Category Archives: Spirituality and Aging

Continuity and Coping

“I am learning to offer to God my days and my nights, my joy, my work, my pain and my grief. …I am learning to use the time I have more wisely…And I am learning to forget at times my puritan conscience which prods me to work without ceasing, and instead, to take time for joy.”
Elizabeth Watson, 1979, PYM Faith and Practice 2002

Despite the often negative images of aging presented to us, older adults report a much higher degree of life satisfaction and self-esteem than younger persons. In fact, older adults have very high levels of self-acceptance and contentedness. They have encountered life’s vicissitudes, its surprises and disappointments, paradoxes and mysteries enough to know that they most likely will cope with whatever the future holds. And, that coping is best done with the support of others in their community, family and friends.

Recent research even suggests that older adults are better at resolving communal conflicts. They are good at seeing clearly both sides of a dispute and mediating conflict with insight, wisdom and compassion, an ancient knowing modern science now affirms.

The equanimity that comes with aging is associated with a continuity of spiritual and person values, lifestyle choices and the valuing of interpersonal relationships. If spiritual development implies a journey, then continuity of values, or as Friends might say, our continued witness to the testimonies, is what makes the path we tread.

According to Robert C. Atchley in his book, “Spirituality&Aging” continuity represents “a character evolving over a lifetime of action and learning… struggle and joy and heartbreak.” It helps us form a solid base from which to cope with the changes and challenges of aging.

While continuity of values usually coexists with some discontinuity, for most aging adults it is the factor which provides an enduring and sustaining sense of purpose and direction to their lives. And, continuity does not just happen by chance, it is an intentional choice made by people “to achieve their goals and adapt to changing circumstances,” according to Atchley.

Continuity as an adaptation strategy is especially useful for aging adults. For Friends, the spiritual context of our lives is foundational to our understanding of what it means to be alive. If we neglect the spiritual as we face our aging, frailty, dying and eventual death, we stand to lose a most precious resource.

Q: How do I approach with serenity each new stage of my life?

Q: How might I attend to what love requires of me in this new stage of my life?

Friends Care Committees can offer aging Meeting members the opportunity to discern how best to plan their lives with continuity by providing clearness on many of the issues that face older adults. These may include:

  • Adjusting to retirement
  • Living with physical challenges and diminishing health
  • Coping with the behavioral changes associated with memory loss and dementia in oneself and others
  • Dealing with grief and bereavement over the death of peers and loved ones
  • Balancing the challenges of independent living and assisted living against personal care needs
  • Envisioning the prospect of changing one’s residence
  • Maintaining or repairing relationships with family and caregivers
  • Facing decisions about end-of-life care, death and dying.

A strong sense of continuity, in values and relationships can empower people to find greater fulfillment and contentment in their later years. If Friends can stay vitally connected to those experiences which give their lives meaning and purpose with hope and creativity, their inner lives will continue to blossom, bringing untold benefits to themselves and their meeting community.

“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Attributed to Stephen Grellet, c.1800, PYM Faith and Practice, 2002

Download this article in pamphlet form

LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: Click on the blue text below to be directed to outside websites that offer additional information on this topic. Articles from this site will open in the same browser window/tab. Articles from other websites will open in a new window; when you are done, simply click out of that window and you will be back on this site.

Other articles/links:

Respecting Elders/Becoming Elders, YES! Magazine
ContemplAgeing, a spirituality and aging website
Grandmothers for Peace International
Green Grannies

Spirituality and Aging

by Susan Hoskins

Directors Message March 2010: Spirituality

“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
Stephen R. Covey

The Princeton Senior Resource Center–as most non-religious organizations that try to be inclusive of the diversity of this community–does not usually address spiritual issues. But I think we are missing a critical aspect of holistic healthy aging (along with physical, mental and emotional health) if we ignore the spiritual dimension.

Before I lose readers who have had a bad experience with organized religion, let me say that spirituality includes our core values and beliefs, where we find meaning, and what gives us quality of life. “Spirituality is about our existence, relationships with ourselves, others and the universe. It is something we experience and requires abstract thinking and will. Spiritual development provides us with insight and understanding of ourselves and others…the function that integrates all other aspects of personhood…and is often seen as a search for meaning in life. Spirituality extends beyond the physical, material and self to a state called transcendence.” I submit that one’s later years are fertile ground for deepening spirituality.

Each of us needs to find ways to nurture the spirit within us, just as we feed our bodies and our minds with exercise, nutrition and cognitive stimulation. In fact it is often the spirit that perseveres when the mind and body have failed, and the spirit that lingers in the memories of those who remain. It this vein, it is important for us to acknowledge the spirit inside a person with dementia or diminished abilities.

Spiritual awareness grows with experience and wisdom. Without some of the challenges of life, we do not reach deep within or far outside of ourselves to find meaning or comfort. We may find a greater need to have an active spiritual life as we get older as we find ways to cope with the loss of spouse, family, friends, physical and mental abilities, or the activities that gave our lives a sense of purpose and identity. We encounter more things we cannot explain, the wonders and mysteries of life, from the intense feeling of love for a baby to the first bud of spring. We are more likely to have had a transcendent experience, and to be shifting our focus from material things to satisfaction with life.

As we age, we find ourselves thinking more about questions like “what comes after death?” or “what is quality of life?” that cause us to re-examine the values and beliefs we have known for a lifetime. One might ask “where can I find meaning and purpose with the limitations I now have?” or “where do I find the reserve to go on through this grief or deal with this illness?” I think these questions compel us to connect with our spirituality. It may also be true that as we age, we find more time for inner reflection and spiritual practice: meditation, contemplation, reflection, solitary walks…. We can find people to share the exploration with, or readings that have particular meaning. Following this path provides new opportunities to share our wisdom and be mentors and respected elders to those who are just starting out. . Expressing our spirit by helping others is one way to attain personal satisfaction, comfort, and peace. Each of us wants to identify a legacy, the mark on the world that will live on after we are gone.

How can we get more comfortable with this vital spiritual side of ourselves, so that we find the personal answers that will give comfort and certainty in troubled times, so that we can release the depression, anxiety and fear that are so pervasive today? Can we begin to challenge the culture that denies aging and admonishes us not to talk about politics or religion with family and friends? I believe it is critical to nurture our spirits, continuing to seek deeper understanding, throughout the lifespan.

Susan Hoskins, LCSW, is the Executive Director of Princeton Senior Resource Center in Princeton, New Jersey. The above message was from her “Director’s Message” series. The Princeton Senior Resource Center website is an excellent resource for inspiration and information, as well as local resources in that area.

LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: Click on the blue text below to be directed to outside websites that offer additional information on this topic. Articles from this site will open in the same browser window/tab. Articles from other websites will open in a new window; when you are done, simply click out of that window and you will be back on this site.

More articles on this website:

Continuity and Coping
Generativity and Aging

Other articles/links:

UMKC Spirituality and Aging Site

Generativity and Aging

“Live affectionately as Friends, entering with sympathy into the joys and sorrows of one another’s lives. Visit one another. Be alert to give help and ready to receive it. Bear the burdens of one another’s failings; share the buoyancy of one another’s strengths.”
Advices, PYM Faith and Practice, 2002

My Grandfather lived to the very old age of 98. He retired before I was born, moved in with us when he was in his eighties. He passed his days gardening in the shade, engineering contraptions to keep squirrels out of the birdfeeder and making current jam. He spent his nights reading and occasionally playing pool. He had a sturdy heart, and a few minor physical health issues, which meant occasional forays into the hospital and a hearing aid he rarely wore. In the years he lived with us a progressive dementia led him to repeat stories and wander, always in the same direction, following the creek and ending up in a neighbor’s back yard.

Adjusting to Grandpa’s challenges was not difficult, at least from a child’s perspective. We tuned our voices to accommodate his hearing loss, followed his tracks in the woods, accompanied him in the grocery store and accepted that he always bought the same three things, regardless of need. These adaptations I remember, largely by repetition. However, the smell of his mended cardigan, the brown felt of his ancient hats, they way he seemed as much a part of the woods as the trees themselves, those memories are ingrained in my very being. His setbacks were not recorded in my bones like the humus of leaf mold we used to bed the ferns for the winter. I suppose his gait slowed, but I could not describe that in the detailed way I can the sour of currant before it was sugared in the pot, the thrill of cold creek water on bare feet, and how it soaked the hems of our pants. I remember in detail the way he treasured his few possessions – the photographs of family and his son’s scrapbook of writing, how one gumdrop from the glass jar was precious, and enough. The changes that came to grandpa with illness and age were an accepted part of his and our routine. It is his essential teachings that shaped and formed me.

If we are lucky, we have a relationship with an elder or the memory of one to treasure. Yet we live in a complicated time. The values of our family and faith community about how we view older adulthood may conflict with messages in our fast-paced society that promote youth and productivity. We are encouraged to resist even the natural physical signs of our ripening to old age, smooth our wrinkles, subdue the silver in our hair, and keep moving. These messages suggest that growing older is a decline, and we may question our own purpose as we age. We know that despite any number of challenges, our elders are precious. How can we come to hold our own aging in the light that we view those who came before us?

“In primitive tribes we observe that the old people are almost always the guardians of the mysteries and the laws, and it is in these that the cultural heritage of the tribe is expressed. How does the matter stand with us? Where is the wisdom of our old people, where are their precious secrets and their visions?”
Carl Jung, “The Stages of Life

Today, these questions raised in Carl Jung’s essay diverge from the messages of popular culture that promote eternal youth and productivity. Suggestions that we must look young saturate us, we are supposed to stay active, buy and produce, and there is little to encourage us to examine values or pass on wisdom. As Friends, our beliefs and values about growing old may contrast with much of what we experience in the larger world.

Examples of the preponderance of messages against aging abound on television, magazine ads, and on the internet. December 18, 2009, simple internet searches yielded the following:

  • “Anti Aging products”: 48,300,000 results
  • “Look Younger”: 70,500,000
  • “values”, “aging”: 12,500,000
  • “spirituality”, “aging”: 6,500,000
  • “Values in Aging”: 672.

In an attempt to be more specific, a search for “Quakers”, “Aging” and had a hopeful 270,000 results, only to discover that many had to do with (sorry, Friends) recipes calling for Quaker Oats. (Note: to their credit, articles related to aging on the Quaker Oats website talked about nutritional and exercise needs at various stages of life, and did not emphasize an unhealthy obsession with staying young.) Considering that much of the results for the search “values”, “aging” included advertisements for “Anti-Aging Value Packs”, numerous articles on marketing for older adult housing, and at least one story about an aging sports stars ”losing value”, the priorities, at least related to what is promoted and talked about on the internet, are evident. Instead of befriending the ripening that comes with age and cultivating all that has to offer, we are encouraged to fight the natural process of aging as if it is an enemy.

Print or internet advertising and television commercials may not have as much influence on Friends and others who are clear in their values or who intentionally avoid media where such things are rampant. However, we cannot ignore the widespread impact of media messages on the world around us, nor can we ignore that these messages not only influence our culture, but also reflect it. We live in a world of unrealistic expectations, and the focus on eternal youth blurs the voices of the aged and diminishes the value of old age.

“If we take seriously the nurture of our children in the worshiping group, we must start re-appraising the whole life of the group. What kind of communication exists between us all? Do we know one another as people sharing joys and sorrows?…Are we across all ages a community learning together? Do we constantly look for experiences that can be shared by the whole community?…”
Peggy McGeoghegan, 1976 PYM Faith and Practice, 2002

We are at risk of neglecting the vital contribution elders can make: seasoned wisdom, institutional memory, historical lessons, and gentle perspective that develops over time. As much as we cherish our grandparents and elder community members, we cannot deny that for many, an aura of anxiety about aging and diminishment shrouds our view of the elderly.

This anxiety may block our access to the heart of the person within the aging body. We hear only the weakened voice, not the wisdom it speaks. We lose sight of the person as if they are gone with their lost memories, and miss the precious focus of this moment in their lifetime. In our communities, we segregate the most frail and needy, providing care and comfort, but often forgetting that this person has something to contribute to us as well. Unless we recognize the worries and stigma that affect our individual responses to the elderly and others who face challenges, we will have difficulty finding a healthy acceptance of aging that allows us to make the most of our own lives and relationships.

Is Aging an Option?

This question appeared as a pop-up ad on my computer screen after I had conducted the series of age-related internet searches. Though the advertisement suggests otherwise, aging is not an option. We all have been aging since we were born and we will continue to do so until we die. None of us knows what lies ahead on our path through the journey of aging. If we live long lives, as most people do nowadays, we may reach a point where we are no longer productive economically, or perhaps we are more physically, cognitively, or emotionally dependent on others. Does accepting aging and other challenges mean we resign ourselves to a segregated life of leisure while others carry on the “real work”? What then, is our role to be?

LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: Click on the blue text below to be directed to outside websites that offer additional information on this topic. Articles from this site will open in the same browser window/tab. Articles from other websites will open in a new window; when you are done, simply click out of that window and you will be back on this site.

More articles on this website:

Celebrating Aging in Your Faith Community
Celebrating Lives and Life Stories
Generational Relationships: Advices and Queries
Older Adulthood and Stewardship of the Environment

Other Articles/Links:

Sage-ing Guild
Green Seniors
Generations United

Diversity by Tom Atlee

Diversity is as big as the universe

by Tom Atlee

Diversity is difference. It is a natural phenomenon, intimately related to uniqueness and identity. There is a rich world of discovery awaiting us when we are ready to fully encounter our diversity. But first we have to lift our heads above the bustle around us and look at the big picture.

As important as it is to have women executives and people of other races in our neighborhoods, diversity is way, way bigger than that.

Our use of the word “diversity” primarily to address issues of racism, classism, sexism, and other oppressive isms has blinded us to the fact that diversity is a vast fact of life, deeply embedded not only in humanity but in natural systems and in the very fabric of the universe.

Diversity, like fire and genius, can be problematic. And like fire and genius, diversity has creative power we can use to make life better.

Co-intelligence is largely about using diversity creatively. Understanding diversity is an important part of working consciously with co-intelligence.

This article is an exploration of how big diversity actually is…

Diversity is a fundamental property of the universe, along with matter, energy, space, time, relationship, unity, and many other phenomena that are present everywhere. Everything that you see (or don’t see) that is different from anything else — and every difference between them — is an aspect of diversity.

So diversity exists. Everywhere. It is a fact of life.

But there’s more to it than that.

Diversity makes life interesting. “Variety is the spice of life.” If every house on the block looked the same, if every restaurant served the same food, if everyone talked at us for hours in a monotone about things we already knew — well, then life just wouldn’t have much aliveness, would it? I have a funny feeling some of us would do something about that…

Think diversity.

Diversity makes whole systems possible: You need diverse parts to make a bicycle. A barrel of handlebars won’t do the job. Likewise, an ecosystem is made up of diverse species, making up complex food chains and cycles that keep the whole thing going.

Relationship, community, interdependence, mutuality — even the entire economic system with all its different jobs and products and services and forms of exchange — are all totally dependent on diversity.

As is freedom. Uniqueness is the inside face of diversity. If I want to “be myself” and “do things my way,” I have to live in a culture that respects diversity. The more free a society, the more diversity it tends to generate. And that diversity tends to beget even more diversity as diverse people, stimulated by each other, find new ways to be unique…

Diversity is key to resilience. “Diversify,” say the investment counsellors. If one variety fails, life can switch to another. This is the principle behind biodiversity: If all our corn is genetically identical, and a virulent bug attacks it, it may all be killed off. If our corn is genetically diverse, then some of it will succumb and some will survive. The survivors will reproduce, resulting in greater resistance to that bug. (Of course this natural selection process is busily at work on the bugs, too, so the dance goes on. But for any given species, its diversity — and the diversity of the organisms and systems it depends on — is a vital factor in its survival.)

If everyone depends on one mega-corporation for a monopolized product… If everyone uses the same operating system for their computers… If all the production facilities use the single most efficient form of production… If all the ferries are put out of business so all traffic must go on the bridges… If we all get our electricity from a single grid with no distributed local energy sources…. we make ourselves vulnerable to the collapse of the single things we all depend on. This is what freaked people out about Y2K, that it would knock out some basic central systems, triggering a catastrophic domino effect. This is a nightmare for terrorist emergency response planners, that terrorists could knock out some vital link in some technological system that we all depend on, for which there is no good alternative. Alternatives, diversity — even redundance — are key to resilience.

Diversity has many other roles, as well. Perhaps the most important is that it makes synergy dynamic. Three metal bars welded together into a triangle are stronger (more synergistic) than three metal bars welded into any other shape. That’s why engineers use steel triangles to build bridges and industrial support structures. But that’s static synergy. If you want to see dynamic synergy, check out the conversations between scientists like Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, or any other people passionate about a subject, who have different views but share a dedication to finding greater truth. Since each sees things from a different perspective, they can see each other’s blind spots and evolve together into bigger, clearer ways of seeing the world.

Or you can simply contemplate the synergy between your lungs and your heart, or between oxygen-breathing animals and carbon-dioxide breathing plants, or between musicians in a jazz combo, jamming… The synergy in all these cases is dynamic and alive, thanks to the diverse participants in the dance.

Among us humans, diversity is virtually infinite. A good long list of characteristics is provided in an article on “Human Diversity.” Our diversity is a resource. In particular, we can tap our diverse strengths — skills, aptitudes, forms of intelligence, experience — in ways that make us much more powerful than we could ever be separately.

This is a fundamental principle of modern social organization: Make a lot of diverse specialists, producers and consumers and then connect them up to exchange information, services and products. The “invisible hand” of interlinked diversity in economic systems works by itself — although if you don’t design it right, it can have enough of the wrong kind of power and momentum to destroy a planet!

In short: Diversity has creative potential in it. The key is using diversity well. That’s one of the defining characteristics of co-intelligence — using diversity creatively.

OK. So that’s the bright side of diversity. Now let’s take a look at the all-too-familiar dark side.

Diversity is about differences. Diversity all too often means dissonance — discomfort, dissent, disagreement, conflict, polarization, battles — even oppression, war, terrorism and genocide. The list of horrors is enough to make some of us cringe back into polite (or even enforced) conformity and homogeneity.

One of the saddest facts of our human history is our use of our differences to disrespect and oppress one another. Not only has this produced a depth and breadth of human suffering that is hard to comprehend and heal, but it has eclipsed all other forms of human diversity. Today, when someone says “diversity,” most people think of different races, different genders, different classes, different sexual preferences — all the differences that have been used oppressively. Few realize that the diversity within any of these classes (women, black people, people of wealth) far exceed their similarities. And even fewer realize that those eclipsed differences are where the greatest potential synergies lie, to help us have thriving communities and a surviving civilization.

This is the legacy we face from attempts to establish usually (but not always) light-skinned heterosexual cultures dominated by property-owning men. We are thankfully breaking out of that, with great energy and at great cost. As we move through that cultural task, we need to expand our consciousness to embrace our full diversity.

Efforts at sameness are doomed to failure. The seeming comfort of conformity and homogeneity (which only masquerade as unity) tends to undermine co-intelligence. The synergy and potential — described above — are lost. The dragons of dissonance that we banish to netherworlds have a habit of surfacing again elsewhere, at other times, with even greater inconvenience and destructiveness and even more terrifying roars.

So what do we do?

Ultimately the creative use of diversity involves having some kind of common ground to stand on while exploring difficult differences. One of the most dependable forms of common ground is what I sometimes call our “core commons” — that place in all of us that is rooted in our shared humanity, our shared aliveness, our shared spirit.

Whether through our own personal development, through good group process (helped perhaps by facilitators or mediators), or through fortunate religious or cultural conditioning, we may be able to see each other through our differences to the depths of our commonality. When this is done in healthy ways, it isn’t done to deny our differences, but to maintain heartful, mindful pathways between us as we seek to understand our differences and their role in what comes next. We want our differences to make us powerful partners, not aliens and enemies.

Other forms of common ground include shared goals, visions, values, passions and purposes — or shared crises that render all other factors miniscule in comparison. Shared history, culture and language can make it much easier to work through differences, as can being together in the same place.

There are many other forms of common ground, as well. But nothing can replace really listening to each other — hearing each other’s stories, thoughts and feelings — in the faith that we are all trying to do what makes sense to us, at some level, and that we can ultimately understand each other’s diverse ways of making sense. Sometimes it takes a third party, a “designated listener” (mediator, facilitator, counsellor, diplomat) to make such a deep hearing possible. And so we find and train and become such people because real listening is likely to make all the difference in the world.

And as we become more skilled, we find ourselves able to bring together the torn fragments of our communities and societies. We realize that for the healing to happen it need not unfold within and among every single individual. The healing can happen — to a surprising degree — among the differences themselves, archetypally and publicly. Notably diverse people can be brought together in public forums and helped to fully hear each other. The community or whole country can watch them come to terms with both their differences and their deep humanity. And what if the world watches them suddenly becoming co-creative, making a better life for themselves and their children, side by side with people who were so different? And what if this happens over and over…?

There is a breakthrough dormant in this ability to work with such “microcosms of our diversity.” There is elegance and power in selecting from a community an intentionally diverse group of citizens and helping them hear each other and co-create together in ways that everyone in the community can see and benefit from. There is a long track of such “consensus conferences,” “citizen panels” and “wisdom councils” to show the potential of this approach. Both the healing and the juicy creativity available through good use of diversity in such a group can — especially if it is very visible — ripple out into the world, transforming the way we address diversity in all parts of our societies.

When we come right down to it, however, this is often easier said than done. Thankfully, there’s more to it than how hard it may be: When it is done well — when we have used our diversity truly creatively to free the insights, relationships, and possibilities waiting to be born from our interactions — the results are nothing short of magical.

Our challenge, then, is to learn to perform this magic to the best of our ability, and to expand our capacity to perform it continually — and to create families and organizations and communities and cultures and democratic institutions where this magic happens routinely because everyone involved knows that diversity is a treasure. They are not about to let it be destroyed, denied or wasted.

Diversity, like fire, is a powerful part of life. Let us use it well on our shared journey, weaving our unique stories into new possibilities around the great shared fire of life.

Visit The Co-Intelligence Institute website

Ways to Be Wise by Tom Atlee

I am writing about wisdom
to recover it from esoteric realms
and place it solidly in the middle
of our collective lives
where the world lives or dies,
depending on how wise
we learn how to be

Some ways we can be wise
by Tom Atlee, November 2003

When people talk about wisdom, they often use sight-related words like insight, foresight, discernment, farsightedness, brilliance, reflection, illumination, enlightenment, visionary and seer. The owl, often a symbol of wisdom, has prominent eyes that see clearly in the dark, and seem to be watching everything with penetrating attention.

This metaphor of seeing makes a good place to start in our exploration of wisdom.

Among other things, wisdom involves extending our seeing beyond the appearances of life, while also looking deeply into life. We are wise — at least to some degree — whenever we extend our seeing from any small perspective into a larger or deeper perspective. This expansion of perspective takes us closer to encountering the Whole of life. Even though that Whole can never be experienced in its full scope and detail, it seems to me that any motion in its direction is a motion into wisdom.

This way of thinking about wisdom can help us understand ways we could be wiser — individually and collectively. It can help us evaluate the wisdom of decisions, actions, policies, leaders, and so on. As the scope and complexity of our world’s problems grow, so grows our need for wisdom.

So let us consider some ways we are already wise and could be more so.

We are wise when we extend our seeing into the future to the consequences of our present actions — and learn from reflecting on those consequences, especially before we act. There is much wisdom, then, in applying this expanded perspective to help us meet our needs in ways that don’t undermine the ability of our children’s children to meet their needs. Some call this “sustainability.”

We are wise when we extend our seeing beyond the clamor of this moment’s shallow desires and immediate demands and opportunities, to understand and care for our deeper, longer needs. This is doubly wise because, while our desires and appetites may feel vividly personal, private and unique, our deepest needs are universal. Great peace can be found in satisfying them in harmony with others and in co-creating the common good. There is much wisdom in pursuing our own best interests through the pursuit of a world that works for all.

We are wise when we extend our seeing beyond current events — both personal and collective — back into the history behind those events, and forward into possible futures. In that history and those futures lie causes and stories and motivations that call forth the events of today, and that can therefore be worked with to call forth new options and energies on behalf of greater life. There is much wisdom in bringing the power of such Deep Time understandings into the present unfolding of Life.

We are wise when we extend our seeing beyond our personal view — and beyond the dominant view of our group or culture — to hear and understand the views of others. Every view has blind spots, and all knowing rests on unexamined assumptions. As these are revealed through encounters with other views and other knowing, understanding can deepen and become more whole. And so we are wise to value diversity, dissonance and dissent and to learn how to use their potent gifts well, as we’ve learned to use the potent gifts of electricity and fire. There is special wisdom for democracy accessible through the brilliant use of dialogue to help us tap that latent power together on behalf of our whole community.

We are wise to see beyond our narrow plans and wishes to the larger field of life within which we are pursuing those plans and wishes. Other lives and greater forces are at work in that field, whose presence can aid or hinder our efforts and whose journey is impacted by ours. There is great wisdom available in understanding those indigenous lives and forces well enough to work with them, collaborating in the co-creation of outcomes that serve all parties involved, using thoughtful inclusion, existing passions, and cultivated synergies to proceed with more elegance than effort.

We are wise when we extend our seeing beyond convenient labels and judgments, to see things more as they are, which is always beyond labels and judgments — and even beyond words. “There is more to it than that, always.” We are wise to become familiar with the ways our personal thoughts and feelings — and, collectively, our culture and media — trick us into narrowing our view. This awareness can help us return to a bigger, truer picture of life where greater wisdom awaits us.

In particular, it is wise to see beyond the dichotomies dictated by our culture, our language, our preferences. Good and bad, order and chaos, individual and collective, you and me, simplicity and complexity — these tantalizingly useful distinctions hide the fact that reality, in all its dynamic wholeness, embraces both sides of every dichotomy. There are ways in which order and chaos, good and bad, individual and collective not only define and depend on each other, but live within each other and dance together. Much wisdom lies in coming to understand that, and joining that dance, lightly and mindfully.

We are wise to see beyond isolated facts and linear logic into the whole fabric of life, using all the forms of knowing that are given to us, particularly intuition, heart, synthesis, spiritual experience, and the sciences that attempt to appreciate the whole and our relationship to it — such as ecology, living systems science, complexity and chaos theories, quantum mechanics and the consciousness sciences. With each way of knowing we access new dimensions of reality. Much wisdom lies in weaving them together, painting our knowing with a full palette and using each tool in our cognitive toolbox according its best purpose, along with all the others, and letting none colonize our awareness to the exclusion of the rest.

We are wise when we see beyond certainty to the underlying, all encompassing, ever unfolding Mystery of life. Not only does this lighten our ideological burden and open us to each Other and to Change, but it allows us to befriend the ultimately unknowable Whole. Once we see through the illusion of certainty, humility is natural, humor is natural, and paradox, ambiguity and change become furry friends and teachers on our Journey though life. In the midst of wonder, we encounter each situation with the curiosity and sense of adventure befitting wise and joyful spirits — and our wisdom expands through the learning we do as we marvel at the nuance and vastness we encounter at each bend in the road.

We are wise, in general, as we see beyond our personal world — or through it, deeply — to the world of our fellow humans and all other life. We can track this larger reality through our own opened hearts or through the rich fabric of natural and social systems studded with living beings and their stories. This reaching into the world of other lives is the wisdom of compassion — and of what has come to be called “enlightened self-interest,” the realization that our destiny is bound up with the destiny of all others. At the center where we are most deeply ourselves, we are also most deeply kin to all Life, and no one’s story is fully alien to us. From that deep common center — and from realization of our vast and vivid interdependence — flow many soulfully effective solutions to the diverse sufferings of our world and its people. We need our wisest eyes to find them.

Those wise eyes are ours. We share those eyes. We could see through them together, if only we would look together.

Visit the Co-Intelligence Website