In 1998, Kathleen Dowling Singh published The Grace in Dying, a groundbreaking work on the spiritual process that often accompanies dying. Now, in her second book, The Grace in Aging, Singh urges baby boomers to wake up to their spiritual selves before it’s too late.
Singh was an unknown when, inspired by her observations as a hospice worker and transpersonal psychologist, she wrote The Grace in Dying. “I began to see in people who were dying the same types of spiritual shifts you would see in longtime meditators,” Singh says. “There is a really deep inner process going on for everyone at the end of life. People get deeper. People get real. Gratitude arises. Forgiveness arises.”
Encouraging, inspiring, and practical, The Grace in Aging invites all those who have ever experienced spiritual longing to awaken in their twilight years. Since aging, in and of itself, does not lead to spiritual maturity, The Grace in Aging suggests and explores causes and conditions that we can create in our lives, just as we are living them, to allow awakening to unfold—transforming the predictable sufferings of aging into profound opportunities for growth in clarity, love, compassion, and peace.
Crossing all wisdom and religious traditions, Singh says the book deals with this question: “What can we do to explore grace in the middle of living?” Singh intends the book for readers in their mid-50s and older. She wants them to realize that life is finite, they don’t know how many days they have left, and if they are ever going to experience a spiritual awakening they should do it now. Singh believes many Westerners are blocked by the feeling that they have a basic flaw, and that spiritual awakening is available to other people but not themselves.
Singh’s book is meant to appeal to those who don’t want to live their last decades on spiritual autopilot. Her central premise is that aging (whether you are 40 or 90) is an opportunity for spiritual awakening.
“Are we willing to leave this unimaginably precious gift of a human life unopened?” she asks in the book, explaining that growing older gives us a wide range of triggers for awakening. Many of these opportunities we likely see as negatives. If we’ve relied on beauty or power for status in the world, inevitably they will fade as we age. If we lacked the time for spiritual practice when younger, illness or disability may give it back to us. If much of our life has been spent feeding the ever-hungry ego, growing older gives us the chance to look at what we’ve mistakenly nurtured with such care.
Confronting our mortality, writes Singh, is jet fuel for our spiritual practice. Dying, of course, lurks behind all discussions of aging. No party, however fun, lasts forever. One can see this essential fact as depressing and tragic–and certainly in individual cases it is, and Singh doesn’t suggest we short-circuit the natural process of grief, either for ourselves or for the loss of a loved one. But if done well, a person at the end of his or her life moves through the classic stages of spiritual growth to surrender into the grace in dying.
Writes Singh: “What we will observe, if we have the privilege to be present with someone at the end of his or her life, are the following special conditions: opening to mortality, withdrawal, silence, solitude, forgiveness, humility, the practice of presence, commitment, life review and resolution, opening the heart, and opening the mind. Those of us who are still living can take powerful lessons from the dying. Each of these special conditions is a powerful catalyst for transformation. They release us from grasping to self. Working skillfully, we can introduce and make use of these conditions in the midst of life, in these very chapters of being old. Just as these special conditions facilitate the grace in dying, they can lead us directly into the grace in living.”
The Grace in Aging offers guidelines for older individuals of any wisdom tradition who wish to awaken before they die; no need for caves or seven-year retreats. This is spiritual practice for the lives we live.