, but it's the same issue with society. We're not preparing for our old age, and we're not aging well in my sense of the term. We're not growing up properly and dealing with our problems intelligently. We're just assuming that the future will automatically turn out all right."

"Denial," Gary said.

"Heads in the sand."


Gary said he had to get home, and as he reached for his coat he gave me some good book titles on the cultural issue of dealing with a decaying system. I decided to stay focused on the individual's problems with aging, hoping that some movement forward there might help society.

The Stages of Aging

Growing old catches up with you gradually and in stages. The first taste is the beginning of a process that moves along in a series of plateaus. First, you notice a few gray hairs or you can't walk or run as far as usual. You get slightly worried, but the full force of aging probably doesn't fall flat on you. You start looking for other signs. In conversations you are sensitive to the theme of aging. You listen closely. You begin to wonder, maybe for the first time, about the age of your friends. You start counting the years between spouses. You can tell when aging becomes an issue for you when you start having thoughts like these that you can't shake off.

As we all know intuitively, and as many studies have shown, what constitutes old age changes from culture to culture and time to time. Today many are saying that sixty is the new fifty, and today many consider seventyfour to be the real beginning of old age, which some call old-old age. But, as I have been saying in different ways, determining age is much more complicated than that. Each person gets a special subjective feeling of aging as he or she approaches it. Even then, the feeling of being younger or older shifts from one period in one's life to another and from one circumstance to another.

During the time I spent writing this book, I led a discussion with a group of psychiatrists during which my host referred to me, with the intention of giving me some honor, I'm sure, as one of the elders in my field. I wasn't expecting the word elder. This was the first time anyone used it to refer to me, and I felt shock. It was my first taste of old-old age. I reacted by making an anxious-sounding humorous remark that only made matters worse.

I thought I had dealt quite well with getting older, and yet this uncomfortable moment, sparked by a single positive, uncontroversial word indicates that I have more work to do. I wonder if it will ever end: Will I always have a new experience of entering yet another stage of growing old? My friend Dr. Joel Elkes — I'll say more about him later — told me that he couldn't wait for his one hundredth birthday to pass so that he could get on with his life and not focus on age so much. When my father celebrated his one hundredth birthday, he seemed to really enjoy his party, but I could see that immediately afterward he was happy to go back to his ordinary life. Aging is a fact of life. You might want to honor it and reflect on it, but you don't need to be obsessed with it.

Phases in Aging

Although there are countless ways we could determine stages in the aging process, for my purposes I see the following five phases as basic:

1. Feeling immortal

2. First taste of aging

3. Settling into maturity

4. Shifting toward old age

5. Letting things take their course

For about a quarter of a century you don't think much about age and don't imagine the end. The first taste is something of a shock, as literal youth is left behind. The next phase is a gradual process that takes years, as you create structures for your life and become somebody else. Fourth, you slowly realize how many ways you are no longer young and have to adjust to many changes. Lastly, you can put on old age like a tailored coat. Then you identify yourself as an elder. The final phase is quasi-mystical: You forget about age, deal with as an elder. The final phase is quasi-mystical: You forget about age, deal with your physical problems matter-of-factly, and let yourself be free of judgment and other limitations. You may develop a more mystical approach to life and aging and worry less about what other people think.


Excerpted from "Ageless Soul"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Thomas Moore.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part 1 Rites of Passage

1 The First Taste of Aging 13

2 Old Bodies, Young Souls 31

3 The Passages of Life 49

Part 2 Becoming a Deeper Person as You Age

4 Melancholy: A Way to Happiness 67

5 Processing Life Experiences 83

6 The Maturing of Sexuality 99

Part 3 Imagine Aging Differently

7 Illness as an Initiation 119

8 Kindly Curmudgeons 135

9 Play, Work, Retire 149

Part 4 Open Your Heart to the Future

10 Being Fulfilled as an Elder 169

11 Legacy: The Future of Your Life Experiment 185

12 Transforming Loneliness 203

Part 5 The Spirituality of Aging

13 Friendship and Community 221

14 The Angel of Old Age 241

15 Living with Dying 261

Conclusion: Let Things Take Their Course 273

Index 287

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