Defined as those aspects of human experience which go beyond a purely materialist world view, spirituality can be a central theme throughout the human lifespan. However, with its emphasis on such qualities as love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, responsibility, harmony, and a concern for others, it can come into sharper focus as we age and mature.
Boomers, many of whom were raised with but then rejected religious institutions when they were young, often seek a spiritual dimension to their lives as they age. Over time, life forces all human beings to confront existential dilemmas. Faced with the inevitability of their mortality, Boomers, like older adults before them, have begun to grapple with the legacy of their lives. Questions about their purpose dot the spiritual landscape for mid-life adults as they age.
Although interest in spirituality may be predictably related to aging, Boomers are embracing spirituality in their own unique way – transforming the religious landscape of America and giving birth to a broader ‘spiritual marketplace’ that incorporates many spiritual perspectives, including both traditional and non-traditional religious communities. Boomers also don’t necessarily stay with one spiritual approach but often view their lives as meandering spiritual journeys. Some of what they’re seeking is a self-reflective quest for individual wholeness, a search for depth and meaning, as well as guidance for living one’s life. As Boomers grow older, they tend to recognize that spirituality must be cultivated through practice, and that there will be no ‘quick fix’ when it comes to spiritual depth. Spirituality will most likely remain a significant aspect of their lives for the remainder of their lives.
Spiritual Care For Boomers
Spirituality encompasses a sense of hope, self-worth, and purpose in life, all of which significantly affect your quality of life and sense of wellness.
We believe that spirituality is the set of personal convictions that influence your daily life through your thoughts, deeds, verbal communications, and relationships with yourself, others and your higher power.
Spirituality and Baby Boomers
Men, women, older adults and even Baby Boomers tend to approach spirituality differently. Baby Boomers comprise the “Me” generation. They came of age with a strong sense of idealism and adventure. They believe they can “fix” their problems through self-help books and gurus.
Baby Boomers tend to be open about new ideas and may have a lot of knowledge about self-actualization and spirituality, but they don’t act on their knowledge and put it into practice. Boomers need practicality. If spirituality doesn’t have a practical application, then it’s not very useful to them.
At Hanley Center, your spiritual care counselor will help you overcome these obstacles and help you discover your Higher Power. He or she will help you formulate a spiritual transformation that will lead to individual freedom and a meaningful spirituality for your continuous recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.
In the old days, if you were born a Catholic, you remained a Catholic. You raised your kids as Catholics, and you died a Catholic. And so it was with most other organized religions.
To step outside of your family’s faith structure was akin to denouncing being Italian. It just wasn’t logical, it would force you to burn in hell, and it simply was not an option.
Until it was.
Among then-radical approaches to everything from politics to living in sin back in the ’60s and ’70s, baby boomers took their faith into their own hands as well … and many chose to set it down and walk away.
Now, as boomers move into a later phase of life, spirituality seems to making a comeback. Rather than a return to the religion they were raised with, however, many boomers seem to forging a new spiritual path altogether.
“I was around 7 years old when my father decided to go into the ministry,” says 63-year-old Ellen Schmidt, “which meant that for the rest of my childhood I was to be a Methodist PK – Preachers Kid.”
Schmidt learned that smoking, drinking, lying and swearing were sins and that anyone who did those things was bad in the eyes of a God who was up there somewhere watching what she did. “The idea that when you died, God decided if you went to heaven or hell, just never resonated with me,” she says.
After graduating from high school, Schmidt went away to nursing school, where she met a friend who would take her to church and then invite her to dinner … during which the friend smoked and drank. “That was when my sheltered world just opened up,” she recalls.
Schmidt married a fellow PK, and they entered into a union of agnostic bliss. “We decided we were not going to take any children we had to one church, as we wanted to expose them to different religions.” But it didn’t play out that way. “Reality happened, life got busy and we failed to do a very good job at that.”
A church-free life worked for nearly 30 years, until Schmidt and her husband were divorced. “The event that seemed to catapult me to actively begin my search for something that made sense to me was my divorce and moving across the country,” she says. “Today my spiritual path is more metaphysical.”
At 63, Schmidt feels that her spiritual awakening occurring after her 50th birthday was quite perfectly on divine time. “The first 50 years were just preparation,” she says. “I’d like to think I am committed to living my life from a higher level of consciousness now.” She adds that “fear, drama, loneliness and my old victim mentality are virtually gone, and have been replaced by a constantly increasing and deepening joy, love and peace.”
Not everyone understands or appreciates the transition though, particularly Schmidt’s son Peter, who is quite convinced that she has officially imbibed the Kool-Aid. “Interestingly though, Peter is quick to say ‘I handled something differently today because I’ve been watching your calmer approach to things.’ The spiritual growth that he thinks is wacky is actually the same spiritual growth that is helping him to make more peaceful decisions.” She adds that “Faith is a very personal thing … other than those of similar beliefs, I don’t share what I feel is a private journey,” says Schmidt.
Even though it all seemed a little “woo woo” in the beginning, Schmidt counts one of the greatest spiritual gifts as “the release of all those negative childhood beliefs and misperceptions about faith having to be such a rigid, discomforting experience, and the embracing of a judgmental God who is just watching and waiting for you to screw up so that he can throw you into the fiery pits of hell.” She also notes that “there is no ‘right’ path … there are as many ways as there are people. You have to pursue what resonates with you, but it does require being open to new ideas and concepts.”
Experts tend to agree across the board that after the age of 50, people move into a greater knowing of themselves. There’s less of a focus on material wealth and what other people think, and more of a comfort in one’s own skin. The kids are raised and the career growth is somewhat complete at this point, so an opportunity for greater reflection and a deeper yen for personal growth and a mind-body-spirit connection is common.
But while the desire may be there, some people have a harder time getting started. “After my wife died,” says 61-year-old Dave Powell, “I knew I had to fill the void somehow, and I sensed it was on a spiritual level, but I just didn’t know where to begin.”
Powell was raised Jewish and his wife was raised Catholic. “We gave up both religions when we were married because we decided we could do without what we felt the two faiths have in common: extreme guilt.” After his wife died, Powell began going to the Unity church that a friend recommended and found what he calls “a faith home” there.
“It’s a really positive environment without being too woo woo or over the top,” says Powell. “And I keep going back because I feel good when I leave … there is no condemnation, but rather strategies for living a more fulfilling life.”
Powell counts having more tolerance for his obnoxious son-in-law, greater patience for his 33-year-old boss, and a more calm approach to things in general as his greatest gifts. “I understand that there is a difference between organized religion and faith now, and that’s a very freeing experience. I always wanted to explore something like this when I was younger, but when you’re raising a family and building your career, there’s just no time to think like there is now.”
Given the emergence of new thought leaders and philosophies over the last few decades, spiritual options have definitely evolved over time. Oprah is talking about it every night on her “Lifeclass” show. AARP has as section of its website dedicated to “Spirituality and Faith.” Even pop culture icons often discuss spirituality in their E! interviews.
The key is to understand what works for you. Many boomers have returned to the organized religions of their youth because the God that resonates with them feels familiar and comfortable in the prayers, songs and altars with which they grew up.
While the approaches vary widely, boomers tend to agree that there is no wrong way to do this. Schmidt sums it up perfectly: “Spirituality comes in many forms, and it comes to you when you’re ready to receive it.”