Aging is a curious thing. As I look around me, to my friends and family and colleagues, I see that we each age so very differently — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
I am definitely embracing the “crone” years and the wisdom and freedom that brings. I still feel very young, and plan to for some time! And although my physical body is not as reliable as it once was, all my other bodies — the mental, the spiritual, the emotional — are as healthy and vibrant as in my youth: eager to learn, full of enthusiasm and anticipation for what is coming next.
I remember chatting with an Elder a few years ago, who commented on the daughter of a dear friend.
“She is so old now!”
I laughed and said “Really? But she’s five years younger than me!”
Her reply, “You’ve never been as old as her.”
That short conversation stayed with me and definitely got me thinking. Some of us are “old” even as children. You may remember classmates who didn’t play, who had no sense of adventure or curiosity, who didn’t take risks….. little “old souls” in young bodies. And some of us are young forever. One of my greatest adventures in life was trekking through Peru with my Father when he was close to 70 and so full of energy and curiosity.
So perhaps aging is a state of mind…. and not related to our years at all.
Or perhaps it is an indication of how connected we are to the Four Fires of Life as described in many spiritual texts. In her book The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom, Angeles Arrien describes the Four Fires:
🔥 the fire of vision awakens our dreams and possibilities, inspiring us to manifest them
🔥 the fire of the heart teaches us who and what we love
🔥 the fire of creativity shows us our gifts and how to manifest them for the betterment of our world
🔥 the fire of the soul asks us to connect to our Self authentically and to serve others, not just our ego
If we lose any of those fires, if they extinguish in our soul, we experience what many would recognize as Soul Loss — depression, sadness, anxiety, emptiness, futility, dissociation and more.
Yet Arrien’s book is more than a description of the Four Fires. She draws on universal cultural and shamanic tales and wisdom to describe our journey through life, passing through the Eight Gates of Wisdom… and how when we reach the second half of life, they are even more important.
From the Story of the Eight Gates
An old gnome, wearing green boots and a rust-colored felt hat, stands at the base of an oak tree, tapping his foot on the tree’s exposed root and shaking a ring of rusty old keys. With a gnarled finger, he beckons us to come closer and says with irresistible conviction:
“There are ancient mysteries to remember and never forget as you pass through eight gates in your later years. Listen closely…
You came in through the Silver Gate, and you will leave through the Gold Gate. At the Silver, you are born. At the Gold, you will die. You will pass through many gates in between.
The Silver Gate heralds the beginning of your adventure. Its reflective, shimmering surface will mesmerize you. It will urge you to leave the safety of your familiar world and approach the inner mysteries. You will be asked to summon the courage to face the unknown.”
The Silver Gate
We have many opportunities to pass through the Silver Gate in our lifetime: each new beginning, each new adventure, each lunar month, each calendar year… however we choose to define “new” or “beginnings”.
Any time we choose to start again is a new beginning, a new possibility, a potential new outcome.
But if we approach the Silver Gate with fear — as many do in the aging process — those fears can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. We may become old before our years. We may disengage from life. We may age more quickly. Our blades may become dull and tarnished.
We might not even recognize that the Silver Gate exists
and that is IS an opportunity for each of us.
Some see it not as an open door, but as a closed door: on one side youth and vigour, on the other side declining health, loss of functionality, eventual death.
How many see it as an adventure? To experience the things they’ve always wanted to try, and now have the time. To learn a new language. To explore their creativity. To plant a garden. To learn how to cook or dance or practise yoga….
I do! And I see examples of this every day. For instance, I take a Range of Motion class at a local pool with a group of women who are mostly in their 70s and 80s. I call them the Ancient Amazons, warriors all. These women bike or walk to the pool, go swimming with sharks (yes!) in Hawaii, travel the world and are full of laughter and vibrancy. They are survivors. They inspire me each time we meet.
The Task of the Silver Gate
The Silver Gate gives us several tasks:
- to leave our ego behind
- to connect with our true self
- to move forward to unexplored country and not to stay in our safe harbours
- to face the future and the unknown with the knowingness our whole life has prepared us for
That does not mean we are rejecting aging when we approach the Silver Gate in the Second Half of Life. Just the opposite: We are embracing the aging process. We are accepting the wisdom that our life has brought us. We are celebrating our opportunity to share our Elderhood with others on life’s path. And we are celebrating that which we still have to experience.
To those who may be young in years but “old” in outlook: This is a wake-up call for you! Reignite those Four Fires in your life… through meditation, through journeying, through awareness and reclaim your joie de vivre …. l’esprit de la vie.
Do not fear aging.
There is a wonderful quote from philosopher Martin Buber that says it all for me:
Over the next few weeks, I will explore more of these Gates of Wisdom. Arrien shares the tasks, challenges, and gifts of each gate and offers questions for reflection on each:
The Silver Gate
Facing new experiences and the unknown.
The White Picket Gate
Changing identities; discovering one’s true face.
The Clay Gate
Intimacy, sensuality, and sexuality.
The Black and White Gate
Relationships: the crucible of love, generosity betrayal, and forgiveness.
The Rustic Gate
Creativity, Service, and Generativity
The Bone Gate
Authenticity, Character and Wisdom
The Natural Gate
The presence of Grace: Happiness, Satisfaction, and Peace.
The Gold Gate
Non-attachment, Surrender, and Letting Go.