ContemplAgeing

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Bob Weber

boblargeDuring the forty plus years since college graduation, (yes, I am a boomer) I have had several careers.  This has helped me appreciate the words of the French philosopher, Paul Claudel, that “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

After college (and a major in economics with a minor in history) I completed a Master of Arts in Teaching (with an emphasis in social sciences) and worked in a public school system.  This period enabled me to understand and appreciate that my life and talents are gifts, gifts intended to serve others.

Then, for ten years I was a member of the Jesuit order.  My vocation to the Jesuits crystallized through the reading of the works of a Trappist monk from Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, Thomas Merton.  His idea of vocation, of “the call” we all have, is central to my development.  Merton, in his book No Man is an Island, wrote that we all have one vocation, to become who we really are, our true selves.

This vision of vocation has guided me through the many questions that have arisen and continue to arise as I live my life.  When you “ContemplAge,” you will live the questions in your own life until you live your way through to the answers for yourself.

During my years as a Jesuit my spiritual life was enhanced and deepened through individual and group prayer and ritual, spiritual exercises, and spiritual direction.  My spiritual practice was rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

The Jesuit community encouraged a strong sense of ecumenism, what I call the common ground of being and the sacred, the spiritual common ground shared by all of humanity.  “ContemplAgeing,” too, is ecumenical, and people of all faiths, religious traditions, and spiritual orientations can make use of the discipline and practice.

In 1975 I completed theological studies and received a Master of Divinity Degree from Weston Jesuit School of Theology in preparation to become a priest.  As I approached the decision about ordination I was not at peace, the kind of peace necessary to make a good decision and such a commitment.  Fortunately, the Jesuit community and my spiritual directors did not insist that I go ahead.  Rather they encouraged me to make use of one of the order’s central spiritual practices to make my decision, “discernment,” a practice developed by Ignatius of Loyola.

After a time of prayer and discernment, and already into my next vocation as a graduate student in clinical psychology, I decided to leave the Jesuit community with much sadness and considerable gratitude for the support and nurturance I received to become even more myself.  Since then my religious tradition and spiritual development remain the anchors of my life.  For many years these dimensions lived quietly and out of sight.

The language and practice of the service dimension of my life and vocation became that of a psychologist.  After completing my pre-doctoral internship, my Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and a post-doctoral training program in psychodynamic psychotherapy at Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard Medical School, I immersed myself in the vocation of psychologist.

Over the past twenty-five plus years I have provided clinical services such as individual, couples/marital, group, and family therapy, psychological evaluation, and business consultation.  I have also offered training, supervision, and consultation to mental health providers, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.  I have also contributed to the field of psychology through professional presentations and publications.

My career and psychological practice have been and continue to be fulfilling.  Nonetheless, during the past ten years, I became more aware of the importance and necessity of weaving the personal spiritual dimension of my life more deeply into my public professional work.  As I envisioned what shape(s) this might take I discovered many kindred spirits who were also trying to do this and many who had been making this integration for many years.

In my private practice, I began an ecumenical, psycho-spiritual issues group.  I offer people who have had experience in psychotherapy a context to make the connection between their spirituality and psychology more explicit.  To do this I draw on my Jesuit experience as a chaplain and spiritual director.

It was out of this experience that “ContemplAgeing” emerged.  My own aging certainly played a major part in this evolution.  But it was an article by my colleague in ContemplAgeing, Jane Marie Thibault, “Aging as a Natural Monastery,” that galvanized my thoughts, my feelings, and my actions and that led to the idea of “ContemplAgeing.”  I guess it was also the old holy longing that Thomas Merton had awakened in me in profound ways some forty years ago.  It is out of my own life and experience that” ContemplAgeing” derives its meaningfulness and purpose.

In summary, “ContemplAgeing” is the result of an interweaving of three strands of my life.  The first strand is my professional life as a psychologist for over thirty years.  My experiences working intimately and deeply with others have given me a deeper understanding of our shared humanity and the incredible opportunities offered by entering into our humanity more deeply.

An idea from William Lynch, a Jesuit, author, and literary critic, the “generative finite,” has guided me for nearly forty years.  Lynch said that it is only by entering into our humanity in all its aspects and dimensions, not by fleeing it, that we can ever experience the transcendent possibilities and the sacredness of our lives.

The second strand of “ContemplAgeing” is my longstanding interest in the aging process and the developments that occur over time.  In graduate school this interest took the form of studies in gerontology and a Master’s thesis on “Value Changes and Adjustment in the Elderly.”  When I moved on to my pre-doctoral and post-doctoral programs at MGH/HMS, my professional interests evolved and changed, and I lost this focus.

In part I believe this was due to a wish to avoid the reality of my own aging and that of my parents and the people I loved in my life.  Over the past ten years as I see my own hair graying, my friends dying, and my questions about the meaning and purpose of life becoming more prominent, I have chosen to look more deeply into the sacredness of the aging process.

The third strand of “ContemplAgeing” is the lifelong importance of my religious tradition and spirituality.  Over the past ten years I gained a strong sense of the centrality of this all-pervasive spiritual dimension of my life.  I have not so much formed it as it has formed and shaped me.  I have discovered places and people who provide me with a community to develop my experience and reflection that undergird my integration of the spiritual into the domain of professional psychology.

My hope is that ContemplAgeing will enrich your experience of life as it is doing for mine.  So, come and take the plunge with us and deepen your spiritual life.

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