watch corn grow, or the blossoms set;
People of all ages often seek to find meaning in their everyday activities. Understanding the relationship as well as the differences between spirituality and religion may explain and support the interest of older adults in reaching beyond themselves, doing and caring for others, and disinterest in the material. Defining spirituality, identifying its threats and strategies may lead readers into incorporating spirituality into or finding meaning in their lives. Expressions of spirituality through religious practice or compassion, service to others or passing on wisdom to succeeding generations (generativity) often bring deep personal satisfaction, comfort, and peace to older adults and thus help them mature more successfully.
The Difference between Religion and Spirituality"We worry too much about something to live on -- and too little about something to live for."-- Jimmy Townsend, in
Many people think that spirituality and religion
are the same. Religion and spirituality may exist together, but as Twycross
(1988), wrote: "Everyone has a spiritual component, but not everyone
is religious." Religion is generally recognized to be the practical
expression of spirituality; the organization, rituals and practice of one’s
beliefs. (Davis, 1995). Religion includes specific beliefs and practices,
while spirituality is far broader.
"It speaks to people of many denominations
and beliefs." (Tessmer, 1998). Spirituality is thought to include a system
of beliefs that encompasses love, compassion and respect for life. Individuals
may experience both spirituality and religion very privately within themselves
(internally), and/or through social interaction with persons and organizations
in an external way. 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 spiritual
component of a personality is the dimension or function that integrates
all other aspects of personhood…and is often seen as a search for meaning
in life." (Twycross, 1988). Spirituality extends beyond the physical, material
and self to a state called transcendence. (Thibault, 1991).
Observations of older adults have shown increased reflection, less concern for material things and more interest in satisfaction with life. By later in life many older adults may have experiences that may seem mystical. These may be responses to illness or other life changing occurrences. It is thought that transcendence appears in five ways:
Within the experience of aging and the notion of spirituality there is an expanded sense of time in relation to quality of life. There is emphasis on internal processes or inner experiences which facilitate expanding concsciousnesses. Hence, time to meditate, fantasize, and participate in other more passive activity can be healthy for older adults as they contemplate and reflect (Newman, 1987). Some studies suggest that life satisfaction increases simultaneously with aging as a shift takes place from the material world to the cosmic (Tornstam, 1994) .
(Ebersole & Hess, 1998)
Studies have related happiness, morale, and health to spirituality. However, there are differences across individuals and cohorts in these experiences and their perceptions. For relevant reading through databases, please search Ageline, Age Search, etc.
Public policy activity in the realm of spirituality
first occurred in the Committee on Religion, part of the While House Conference
on Aging in 1961. More than 2,500 delegates made 947 recommendations for
action specific to the spiritual concerns of older adults. The 1971 While
House Conference on Aging included a focus on spiritual concerns. One hundred
thirty-six delegates, representing diverse national religious organizations,
developed 710 recommendations, one of which called for a National Conference
on Spiritual Well Being. This concept of Spiritual Well-Being (SWB) has
been widely used since.
In 1972 the National Interfaith Conference
on Aging was held and led to the National Interfaith Coalition of Aging
(NICA). This has been a source of leadership to religious and spiritual
communities. They developed a definition of SWB, "the affirmation of life
in a relationship with God, self, community and environment that nurtures
and celebrates wholeness."
The 1981 White House Conference on Aging did not include a section on spirituality, reportedly to avoid violating the relationship between church and state. The NICA, which was still active, passed 45 recommendation focused on spirituality at that time.
Former President Bill Clinton called on religious
and spiritual organizations and delegates of the 1995 White House Conference
on Aging to address the religious needs of older adults and their spiritual
well-being. This led to eleven mini conferences on the spiritual and religious
aspects of aging. These were held across the U.S., and affirmed the importance
and everyday impact of spirituality in the lives of older adults (Ellor,
1995). The details of the resolutions are presented in a Special White
House Conference Edition of the Center
for Aging Religion and Spirituality Chronicle.
"No racial ethnic group can flourish without remembering, reconnecting and using its distinct cultural and religious traditions."Religion offers a way to express spirituality with social support, security, a sense of belonging through religious affiliations and is significant in coping with age related changes. Traditions become more important as persons age. If these are lacking for older adults, feelings of meaninglessness occur. Often these traditions are especially important to special ethnic populations. These groups seek to recover wholeness and well-being through their distinct cultural values and structures within their own communities while they connect to their history and heritage.
Native Americans follow
their ancestors' two purposes of life: to know the self and be of help
to others. They vest many of their beliefs and spiritual powers in nature,
the land, and animals. While there are literally several hundred tribes
with many different rituals and practices, there are many commonalties
among their values. For example, Paul White Eagle writes about the Cherokee
Vision of Healing for Elders. White Eagle claims that the past gives tribal
members their identity and origin, and these determine what the present
is. Persons with these beliefs will be able to decide who they will be
in the future without limitations of physical movement in their travels
in spiritual realms. Confining their aging to their physical structure
may lead to depression or defeat. As the individual plans for his/her future
beyond death, spiritual realities become most important. He anticipates
the call of his ancestral spirits who have found healing themselves. White
Eagle asserts that older adults do not simply relive their past, but reconnect
with that which has created them and leads to healing the wounds of a lifetime.
of Japanese American families face different issues. The oldest
group faced economic and racial prejudice when they settled here and suffered
societal injustices with their children when interned in relocation camps
during World War II. Parents of the third generation of Japanese Americans
devoted and attended to their children and vested in them the hope of success
while being accepted into the dominant culture. The youngest cohort learns
their spiritual heritage as they try to reconnect with the traditional
values, culture, and rituals of their grandparents who are simultaneously
coping from the pain of their experience. Programs to promote intergenerational
healing among the four distinct generations in families are developing
in communities with Japanese populations.
The African American
church serves many important functions in the community. Studies have shown
that African American Black women attend church more frequently, participate
more in church related activities and score higher on measures of religiosity
and commitment than African American Black men. Elderly African Americans
score higher than other age groups.
Women have played major
parts in the organization and programs of support within African American
churches. The church itself is the agency of social support in African
American communities. A "disproportionate number of Black women in service
roles while Black men hold more positions of leadership within the church,"
has been identified. Some strategies African American women use in resolving
adverse experiences include accepting reality, turning over things to a
higher power, identifying life lessons, and recognizing purpose and destiny
and achieving growth.
Mexican Americans' struggle to survive in America may result in broken families and communities. Women, especially, use their religious and cultural traditions to adjust to their new country, sustain their families and build more secure communities. Their religious practices often give them strength to cope with the stress in their lives.
Ethnic groups appear
to find comfort in their cultural and religious traditions. As the groups
look for solutions to their unique problems, their healing often comes
from within their cultural and religious traditions.
Events or circumstances may threaten the strength and stability of spirituality in Older Adults:
There may be symptoms or signs of unmet needs or unstable spirituality:
" [Hope] is the human passion for the possible that makes difficult circumstances endurable."In the medical literature we associate hope with the delivery of bad news. Early Greek poets and thinkers viewed hope as a helpful illusion. Others did not attribute much importance to hope. Still others valued stoicism which seems the opposite to the notion of hope. Hope may have its positive roots in Judeo-Christian teachings of hope directing man to his faith and as a force of life. Studies of Nazi prisoners correlated lost hope with shorter survival.(Post, 1995, p.124)
Hope may be used as a means of coping. Critical aspects of hope include:
There are elements of hope:
Professional and personal ways to assist individuals may be tried :
Some persons have unique and very personal experiences that may be outside the realm of usual or traditional practices of most older adults. Hence, individuals may be reluctant to describe these. However, this sharing may be very helpful in resolving some distress older persons may feel in their spiritual lives. Allowing persons to express these personal experiences serves as an outlet for emotions. Some of these experiences may include:
Legacies given by an individual or collectively by a group are another very constructive approach to bringing meaning and spirituality into peoples’ lives. This strategy is a means for the process of a life review that has long been recognized to help older persons resolve past issues. These may be expressed in many ways :
There are many simple approaches that individuals may use to help persons who are looking for meaning or spirituality in their lives:
There are many ways that organizations can help persons to find meaning and spirituality:
(Ebersole & Hess, 1998)
While we understand that older adults may turn to religion more over time to help them cope or adapt, the church often becomes less accessible in their time of need. Different individuals within cultures have differing philosophies and practices of spirituality, but derive similar positive outcomes.
Losses and life changes increase in later life and challenge older adults. Instilling hope, offering supports and therapeutic interventions such as prayer, meditation, artistic expression or professional referrals may lead to spiritual renewal and healing. Enhanced understanding of spirituality through the information, resources and links on this site may lead readers closer to a successful aging process.
American Society on Aging. (1991).
Creativity in later life, Generations. XV(2):1-72.
Reasons to Grow Old: Meaning in Later Life. Generations, xxlll, No. 4.
Blazer, D. (1991). Spirituality and aging well. Generations, xv(1) pp. 61-66.
Chatters, Linda M., Jeffrey S. Levin and Robert J. Taylor. 1992 "Antecedents and dimensions of Religious involvement among older black adults." Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 47: S269-S278.
Clingan, Donald F. 1995.
"Aging: Gathering a spiritual perspective." Center for Aging Religion
& Spirituality CHRONICLE.
Ebersole, P., and P. Hess (1995). Toward Healthy Aging: Human Needs and Nursing Response. (5th edition) St. Louis, MO: Nosby-Year Book, Inc.
Ellor, Jamaes W. 1995.
"Special White House Conference Edition. Mini Conference Resolutions."
for Aging Religion & Spirituality CHRONICLE.
Koch, K. (1977). I Never Told Anybody. New York, NY: Random House.
Koenig, Harold G. and David B. Larson. "Use of hospital services, religious attendance, and religious affiliation." Southern Medical Journal. Vol. 91, No. 10 (1998). pp. 925-932.
Lee, Ramonia L. 1992.
"Healing connections: Ethnic perspectives on spirituality and mental health."
& Spirituality. [http://www.asaging.org/networks/forsa/a&s92.html]
Waxman, B.F. (1999). Nature, spirituality and later life in literature: An essay on the Romanticism of older writers. Gerontologist, 39 (5) pp. 516-524.
The Forum on Religion, Spirituality and Aging - part of American Society on Aging
Everyday Mysticism: Spiritual Development in Later Adulthood - Article by Robert Atchley. On web site for Naropa University, a private, non-profit, fully accredited liberal arts college with a unique Buddhist educational heritage.
The National Interfaith Coalition on Aging (NICA) - offers information on aging and spirituality with links to other mainline Christian agencies dealing with aging.
The Institute of Spirituality and Aging - a nonsectarian, interfaith nonprofit organization, created to help elders and caregivers of diverse faiths identify and promote spiritual values in their lives and develop a more meaningful connection between spirituality, health and aging.