Aging wisely takes practice: a guide for mindful living

Aging wisely takes practice: a guide for mindful living

Death of a loved one, retirement or children simply aging and moving out prompt newfound acquisitions of time. With freedom from prior responsibilities comes myriad opportunities and often introspection: Where do I go from here? Who am I now that this is no longer a part of my life? How do others perceive me?  

Strategies for mindfully navigating one’s adult way rest at the heart of “Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience, & Spirit.”  

Acceptance, opening your heart to the world’s awesomeness, expression, acquiring a spiritual friend and building a likeminded community are all advocated by “Wise Aging’s” authors, Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal.  

Both women have practiced and promoted these techniques by “spiritually exploring.” Cowan was previously program director for Jewish life and values at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and executive director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Thal was founding co-director of the Yedidya Center for Jewish Spiritual Direction, an institute that trains individuals to provide spiritual guidance.  

Cowan and Thal developed “Wise Aging” while co-teaching a group focused on the “spiritual journey of aging.” Roughly a decade ago, the authors met with 60- and 70-year-olds for five hours each month to meditate, study and exchange stories or insights. With each meeting, Cowan and Thal noticed group members’ emotional changes. Recognizing these developments, the authors sought to combine these observations with writings from various traditions. “Wise Aging” is the byproduct of Cowan and Thal’s venture.  

Understanding this narrative origin provides readers a framework for experiencing “Wise Aging.”  While the text features both a guide for mindful aging and its authors’ reflections on life after age 65, “Wise Aging” grants readers multiple entryways.  The text could be read cover to cover or in a nonlinear fashion.  Although the arc of aging is presented sequentially, readers interested in any of the nine subject-based chapters (topics include pursuing romance and relationships, living with loss and crafting one’s legacy) could easily benefit by exploring isolated chapters.  Juxtaposed to each chapter’s poems, stories and studies are reader practices and reflection questions.  Readers will most gain by following the authors’ advice of working with the written materials and contemplating how the text personally resonates. Performing recommended meditations or journaling responses to various prompts should yield a mindful encounter with each topic. Sharing these experiences within a group will offer additional benefit.  

By providing both exercises and episodes “Wise Aging” straddles the genres of textbook and narrative. Answering reflection questions such as, “Who in your life can you depend upon to gently set you straight when you have erred,” and “When have you ever become so overcome with gratitude that you felt you couldn’t express it enough,” will generate different responses than considering the included vignettes, such as the story of Stuart, a nonagenarian who finally began to evaluate his emotional detachment. After nine months of striving to recognize his own state and offer empathy and compassion to others, Stuart, at the age of 94, told his psychiatrist: “Life has new meaning now.”

Much like “Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older: Finding Your Grit and Grace Beyond Midlife” by Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, “Wise Aging” is directed toward an adult audience. In targeting this demographic, Cowan and Thal hope that readers ultimately perceive their past and present as “full of blessings” and in so doing become their truest selves. Attaining this lofty state is the hope of “Wise Aging.” Providing the tools for aging wisely is this book’s gift.   

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

“Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience, & Spirit”

By Rabbi Rachel Cowan

and Dr. Linda Thal

Behrman House Publishing,

328 pages

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