Excerpt from Inner Work of Age: A Letter to the Grandchildren
published on NextAvenue here:
Message from Dr. Connie, January, 2021
Podcast on Becoming A Sage:
My blog post, Rite of Passage from Hero to Elder, on Changing/Aging here: https://changingaging.org/elderhood/a-rite-of-passage-from-hero-to-elder/
May 2020 video: The Myth Salon
on Romancing the Shadow
Blog: March 2020: Corona and Climate
A 20-year-old woman said to me recently, “The virus is to Boomers what the climate crisis is to us.” We are frightened; the youth are frightened. We feel powerless; they feel powerless. We saw our leaders doing nothing effective; they see adults doing nothing meaningful to stop the climate emergency.
Both the virus and the climate crisis are natural disasters that are upending life as we know it. Climate change increases the risks of disease, including respiratory illness. Both are having obvious disastrous impacts on health, families, immigration, work, the economy, housing, commerce, education, and more. Both are creating an invisible disturbance in the Force that reverberates in more subtle ways.
Yet both also reveal a spiritual truth: We are intimately interconnected at every level of life. My health depends on your health. My family depends on your family. My travel, work, finances, food and housing security depend on yours. We are one family. We are one body. We are one cell of the Earth.
This truth is forcing us to change. It’s forcing us to shift our behaviors and our values. It was always my dearest hope that climate change would wake up humanity to act together as one. To leap to a new stage of awareness in which there is no self/other, only Us.
But it took the virus, a more imminently lethal danger, to ring the bell. And it took the stock market crash to drag others, kicking and screaming, into our common reality.
The coronavirus is an intervention that opens a door of opportunity to awaken us to live in interconnection, unity, love. The stakes couldn’t be higher. We need to move beyond low-level ego needs, nationalism, racism, and greed. We need to turn our homes into quiet retreats, do our spiritual practices, and send loving-kindness to all. We need to rest, read, listen, play music, sing, and pray for all.
There is something larger happening here, something we cannot see but may be able to sense for an instant. Perhaps if we begin to heal, the Earth will begin to heal.
FORTHCOMING BOOK: Crossing the threshold into late life can feel like a high-wire act without a net. But, if you are retiring or rewiring, ill or caregiving, feeling purposeful or disoriented, yearning to serve or do spiritual practice, you can learn to cross over from denial to awareness, from distraction to presence, from role to soul.
I am extending my work into late life for people 50+ who want to move past denial, fear, and resistance to discover their dreams and opportunities for this stage of life. My mission: to redefine “age” and to help others reimagine and reinvent it for themselves, just as we reinvented politics, work, relationships, and spirituality.
For updates, sign up for my newsletter by emailing me: Conniezweig@gmail.com
I am blogging excerpts on Medium at https://medium.com/@conniezweig
A podcast about the Shadow and meditation on SpiritMatters:
Ongoing 12-part online course: Meeting and Romancing Your Shadow — my complete body of work — continues on Spiritualityandpractice.com
See why I’m writing about AGE:
My Interview with Ken Wilber: He calls on Elders to Grow Up, Clean Up, Wake Up, and Show Up:
My interview with mythologist Michael Meade on Reinventing the Elder: https://medium.com/@conniezweig/reinventing-the-elder-today-b110e17f72f4
My interview with Roshi Wendy Nakao, abbot of LA Zen Center, on the
Marriage of Service and Spiritual Practice: https://medium.com/@conniezweig/the-marriage-of-service-spiritual-practice-3d69d784e9a0
An Interview with Chant leader Krishna Das, Wizard Behind the Kirtan
A Conversation with Spiritual Elder Anna Douglas, Buddhist Meditation teacher, co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center
This is part of my series of interviews with Spiritual Elders for my forthcoming book.
After three decades of teaching mindfulness at Spirit Rock in Northern California and in Tucson, Az., Anna, at 78, has turned her attention to Buddhist teachings about age and death. In our conversation, I asked her why.
“I used to live in New York and observe older people sitting on benches in the park. It would annoy me. I would ask myself, “What’s wrong with them? Why don’t they do something. I had judgment. . . .Now I’m one of them.” (In my language, Anna had discovered her inner ageist.) She continued.
“The changes in my own body, brain, and energy level are more noticeable now, and I don’t want to do much. I don’t want to multi-task. I’m more easily satisfied with what’s here, now.
“Also, many Baby Boomers over 60 are coming to Spirit Rock for retreats, motivated by their suffering about ageing and seeking a practice and a framework to deal with it. So, there’s great consciousness raising when we’re in the room together.”
I asked her to explain how the Buddha’s teachings might help with the physical, mental, and emotional changes of late life. “We’re finding the dharma now to be less remote and more profoundly useful. As an example, let’s take the three marks or characteristics of existence: First, suffering is built into life. We want it to be different, we want a younger body. But our task is to accept that our physical aging is natural, not a failure.
“Next, impermanence: Everything is temporary. All physical and mental things are in flux, emerging and dissolving. Human life embodies this flux in the aging process of decaying and dying. But, again, we want it to be permanent, which creates a lot of suffering. So, our task is to see that it’s all impermanent and work toward accepting that truth.
“Third, we are empty, without an essential self. But we constantly seek a permanent sense of self in our longings, our work, our creations, our children. With aging, our roles and self-images disappear. Our contributions may lessen. The solid sense of self can be seen through more easily as transparent, empty.
“With aging, our suffering, impermanence, and emptiness become more real, more obvious. The root of it is in our identification with the body. But if we experience unconditioned mind or pure awareness in meditation, then we’re not so lost. Then we can find an opening to awakening. As the Buddha put it, ‘Though the body is sick, let not the mind be sick.’ That means, train the mind in well-being and just notice the passing forms in the world.”
I wondered aloud how mindfulness practice changes as we age. “Mindfulness is an invitation to do one thing– breathe, be present, notice. In late life, it becomes easier because we’re not so busy with our desires. Our longings have quieted down a bit. And our physical and mental activity slows naturally.”
Anna spoke about how her experience of teaching mindfulness has changed over the decades. “It’s taken a long time to find my voice as a woman in a patriarchal tradition. Now I have a sense of love and genuineness when I teach because my life experience and spiritual practice made me ripe. Aging settles us, makes us more authentic, which is what older people need — to become who we always were.”
“Has your sense of time changed?” I asked.
“This time is a rich period of practice. The future is not visible; it doesn’t exist. So, the work is not about the future. I’m feeling the gift of life, the blessing of experience,” she told me.
“And the biggest surprise for you?”
“When I look back and review my life now, I can see all of the plans and agendas that I tried to force into happening. But my ego’s agendas went nowhere. When I lived in Santa Monica and worked as a therapist, I just happened to see a flier for a talk by Joseph Goldstein. I walked into a small shed with ten people and heard the Four Noble Truths for the first time. I recognized it immediately as my path — and headed off to Barre, Massachusetts to the center there. When I returned to California and opened Spirit Rock together with the other teachers, it was a great adventure — and much better than anything I could have planned. I see now that things had to happen that way.”
I asked if she wanted to add anything about the dharma of aging.
“Stay in your seat to develop stability of mind, to keep from getting swept away by thoughts. And reflect on ownership — my and mine. So you practice letting go of thoughts, feelings, people, and things. Aging requires letting go, and meditation can help us to cultivate that practice.”
Anna is helping to shepherd new young teachers into Spirit Rock Meditation Center, so that the legacy continues. They offer Buddhist meditation courses to families, teens, women, men, and Baby Boomers.
Dancing with Shadows:
A Conversation With Connie Zweig
Interview originally published in Psychology Today
For the past 30 years, Dr. Connie Zweig has been a pioneer in fields of shadow work and meditation practice. The founder of the Center for Shadow Work and Spiritual Counseling of the AIWP, she received her doctorate in depth psychology, trained at the Los Angeles Jung Institute, and has been in private practice in Los Angeles for over two decades, helping thousands of people detect unconscious sources of secret feelings and behaviors, and transform them into positive, constructive patterns. Dr. Zweig is the author of A Moth to the Flame, and co-author of two seminal books in the field, Meeting the Shadow and Romancing the Shadow. We spoke recently about the secret wisdom to be found in the shadow, and how to bring mindfulness to our forbidden zones, as well as compassion, on the path to of authenticity.
Mark Matousek: How should we think about authenticity when the “self” is made up of so many inconsistent parts?
Connie Zweig: We have all had the experience of a shadow character or part of ourselves erupting in spontaneous anger, lying, greed, or feelings of jealousy. We recognize the eruption in a critical comment we don’t mean to make, or in a repetitive fight with our partner, or some unacceptable behavior we can’t understand. Those parts are in all of us, and they are formed in our childhood through what psychology calls “defenses.” Sometimes those parts are repressed and sometimes they are projected onto others, but these forbidden feelings are unacceptable to our self-image and typically denied by the ego. “That’s immoral—I’d never do that,” or “That’s impolite.”
Most people are aware that there is some part of them correcting other parts, but they may not be aware of a higher self or what we could call an intuitive self. It’s the part that allows us to come back into equilibrium, and learn how to observe the shadow parts. To observe and do shadow work, we need the experience of being centered in a higher self. That is why our spiritual practice is so pivotal.
Without space inside our minds to observe forbidden feelings and behaviors, they take over. When they do, we feel controlled and overshadowed by them. For example, the moment you feel road rage and flip the finger at another driver, you lose your center and capacity to witness. In your anger, you’re unconsciously identified with that shadow figure. My work is about teaching people how to break that resultant unconscious identification of “I’m bad,” or “I’m an angry person,” and come back to the center. They learn to have a relationship with that part, and dialogue with that part, in order to recognize that it is not the essence of who they are as spiritual beings. And in this way, they connect to their authentic selves.
MM: Are you saying that without the ability to witness our thoughts the identification with our shadow is too strong for us not to be caught in destructive behavior?