Creative aging is the discipline of cultivating the positive aspects of life such as health, wellbeing, vitality, resilience, equanimity, and gratitude. To invite creativity into the experience of aging is to embrace age-related change as the raw materials for personal growth and development. The discipline of creative aging is a practical approach to improving our quality of life.
Aging is Creativity
“Not in spite of age, but because of aging we become more creative.”
– Marc Agronin
Age-related change is one of the most intimate encounters with the natural elements of life a human being will ever encounter.
Aging is the essence of motion, change, and time. Normal aging is an imposed experience that requires our participation in the mysterious forces of nature. In other words, aging is a direct extension of nature and is therefore our constant companion across the entire trajectory of our lifetime.
The natural world is grounded in creativity.
Inside nature is a profound source of creativity, artistry, and beauty; it is the nucleus of belonging. In this sense, we are all participants in a confluence of nature too powerful for the human imagination to comprehend.
Aging is a form of intimate participation with the creative processes of life.
During the second half of life, the feeling of time may change. The inevitables of life, once comfortably hidden behind the veil of the future, begin to seek an audience with us in the here and now. Perhaps for the first time, we begin a secret conversation with the language of impermanence. The feeling of being alive and our horizons in life begin to transform.
Age-related change is a natural creative force.
Our impermanence is also a direct extension of that same creative force. Normal aging is a crucible of change that invites us to continually expand and broaden our capacity for creativity, improvisation, mindfulness, and transformation. To approach aging through creativity is to fully embrace the experience of being alive.
Our lives are immersed in age-related change. Aging is not merely a problem to be solved nor is it a relentless process of deterioration to wage war against. Age-related change is inseparable from the experience, wonder, shock, and rapture of simply being alive.
Creativity is an essential response to age-related change.
One important purpose of our creative effort is to transfigure our vulnerabilities into sources of insight and clarity. The raw materials of creative aging are forms of direct experience and intimate encounters with uncertainty, vulnerability, and adversity, as well as beauty, gratitude, and belonging.
Creative aging invites a personal and deeply authentic form of artistry in life.
To apply creativity to the experience of aging is to fully acknowledge our mortality. In other words, creative aging transforms our experience of aging by consciously focusing on the cultivation of vitality, resilience, presence, belonging, and gratitude.
Living imaginatively, doing creative work, discovering unique life experiences, transfiguring difficulties, lifelong learning, and moving through our own vulnerabilities is the underlying ground of creative aging.
Creative Aging and the Arts
One perspective on creative aging is closely associated with the traditional arts and the idea of leveraging artistic expression as a means to improve the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of older adults.
The process of aging is a profound experience marked by increasing physical and emotional change and a heightened search for meaning and purpose. Creative expression is important for older people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds, regardless of economic status, age, or level of physical, emotional, or cognitive functioning.
The National Center for Creative Aging states that there are significant health benefits for “creative agers” that result from participation in the arts:
- Creative involvement in the arts reduces the effects of stress-related diseases and slows cognitive decline;
- Participation in the arts reduces isolation and promotes a greater sense of belonging;
- Creative work stimulates unique areas of the brain that can provide relief from dementia;
- Dance can improve balance thereby reducing the risk of injuries due to falls;
- Creative reminiscing reduces depression and anxiety;
- Fewer trips to the doctor, fewer medications, and an improved sense of wellbeing.
The traditional arts offer therapeutic pathways leading to improved health and wellbeing. There is a restorative value to the arts that forms a threshold into a celebration of our humanity as well as an adventure into the human condition. To participate directly in the arts is to embrace active, positive engagement at any age.
Aging as a Call to Adventure
In a mythological sense, creative aging is a spiritual calling toward an intimate and personal adventure with the mysteries of our existence.
It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendour. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to say a hearty yes to your adventure.
– Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth
In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell states that the purpose of a myth is to help us to embrace the rapture of being alive. He proposed that people were on a quest for “the rapture of being alive,” rather than impossible notions of absolute meaning.
Aging is inseparable from the mystery of being alive.
That mystery is ultimately a source of radiance, harmony, and splendour, even though it simultaneously harbours an inevitable “vale of tears.” One of our creative tasks is to move into a merciful accord with our own impermanence as a means to find sanctuary in the “positive values” of our life.
In this sense, creative aging is a means to engage in the adventure of living. When faced with adversity and increasing levels of vulnerability in life it is our capacity for creative adaptation that becomes our most essential resource.
Creative aging is symbolic of saying “a hearty yes to your adventure.”