Breathe in and give yourself a hug. Exhale and release your breath. Breathe in and raise your hands in the air above your head. Bring your hands down and release your breath. These are a few of the meditative exercises I do with residents living with dementia before worship.
One woman frequently smiles and closes her eyes as she releases her breath. I often wonder what she is thinking and feeling as she exhales. Does it simply feel good to exhale? Does she enjoy meditating in community? Might she be experiencing a moment with the Divine as she breathes in and then releases her breath? As she exhales, is she releasing stress which allows her body to feel more energized?
Only she knows the truth behind her smile, yet it got me thinking. In older adults, how does the practice of releasing benefit more than simply the physical body? What are the spiritual benefits of the practice of releasing?
Nancy Gordon writes about releasing as a spiritual discipline in her article, Top Ten Spiritual Practices for Older Adults. She notes, “Aging has sometimes been compared to a process of stripping down to the basics. … We can cooperate with the process by voluntarily releasing our excess possessions, unrealistic expectations of others and ourselves, and old grudges and resentments.” What happens when we release these items? “New energy is discovered when we release what we no longer need or what is ultimately harming us or weighing us down,” Gordon writes.
As we age, what are some ways that we might experience new energy through the spiritual discipline of releasing?
Release through Laughter
I once sat with a group of older adults as we experienced Laughter Yoga together. During the hour-long class, we clapped our hands, we waved long, colorful ribbons in the air, we listened to jokes and we moved our bodies. All while laughing. We laughed quietly and increased the volume of our laughter. We laughed as a form of hello and as a way to say goodbye. We laughed to the left and then to the right. The point was, we laughed together in community. Laughing together was an amazing way to release stress, anger, resentment, etc. People were hesitant at first, yet by the end, the energy we were experiencing as we released what we each had brought to the laughter yoga circle was palpable.
Release through Storytelling
I have discovered that older adults really enjoy sharing their stories. One of the most incredible times of sharing by an older adult to me was at the end of one man’s life. He sat with me for two hours simplysharing the stories that made him who he was. We laughed and cried as he told his tales. With his permission, I wrote down his stories. He asked that when he died that the stories be told at the celebration of his life. The day before he died, he looked me in the eye and asked if he had shared stories X, Y and Z with me. When I told him that he had, he smiled and fell asleep. It was the last time that I would talk with him. He had shared his stories and felt free to release his last breath.
Release through Art
I once sat with an older adult as she colored a page from an adult coloring book. She told me that coloring gave her a sense of peace. Coloring was so important to her ability to release tension and the grief she was experiencing at the time that she found she colored every day several times a day. Art became a daily spiritual discipline for her that allowed her to process and work through her grief. She was able to release feelings she was harboring as she colored. By the end of the year, she had colored so many pages that she was able to give them as Christmas gifts.
Release through …
I have shared only a few ways that older adults may experience energy through the spiritual discipline of releasing. Each of these simple exercises may be utilized by congregations. How might sharing stories through an inter-generational storytelling time bring release to older adults in the congregation? How might adding adult coloring pages to the worship service bring a sense of peace to those attending? What might it be like for adults and children to color together during worship, if they choose? How might creating a service dedicated to laughter allow for the congregation to feel new energy together through the releasing of stress, anger, and/or resentment? I would love to know how you and your congregation experience the spiritual discipline of release in community.
There are a wide variety of spiritual practices one can explore. Please join with us as we celebrate an abundance of spiritual practices on our journey through this season from Epiphany through Lent.