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How to be viewed as a Sage in your elder years. (Career Management).

I once heard Lee Kaiser say that he didn't plan to get old in this society unless we changed how we view the aged. Schachter-Shaloml's book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, could be the guide for making those changes. "Using tools for inner growth, such as meditation, journal writing, and life review, elders come to terms with their mortality, harvest the wisdom of their years, and transmit a legacy to future generations." (1)

Journal writing

I'll discuss journal writing first because I do it more regularly than I meditate. Much has been written about keeping a journal. A journal for me is a five-subject spiral notebook with wide ruled lines where each day I write ten minutes without stopping, whether I can think of something to write about or not. Peter Elbow in Writing Without Teachers (2) calls this freewriting, Henriette Klauser in Writing on Both Sides of the Brain (3) calls It rapid writing; Natalie Goldberg In Writing Down the Bones (4) calls it writing practice. The descriptions make it sound too easy--the discipline of doing it Is often difficult. If you decide to try this, use whatever kind of paper and writing utensil appeals to you or use your computer, but be very careful about doing it at work where someone may have access to your files. SchachterShalomi says journal writing is an integral part of accepting the aging process and making the elder years enjoyable and productive. He describes many themes you can explore during your ten minutes of writing. "Many people in our spiritual eldering workshops make forgiveness an integral part of their daily lives through journal work. We also use journaling for a number of other tasks, including tracking our life history, befriending unknown parts of the personality... exploring dreams...and seeking reconciliation with people who have hurt us or whom we have hurt."'

He also advises that you contemplate life's big questions in your journal. "Far more than answers, we need questions to open the floodgates of our own creative intelligence... Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is our place in the universe? What do we believe about God, the soul, the afterlife, and reincarnation?" (1)


Sometimes my life is so stressful that I can't stand to see proof of it in writing. At that point, meditation is more useful to me. I try to write daily, but so far, I meditate sporadically; however, when there is great stress or fear, I give up the writing and meditate to help me calm down.

The easiest way to try meditation is to sit in a quiet place in whatever position is most comfortable to you. I sit on a bed propped up by a three-way pillow. Breathe in and out to the count of four, with an "and" between the numbers. Breathe out and count one, breathe in and say and" to yourself, breathe out and count two, and so on. "A good program of meditation is, in many ways, quite similar to a good program of physical exercise. Both require repeated hard work...What could be more foolish than to repeatedly lift 20 pounds of lead up and down unless it is counting your breaths up to four over and over again, a meditational exercise?" (5)

Jon Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go There You Are (6) recommends sitting quietly, breathing, and watching your thoughts.

"By watching your thoughts without being drawn into them, you can learn something profoundly liberating about thinking itself which may help you to be less of a prisoner of those thought patterns- often so strong in us- that are narrow, inaccurate, self-involved, habitual to the point of being imprisoning, and also Just plain wrong." (6)

I find this type of meditating much more difficult than counting breaths up to four over and over. But his statement that many of the thoughts that roll around in our heads could be just plain wrong helps me stop and let go of thoughts when I occasionally develop elaborate negative fantasies about the outcome of a particular event.

Lawrence Le Shan in How to Meditate describes more than 15 different meditation styles. He recommends breath counting as the best way to get started and then to try other types. Some involve chanting or saying quietly words that have no meaning. Others suggest that you choose a word or phrase that has religious meaning to you. "...Stay with each meditation you try for the several weeks necessary to learn how to use it. At the end of that time, if you feel better after you do it than you did before, continue. Otherwise, experiment further." (5)

I've read about meditation for years, tried it from time to time, but always felt I was doing it wrong because my mind wandered so. LeShan's book helped me get over the hurdle of resistance to trying meditation again. He says if you are trying to do it, you are doing it right. "The important thing about a meditation is how hard and consistently you work on it, not how well you do It." (5)

Even 15 minutes a day of meditation can be beneficial--it increases your chances of not worrying and improves your ability to concentrate. Nancy O'Hara in Just Listen says. "...Whenever confusion or fear visit, go to the silence...Just sit still, breathe, and listen. Soon you'll find it easier to make decisions. You'll instinctively begin to know what to do and what is right for you." (7) These payoffs keep me trying to do it, when I would rather do most anything else. If I'm meditating fairly regularly, it can also help me put myself back to sleep in the middle of the night, although meditation purists argue that drifting into sleep is a bad habit; you should use it to quiet your mind while staying awake. I find it almost impossible to meditate in the morning--my mind is too alert and bouncy to have much success. It is easier at the end of the workday, but before the evening meal.

The description of meditation, like journal writing, sounds too simple to be useful, but controlling your mind is often a formidable task. 'The road of meditation is not an easy one. The first shock of surprise comes when we realize how undisciplined our mind really is; how it refuses to do the bidding of our will." (5) You will have a thousand random thoughts as you try to concentrate on breathing and counting. Just keep coming back to the counting.

"Treat yourself as if you were a much-loved child that an adult was trying to keep walking on a narrow sidewalk. The child is full of energy and keeps running off to the fields on each side to pick flowers, feel the grass, climb a tree. Each time you are aware of the child leaving the path. you say in effect, 'Oh, that's how children are. Okay, honey, back to the sidewalk . " (5)

Doing one thing at a time during meditation helps you do one thing at a time in other parts of the day. If you are not regretting something from the past and not afraid or angry about something in the future, but are just concentrating on what you are doing in the present, stress lessens.

Life review

Another task of successful age-ing that is fueled by journal writing and meditation is life review and passing on your knowledge to others. Schachter-Shalomi describes this process as harvesting wisdom. "...Harvesting has a purpose that transcends personal motives. When we recount our life stories and mentor young people, we transfer the contents and meaning of our experience into the global brain, raising the overall level of our cultural environment...our individual lives serve as blessings for future generations...each of us must write into the global awareness what we have learned in our lifetimes and what we have become." (1)

My mother has been researching our family's genealogy for the past 12 years. I like knowing the facts--dates of births, marriages, and deaths of our ancestors--but I have been saying to her, "I also want to know stories about them." After reading

From Age-ing to Sage-ing, I asked if she would tell me stories and let me record them. A couple of weeks later, I had a surprise in my email one morning-she had sent me eight pages that she had written about her childhood. I printed a hard copy, began to read, and could not put it down. They were riveting stories.

I was reminded that as a grown man, my grandfather entered an academy at the 6th grade level, finished high school, then went onto the University of Richmond, and eventually became a minister. A part of the story that I had never heard was that during his 6th grade year, my grandmother tutored him in grammar and spelling. Although she had only a 7th grade, one-room school education, she had been a good student and her teacher had taught her some high school work. She was an excellent reader and made sure my grandfather and each of her six children could read. I was energized all day by knowing this fact about my grandmother and that my mother was suddenly writing beautifully about it for the first time. As Schacther-Shalomi described, I felt blessed by the life stories of both my mother and my deceased grandmother.

There are people out there who want to know your stories if you can tell them in small doses and at the appropriate times. Schachter-Shalomi has specific advice on how to mentor: "For optimal learning to take place, the mentor should dispense wisdom in carefully measured increments in response to the mentee's inquiries and genuine needs. Proceeding this way works much better than the indiscriminate pouring Out of information for which no container has been made...In successful mentoring, the answers we search for do not come from the mentor s external authority, but from the mentee's ability, mediated by the teacher, to contact a source of inner authority." 1

We've all known people who talk on and on about themselves, and we spend most of the time with them trying to figure out how to escape. Good story telling and mentoring tells enough information to give the listener a good grasp of the incident but stops before becoming boring. The listener then begins to relate the information to his or her life circumstances and thinks, "Well, I believe I could try that in my situation, or "How courageous! I think I can be braver and persevere longer."


Journal writing, meditation, and telling our stories by reviewing our lives and harvesting the wisdom we've gained are productive activities for the present. They can also help us prepare for the elder years, as well as enjoy them when they arrive. One person said to me, "I have looked at aging reluctantly, as fearsome and troublesome. After reading From Age-ing to Sage-ing, I can look at that stage with excitement, and the process of getting there, the pre-aging years, can be spent getting comfortable with introspective activities that will make those final years fruitful and glorious."


Experienced physician executives in the American College of Physician Executives have knowledge that would be valued by those new to the field. Some write and speak as a way to give back to the profession. Another way is to share information with those who need it is through a new program ACPE is initiating--the Physician Executive Advisory Service.

If you want to know what physician executives do and how to become one, you can ask experienced physician executives to describe their paths toward management. Or if you need advice on particular issues, such as how to start a PHO or how to conduct peer review and enforce compliance, you can talk to someone who has experience on that topic.

Physician Executive Advisors are volunteers who come from the pool of Fellows, Distinguished Fellows, and Certified Physician Executives. Avery Jeffery at ACPE can put you in touch with the appropriate person to answer your questions. She can be reached by calling 800/562-8088 or via email at


1. Schachter-Shalomi, Zalman and Ronald S. Miller. From Ageing to Sage-ing. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1997.

The valuable parts of the book are the discussion of introspective activities that help you review your life, write your history and pass on your knowledge. The long section on facing your own death did not make me more comfortable with that concept, but that is most likely my problem and not the book's.

2. Elbow, Peter, Writing Without Teachers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

This book describes the recommended daily practice of freewriting and how to set up writing groups who meet regularly to read what they have written to each other. Reading to others who respond in non-critical ways inspires one to write more.

3. Klauser, Henriette Anne. Writing on Both Sides of the Brain. San Francisco: Perennial Library, Harper & Row, 1986.

This book describes how the left hemisphere of the brain gives logic and linear construction to your writing and how the right hemisphere provides images, stories, analogies, color. and style.

4. Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1986.

As you do writing practice, "the trust you learn in your own voice can be directed then into a business letter, a novel, a PhD dissertation, a play, a memoir."

5. LeShan, Lawrence. How to Meditate. New York: Bantam Books, 1974.

This book describes many different ways to meditate in an encouraging, coaching style and says one outcome of meditation is, "As I become less anxious and feel less vulnerable, I become less suspicious of and hostile to my fellows..."

6. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hyperion, 1994.

This book describes techniques and benefits of meditation, one major benefit being the ability to better handle stress. "... Stress is an inevitable part of life...there are many things over which we have no control...But that does not mean that we have to be victims in the face of large forces in our lives. We can learn to work with them, understand them, find meaning in them, make critical, choices, and use their energies to grow in strength, wisdom, and compassion."

7. O'Hara, Nancy. Just Listen, A Guide to Finding Your Own True Voice. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

This book discusses meditation, writing, and talking to others as ways to discover what you really want in life.

Barbara J. Linney, MA, is the Director of Career Development at the American College of Physician Executives in Tampa, Florida and a member of its faculty. She can be reached by calling 800/562-8088 or via email at
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Author:Linney, Barbara J.
Publication:Physician Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 1999
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