By Melanie Lee
Author, “A Year In Sedona~Meeting The Muse At Wisdom’s Edge”
(November 5, 2018)
I had an interesting experience last month at the small interfaith home spirituality group here in Sedona I’ve attended for the last few years. With a warm and friendly bunch of regulars and occasional newbies, these Sunday morning get togethers tend to attract seekers interested in exploring how best to fan the flames of tolerance, knowledge and inspiration. With a little service, a sharing of bread and wine and a down home potluck, these mornings are golden opportunities to meet up with like minded friends and toss around some intriguing ideas.
Last Sunday we had a rousing conversation about an old spiritual paradigm currently making a comeback: What if we focused on the idea of aging as a spiritual practice, viewing growing older as a process of conscious expansion by growing up and out, instead of being resigned to it as an inevitable decline resulting in a shrinking and diminishing of physical capacities?
We began the morning’s discussion with the writings of French philosopher/scientist/Jesuit theologian and author Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who’s been variously called a futurist and/or idealist because of his visionary beliefs, namely the notion that humanity is in the process of not only physical, but also, spiritual evolution. As a result, he contends, the process of aging actually is a time that can have the potential to foster certain abilities that may have lain dormant for most of our lives.
Somebody in the group pointed out that, in her experience, slowing down with advancing years has made it easier to understand and acknowledge the value and sensibility of living in the present moment. Which made sense to all of us of a certain age, because most of us had already begun to view the passage of time and years as an opportunity to ponder such matters as the sensibility of an idea like spiritual evolution.
Just by attending a home liturgy group, for instance, we were learning how to nourish personal spiritual growth as well as practices to ease the inevitable physical, mental and emotional changes that come along for everybody. Practices like consciously letting go of both the sufferings of the past and the fears of the future.
Conversation ebbed and flowed about this topic, with personal experiences and questions shared freely. I asked for thoughts on just how is it that we, creatures of habit that we are, can learn, presto chango, to let go of the past. Is there really a practical, proven path to remaining in the present moment? Reaching for answers, I remembered the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, that erstwhile, colorful hippie many of us remember as author of the Sixties blockbuster Be Here Now. The one time Harvard professor (then known as Richard Alpert) is now in his 80s but still has plenty of wise words to share. In one of his more recent books, Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying, he writes about how he learned to remain in the present moment more fully after suffering a stroke:
Because memory has been affected, I’m forced to live in the present moment so intensely that I sometimes forget where I’ve been from day to day…. It’s disorienting when this happens, downright exasperating. But on the positive side, it keeps me walking the talk of the practice I’m recommending. I’m no longer bound to past and future in the same way…aging in general contains the seeds of great opportunity in terms of spiritual growth. By making stillness necessary, it slows us down to here and now, in other words, the present moment.
— Ram Dass “Still Here”
So the answer to ‘how’ to step onto the path of spiritual evolution involved a necessary stillness, brought about through choice or necessity. Beyond that, acknowledgement of how much we still identify with who we used to be and what we used to do had to be confronted. Finally, a long hard look at how we’ve changed and the recognition of who we are today was required.
Work. It sounded like a lot of work to me and I wasn’t sure this was the direction I wanted to take, at least not that morning. But fortunately a couple of fairly simple exercises to ground these insights were presented and so we were off to the races. We tried out what it felt like to compare dreams of the future with memories of the past. Is a memory that different from a dream? How? Does one or the other, or both, define who you were in the past? Or does one or the other help articulate who you are now, in the present? What about a future self?
As you can see, the existential implications of such a conversation could get pretty sticky, pretty easily. A good thing then, that the morning ended with a simple grounding breath meditation, breathing in and out, up and down, as we mused on what it means to live physically, mentally and spiritually in the present moment, not in the past or future. So we sat, we breathed in unison, and we tried to feel what it was really like to be fully present, here and now. At the end there was the Amen, a suitably creative closing prayer to affirm the wisdom and strength of living in the present moment.
God, Creator, Mother and Father of the Universe, preserve us from cognitive dissonance, in which our image of ourselves contradicts the reality of who and what we are as we age and as we evolve spiritually. Wash the windows of our soul, so we can see clearly that to which we are clinging. And when we see pain, frustration and delusion, let these very things become our teachers to show us how to experience change and become free of suffering from the past and fears of the future. Amen.
Melanie Lee is an award-winning writer, editor, artist and author. Growing up in Texas, she read mostly biography and autobiography and dreamed of being a writer who could help inspire others to meet their muse by honoring beauty in everyday life. She holds degrees in languages and journalism and was a features editor and columnist, writing everything from lifestyle stories and business news to profiles of entrepreneurs, artists and inventors engaged in the creative pursuit of right livelihood. She lived for ten years in Northern New Mexico where she was creator and director of Sojourns Writing Workshops of Santa Fe.
At the second half of life she moved to Sedona with her husband Louis Michalski. She met her muse anew, took up painting, became a yoga teacher and avid hiker and wrote “A Year in Sedona~Meeting the Muse at Wisdom’s Edge“, available on Amazon.com or from the author. She can be contacted at
P.O. Box 1419 Sedona, AZ 86339 or email@example.com