Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
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The Grace of Old Age

A senior citizen was driving down the freeway when his car phone rang. He picked it up and heard his wife's urgent voice warning him, “Victor, I just heard on the news there’s a car going the wrong way on 280. Please be careful!”

“Heck,” said Victor, “It's not just one car. There’s hundreds of ‘em!”

Writing is often one-way traffic, like filling a holey bucket, like shouting in the wind: all putting out with no give-back, no return. Let’s change that here and now. I want to talk to the oldies among the Spiritual Guidance audience; the over fifties, the ones looking at the three sights of the Buddha—old age, disease and death—squarely in the eye, up close. And I want to talk to the younger folk who care for the oldies or have older people, family members, neighbors and so on in their lives.

I want to ask for your response: please send it to me at—you see, now you know I’m serious.

With old age, as with all the various stages of life, comes a challenge. Three possibilities are apparent. I describe them this way:

One, I pull back and become an observer of life’s drama and mundaneness. Passion and intensity surround me, but it is for the previous generations, the younger ones with hubris who have hope, desire, urgency and ambition, who still require satisfaction, who are hungry for life. They are what the poet Rilke called “the hot and quick”, whereas I am the cold and slow.

Two, I retreat into a fixed stance, embellished by the appearance of age, becoming crotchety, mean and small-minded. Inside I feel compulsively intolerant, judgmental and critical. Mostly people do it “wrong” and I suffer from my disappointment in them and my lack of generosity. The dynamic is primarily inward, but I may express it outwardly. People stay away from me. Increasingly I am not someone others want to be around, but they do so out of duty, responsibility, family ties and…(dreaded word) pity.

Three, I accept the grace of old age, the wisdom of life experience and the generosity of existence, as a being who gives back and serves in teaching the young (increasingly everybody else!) through loving acceptance, compassion and empathy, through generosity and demonstrating the power of grace—the grace of a life well-lived and a life that continues to flourish and unfold intelligently with feeling, engagement and loving kindness, a life that naturally and beautifully has led me to a deepening spiritual threshold.

So, in summary you have the observer, the judge and the wise one.

Now, which do you choose? What is your experience? Are there any other possibilities to choose? Have you chosen one of them? What of the issues I haven’t mentioned here: ethics, health, crime, physical frailty, discrimination, employment, creativity, cultural expectation, prejudice and dependency?

Please share generously with me; anecdotes, personal reminiscences, wisdom, humor, tales of caring and of being cared for, glorious senility, pathos, compassion, ailments and love. I will try over time to assemble these into an article or even a book (asking your permission to share first, of course). I promise you I will appreciate it and I will not feel like I’m shouting in the wind. Thank you. May your journey through life be gracious, intelligent and wise.

Three ladies were discussing the difficulties of old age. One said, “Sometimes I catch myself with a jar of mayonnaise in my hand, standing in front of the refrigerator and I can’t remember whether I need to put it away or start making a sandwich.”

The second lady said,“Yes, sometimes I find myself on the landing of the stairs and I can’t remember whether I’m on my way up or on my way down.”

The third one said, “Well, ladies, I’m glad I don't have that problem. Knock on wood,” as she rapped her knuckles on the table, and jumping up cried, “That must be the door, I’ll get it!”

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This article was published in Spiritual Guidance, May 2012, on

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