“two solitudes salute, border, and protect each other.”
Ranier Marie Rilke
Recently I was at a meeting where a friend of mine (someone I admire) brought us to discuss one of the most important attributes of elders that is emerging today. He had recently compiled a list of conscious elder developmental characteristics (see below), which he shared with us.
• Essentializing • Letting Go
• Embracing Paradox • Embracing Uniqueness
• Facing the Unknown as a Way of Life • Increased Tenderness
• Increased Awe • Presencing Evolution
• Re-becoming Playful • Welcoming Death (as Ally)
This list prompted a discussion. It was a good thing Xan was there, because between the two of us, it was clear something was being left out. For us, relationship had changed significantly, and we now considered that attribute to be one of the most important attributes of elder life.
Here is my best recollection of what we added. It had become clear to us that aging brought with it, to some people, a decrease in the tendency to be emotionally reactive. This increased relationship capacity mightily. In our case, it meant less conflict, greater emotional intelligence, and a much greater capacity to talk about what mattered. We found we could rely on the sharing of honest perspectives. We could also explore feelings and thoughts together, thus we knew a lot more about where each of us stood.
There was also a genuine intrigue into our differences; instead of being put off, we found these differences increased our sense of reality, and actually became something that would bring us delight and insight. We were constantly finding the world was much bigger, and more complex and nuanced than either of us thought. Relationship, for us, involved more engagement with each other’s “otherness” than we had ever experienced before.
Added to that was the fact that both of us could “hold onto ourselves” like never before. Life experience with our selves translated into a deepening capacity to relate to another. There is something heartening about the freedom to be oneself, and to be with someone else who has that same freedom to be them selves. We have never had a lot of power struggles, or anxiety about someone feeling forced to be some way.
All of these elements led us to have more intimacy than before, and they have created a relationship field like neither of us had experienced before. Some of these skills came because of who each of us is, but some have appeared unbidden, they are the consequences of getting older.
On a more general level, I think it fair to say, that older people, at least those that have kept themselves alive, have acquired a capacity for interdependence, that is, a greater skill at relating with the complexity of Life. This is a development many old people don’t know about, despite the rising capacity they may feel in themselves. In my opinion, the Universe is a relational place, and now with ripening, we humans are also capable of relating, like never before.
The upshot is, that with aging I have become much more capable of understanding someone else’s need for solitude. I am also much more likely to admire and protect our mutual solitude. I now know that our uniqueness, our feeling of freedom, of belonging to ourselves, our place in the spectrum of things, depends on it. Without trying, I have become a much more relational being than I have ever known myself to be, and that development seems to rebound to the benefit of everything around me.