As one who is now of “retirement” age I have received invitations to retirement seminars, read “how to retire” articles, and been exposed to the conventional retirement know-how. Within all this information and advice, a lot of the “know-how” suggests four requirements for a “good” retirement:
- Relationships. Often this is couched in the requirement for a retiree to have a circle of close friends and family. A life-partner is frequently extolled as beneficial.
- Activities. Having hobbies and interests that keep one busy, occupied, and active is suggested. Activities help to keep one’s body healthy and mind engaged.
- Health. Remaining healthy is extolled as being a prime requirement of an enjoyable retirement.
- Finances sufficient to be able to do what a retiree wants to do.
In much of retirement know-how these four factors are described in terms of individual choices. Sadly, this individualisation of retirement choices signals the underlying meaning of the word retire: to retreat, to withdraw.
Retirement in western-styled cultures is all too often a retreat and a withdrawal from society. The coming of retirement age is when one becomes older and of lesser productive use in society.
Non-western cultures, however, tend to view this time of life as one in which one becomes and elder. In these societies (albeit, ever decreasing due to western-styled globalisation) such and elder is seen as, and looked towards, as a holder of cultural knowledge, as a wisdom-keeper; a productive, active, treasured, member of society.
An elder (I deliberately distinguish from older) in this sense, also requires the same four factors as those outlined above for an older retiree. However, there are significant differences.
Relationships. An elder is in relationship with the entire world, the non-human beings as much as the human beings. An elder understands what the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, terms inter-being. This way of interpreting relationship means a relationship within which there is no separation. The relationship is not one of “me here ,other there.” It is a relationship in which “I am other, other is me.”
Activities for an elder are not simply sources of amusement or a way to utilise time (although these may be an outcome), but of active involvement in the world, active involvement in communities because an elder understands the meaning of service.
Health for an elder means health not only of oneself, but also of communities, cultures, and ecosystems. This form of health flows directly from the third factor above. This concept of health understands that I am healthy when society is healthy, society is healthy when the ecosystem is healthy, the ecosystem is healthy when I (and society) are healthy. There is an intimate connection between personal health and health of the planet.
Finances. An elder rejects the notion of having sufficient finances to do what one wants to do. Doing what “one wants” is antithetical to a healthy ecosystem. Rather, an elder is open and receptive to what wants to be displayed and expressed through the elder. In one sense, and elder becomes a channel through which the entire world does what it wants to do. Wealth is necessary for this – but not the wealth of money, shares, or other financial accoutrements. The wealth an elder requires is the wealth of a considered, and respectful, lifetime of experience.
What do these four requirements mean?
Retirement is not the time to retreat from, or withdraw from, the world. It is time for one to find one’s place (if one has not already done so) in the world, so that one can give back and be of service to the greater-than-human world.