Andrew Weil, M.D., a graduate of Harvard Medical School, serves as director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, and is the author of "Spontaneous Healing," "Eight Weeks to Optimum Health," among other bestsellers. In his latest book, "Healthy Aging," Weil encourages readers to embrace, rather than deny or fight, the aging process (and explains why he believes so-called "anti-aging" products do not work anyway). He spoke with Beliefnet about the spiritual virtues of aging, why no one should be afraid of getting older, the benefits of meditation, and how he feels about his famous white beard.
You write that aging can be "a catalyst for spiritual growth." How?
|Aging as path to spiritual awakening|
In the book, I used an example of the legend of the Buddha's enlightenment. When he was the young prince Siddhartha, he was kept by his father in a fantasy palace where he wasn't supposed to see anything that suggested aging and death or anything unpleasant. Then he goes out of the palace and the first thing he sees is an old man. Subsequently, he sees a corpse, a sick man, and a monk-these four sights or visitations are what really stimulated him on the path of enlightenment. So I think there is a way in which awareness and mortality and aging are certainly the most powerful reminders that we're moving in that direction; it can be a profound spiritual awakening.
I also quoted Carl Jung, who said that he thought that the major focus of the second half of life should be mortality and that anything that took away from that was in the direction of not being mentally healthy. I think in our society we see so much denial of aging and ways that people try to pretend to themselves that aging is not happening and I worry about that being a not-healthy direction. I think a common correlation we see as people become older is that they have greater interest in things spiritual or non-physical.
What do you think is at the heart of our fear of aging?
I think the root is the fear of death, which is the great mystery; it's what we don't understand and I think that's really why people turn to religion, turn to spiritual paths, to come to grips with mortality. And aging is a constant reminder that we're moving in that direction. So I think that's the root fear. Then on top of that, I think there are more specific fears: the fear of losing independence, losing pleasure in life, things of that sort.
How can we overcome these fears?
Well, I think by facing them squarely and being honest about them, that's the first step. It is very helpful to seek out people who are examples of healthy aging and see what they have to teach us. Information is a very powerful antidote to fear, having truthful information.
In terms of spirituality, are there particular things that people can do?
Well, I think there are a lot of things that people can do to attend to their spiritual health and well-being. Some of the suggestions I've made over the years include bringing fresh flowers into your house, listening to music that elevates your spirits, reading spiritual literature-inspirational literature that has that effect, seeking out the company of people in whose presence you feel more elevated, spending more time in nature. I think there is an endless list of what people can do.
On a personal level, what does aging mean to you? Is it something you look forward to?