Spiritual Practices for My Elder Years

May 2, 2023

When I turned 70, I made a collage to honor that milestone birthday, but also to envision how I hoped to live as I aged.

I quickly sifted through the stash of pictures I kept in a pretty flowered box; pictures torn out of magazines, outdated calendars, and greeting cards too appealing to toss. I sorted them into two piles–the “maybe” pile and the “nope, not today” pile. No judgment. Just a quick “yes” or “no.” Cutting and pasting, I arranged selected images on the paper.

Only later did I sit back and ask, “What are the messages for me in this collage? How can this collage be sacred text for me?”

An image of the labyrinth anchored the center of one side. A candle with wispy smoke and a feather suggested the tentativeness of life. Chairs gathered around a fire and an aged hand that held the model of a house with a red door, just like our house, reminded me of my love of home tending. A big basket seemed to contain memories, as did the leaves gathered into a harvest handful. Of course, there were books stacked along the bottom of the paper. My terra firm.

Almost every collage I have made over the years has included at least one open gate, door, window, or path. This one includes two gates, an open door, and a window, plus a green path, all beckoning me onward, forward, it seemed. I remember, however, feeling some inner hesitation. What was across the threshold? What awaited me down that snow-lined path?

A prickly plant in the corner of the page and a pile of rocks taunted, “Beware. Obstacles ahead.”

Youthful innocence and naïveté were no longer my companions.

An older woman, smiling, pleasant looking, gazed at the labyrinth. I heard her whispering the words I included on the collage:

Choose simplicity.
Keep growing.
Learn something new.
Make room for what matters.
Breathe deeply.

She is my observer, my witness, my companion. My guide.

Being 75

Now I am 75, and I must admit, that age feels a bit daunting,

Since creating my 70th birthday collage, I have experienced losses–the death of my father and a dear friend, for example. I have sent so many sympathy cards and frequently re-order copies of Healing After Loss by Martha W. Hickman to give when someone in my life loses a loved one. And then there were the COVID years. Enough said! My health remains good, however, as does my husband’s, and we both continue to pursue our interests and to serve in ways that matter to us. True, I may not pack as much into a day as I once did, but my days remain full and rich.

I am grateful for these past five years.

I know I need to tend my days wisely, not only not to waste them, but to unfold into the gifts of this time. I’m not done yet, for I am both living and aging, but I respond now more with patience and curiosity, then with urgency and a desire for productivity.

I embrace a posture of contemplation.

A New Spiritual Practice

Recently, while browsing through my library of books about aging, I re-read a section titled “Pebbles of Life” in Aging as a Spiritual Practice, A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser by Lewis Richmond. He shares a story about visiting the home of a fellow Zen priest who had a bowl full of pebbles next to a Buddha statue. Richmond’s friend said each pebble represented a week in the rest of his life, based on statistics about average life expectancy. Every Monday morning after his meditation he removes one of the pebbles. One week gone; who knows how many left to go.

“A mindfulness practice.”

The average life expectancy for a woman in the United States is 80. I am 75 so if I live five more years that equals 260 more weeks.

I counted out 260 little glass discs and placed them in a green glass jar. I was a bit dismayed at first that they didn’t fill the jar, and I wished I had started this practice when I was 70 or even younger. I no longer overflow with weeks ahead of me, I thought.

“A mindfulness practice.”

Of course, I have no idea how much longer I will live, but my mother died at 79, several pebbles shy of her 80th birthday. However, my father died just three years ago at age 96. He would have needed more pebbles in his jar.

I realize some of you readers may find this practice depressing or it might make you anxious, but my hope is that when I remove one of the glass discs every Monday morning that I will reflect on a week lived in gratitude and joy. I hope each glass disc will remind me to live in the present moment; to live with purpose and to open to ways I can become more of the person I was created to be.

I hope the words from my 70th birthday collage will continue to direct and honor my days.

Choose simplicity.
Keep growing.
Learn something new.
Make room for what matters.
Breathe deeply.

These elder years are found time. Sacred time.

An Invitation

What are your guiding words and spiritual practices during these elder years? I would love to know.

8 thoughts on “Spiritual Practices for My Elder Years

  1. Thank you for this lovely, thought provoking and positive writing paying homage to these years of our lives. Bless you Nancy.🌹



  2. Good reminders…I live for right now, enjoying each day, BUT I am aware the days are waning and I need to consider what I want my future to look like. I wish I had lived more like that in my 40s and 50s. Those decades passed way too fast as I was always looking ahead at what I needed to accomplish. Now I am prone to let the accomplishments come as they may, or not.


  3. Such a fine post! Since life expectancy increases if one lives to 65, you can add a few pebbles to your collection. For women in the US, the average life expectancy after 65 is 86. Blessings for all the years that remain!


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