Questions & AnswersSpiritual & Existential Issues

QUESTION: I'm struggling with the aging process. Any advice?

ANSWER: I think we all struggle with the aging process sooner or later, usually around one of the "decade" birthdays. For some, the concerns begin at 30, others seem to sail through to 40, 50 or even 60 before the fact of their aging begins to bother them.

As far as how to deal with it, it often helps to extract out the particular features of aging that are the most difficult for you. Is it changes in appearance? The Empty Nest Syndrome? An increased awareness of death? Decreased physical stamina and strength? A sense that "it's all downhill from here"? Most of us would probably answer, "Yes" to all of those and offer up additional ones. However, usually one or more will stand out and it helps to break it down into smaller bites and focus on the pivotal issue(s) first.

Aging offers us a gift — a challenge to look beyond the external things we've used to define ourselves and instead, to look within and discover the worth of who we really are. Grieve the necessary losses and then move on to discover the joys of knowing your inner richness.

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QUESTION: I've read about past life therapy. Can that be helpful?

ANSWER: I've seen past life therapy produce some amazing results, especially with people who've already had a lot of therapy and yet haven't achieved much relief. It's not necessary to believe in past lives for the therapy to be helpful since this kind of work can be viewed as a metaphor. All that's required for past life therapy is an open mind and a willingness to explore.
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QUESTION: I have an intense fear of dying that's worse in the middle of the night. What can I do?

ANSWER: First of all, everything seems worse during the middle of the night. For people who are having intense terror or other emotions in the middle of the night, I usually suggest actually getting up for awhile, turning on a light and doing something distracting to help normalize things a bit.

As far as the fear of dying itself, there are several things that can help. One is to break the fear down into its component parts, similar to the suggestion about aging issues above and begin working through the issue from the deepest layer out. Another thing is to examine your beliefs about both life and death. Many of us find that our beliefs evolve over the years, but we don't always take the time to keep up with ourselves. Take a spiritual inventory to find out where you are and look for beliefs that are sustaining.

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QUESTION: I can't seem to find a direction or purpose for my life. I was a so-so student in college and have wandered around from job to job since graduation. I feel like I need a jump start on life.

ANSWER: Many of us feel this way in our 20s, 30s or even 40s. So much of our early lives are spent reacting to what happens around us that we often develop an outer focus for who we are instead of an inner one. Your current situation is a wonderful opportunity to begin to look within yourself to discover who you really are. It may seem baffling at first but start with little things such as what foods do you like? Colors? Movies? Books? Pay close attention to your dreams, since our dreams are excellent doors into the unconscious. With some applied effort, you should be able to extract "you" from your sense of what others expect you to be. Watching people begin to find themselves is always exciting. Once the door is opened, it's as if the true self which has been repressed for years, comes bounding out with amazing zest and enthusiasm. It doesn't happen overnight, but it's definitely worth the wait.

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QUESTION: I was raised in the church and was once very religious. However, I find that I no longer fully accept the beliefs I once had. I struggle with guilt over my lack of faith and yet I'm not sure where to turn.

ANSWER: Many of us experience a spiritual crisis when we suddenly realize that we no longer accept the beliefs we had as children and young adults. My own sense is that true religion and spirituality come from within. It's that spark in us that struggles to connect with the spark in the Divine. I would suggest turning both inward and also outward. Inward to discover who you really are and what you believe. Outward to expose yourself to the many different religious and spiritual paths there are in the world. Read books about other religious beliefs - perhaps even entirely different cultures from your own. Attend worship services of other religions to experience their traditions and rituals first hand. Allow yourself to search and explore. Talk to or read accounts of others who've had spiritual crises to help you normalize your situation. My own belief is that the Divine Power — whatever your name for him/her is — doesn't mind if we search and question in an effort to really "get it" from the inside out.

QUESTION: I was just diagnosed with a terminal illness. I've always been a relatively happy person but I have no clue how to deal with this. It seems like my life is over and I'm just supposed to go through the emotions until my body dies. This news is devasting.

ANSWER: Learning that we have a terminal illness does put things in a different perspective, doesn't it? Of course, the reality is that we all have a 'terminal illness' of some sort just by being alive. We will all die. The advantage or disadvantage of being in your shoes, depending on how you look at it, is that you have the knowledge of what will probably be the cause of your death and you also know that your time is more limited than you had hoped. However, I fully believe that we can have beautiful and fulfilling moments right up until the time of death. Our lives do not end with a diagnosis and nor does our worth as a human being or our ability to impact others. Right now, you're probably still in shock from the diagnosis. Give yourself a bit of time and if your mood and outlook don't improve, you might consider seeing a therapist, talking to a priest, minister, rabbi, etc., and/or getting on an antidepressant. The last days of our lives are simply that. We're still alive. We're still living. Our lives have just taken a different turn.