Bestselling author and counselor Michael Gurian offers a comprehensive look at the emotional, spiritual, and cognitive dimensions of aging—and how to celebrate life after fifty.
Called “the people’s philosopher” for his ability to apply scientific ideas to our ordinary lives, Michael Gurian, bestselling author of The Wonder of Boys, sees life after fifty as an enormously fruitful, exciting, and fulfilling time. Drawing on scientific research as well as anecdotes that respond to the needs of his many clients, he goes beyond the physical-centered view of aging and presents a new, holistic paradigm embracing opportunities that come with life after fifty.
The Wonder of Aging focuses on the physical, mental, relational, and spiritual aspects of aging, discussing topics such as sex, how men and women age differently, the effects of aging on the brain, and what to expect in the last chapter of life. The book divides life after fifty into three stages:
1. the Age of Transformation, from our late forties to sixty;
2. the Age of Distinction, from sixty to seventy-five; and
3. the Age of Completion, which involves completing one’s life journey.
In addition, this essential guide provides meditations and exercises to help you map out the aging process and is rich with case histories from Gurian’s research and experience as a therapist.
Written with Gurian’s contagiously optimistic outlook on life, The Wonder of Aging provides a full, constructive, and comforting roadmap to what to expect—and how to celebrate—the second half of your life.
Michael Gurian is a social philosopher, certified mental health counselor in private practice, and the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five books. He co-founded the Gurian Institute in 1996 and frequently speaks at and consults with corporations, physicians, hospitals, schools, and other professionals. Michael has taught at Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, and Ankara University. He lives with his wife Gail in Spokane, Washington.
The Wonder of Aging will be released on June 18, 2013 in Hardcover, eBook
Interview with Michael Gurian
The Wonder of Children
A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL GURIAN
Q: The writing of The Wonder of Children came about in an interesting way. Would you share some of your personal story with us?
A: The book begins with the story of my family’s visit to Great Grandma Laura, who is ninety-six and lives in a nursing home in Blair, Nebraska. Of the many visits there, this particular one inspired Gabrielle and Davita to ask me questions about the soul—what is it, where does it go after death, how do we know we have a soul? In trying to answer their questions, I had a realization, one that perhaps became possible because of my twenty years’ researching both neural science and world religions, but I think became real by mysterious epiphany. Quite literally, I had a vision. It was like seeing into the point where neural science and religion meet. If it wanted to be an abstract vision in the back of my mind, it was forced to be concrete by the very literal questions of children. The Wonder of Children is a six-chapter book that develops six sides of this vision. The vision is based, quite simply, in the realization that we now have the technology to prove the existence of the human soul.
Q: What is that proof?
A: In brief, the proof involves what we know about light—its composition, its form, and its substance. Our new neural technologies allow us to track light as it moves in the human brain and body. Religions have told us for millennia that there is a light that cannot burn out and each of us participates in it—each of our souls is this light. The neural sciences, depicted in The Wonder of Children, can now prove what religions (and our own intuitions) have always asserted. For the proof of the soul to make sense, I needed not only to show what all the world religions have asserted (and ALL of them say the same thing about soul and light), as well as show the confirmation in neural science, but also I had to specifically prove the existence of the soul in children, for it is in the child that the actual physio-spiritual growth of the soul is most clear, and is most demanding of our helpful attention. One amazing thing that happened as I developed the proof of the soul was that I stumbled on a proof for this idea, too: that the soul and body are not split, as we’ve been taught, but united.
Q: Why is it important to understand the unity of soul and body?
A: Especially in the lives of children it is crucial. We live in a time of increasingly visible cases of child abuse, child sexual abuse, child abandonment and neglect, lack of attachment to children, unsupervised children, child abductions and rapes, children at risk. The human community and individual people are more likely to hurt or under nourish children they think of as “bodies” to be used. Cultures and people are more likely to raise children to be mere economic interns rather than fully developed humans if they see children as “bodies” to be forced into certain economic and social molds. If the soul of the child is unrealized, the child is “just a kid.” If, however, there is no split of body and soul, then the child is soul, through and through. The child is the light of God (both in religion and in science), incontrovertibly the most important asset in the universe. When soul and body are split in our consciousness, we end up acting without full understanding of the real asset a child is.
Q: How do religion and science, which have historically been seen as oppositional to each other, actually teach us this same thing about the soul?
A: Just as we’ve lived for a few thousand years in a soul/body split kind of thinking, we’ve also lived for about five hundred years in a religion/science split. But religion and science, in The Wonder of Children, intersect completely. They both prove the same thing about soul—that soul is as much material as it is ethereal. When we see their point of intersection, we move to a new stage of human consciousness. For instance, we understand that the soul is not a kind of phantom light that gets shoved into the body at conception or birth and then shoots out of the body at death; we discover that the soul actually grows and changes during a lifetime. Both religion and science have hinted at this for centuries, but now, at their point of intersection, we can prove it.
Q: Does this idea of the soul growing and development during a lifetime follow current child development theory, or are you saying something else?
A: Much of child-development theory, championed from various sources such as Freud, Adler, Montessori, Piaget, and Kohlberg, fits very well with the idea of soul development. Yet the idea goes even farther, because it connects the development of the soul with the whole history of human religion, as well. So, for instance, where Kohlberg talks about six stages of moral development for children, The Wonder of Children adds the idea that there are stages of spiritual development. Where Freud talks about psychology growing from development stages in a child’s relationship with the mother and father, The Wonder of Children suggests that stages of development in a child’s relationship with God and Self are just as operational. God, known of course by many names, the infinite evolutionary energy of the universes, is the child; the child is God. As a child develops, God is developing. We are caring for not only the psychological development of children, but also the neurospiritual development of God.
Q: Your final chapter concerns the idea that God is child. What do you mean by that? And how would you respond to people who say, “But there is evil in some people, even some children; is God that, too?”
A: God is child. Soul and God are light, traceable now by technology and equipment that is changing our conception of the not only the universes but our own selves. MRI equipment can track the electromagnetic energy field of a child’s neural web, and show the workings of the 100 billion cells in the brain. Our telescopic equipment can now track the workings of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Science is increasingly showing us what God is, and the place to start noticing the proof is in the child. When we apply the sciences of genetics, neurobiology, neurochemistry and many others to our everyday lives, we discover no separation of soul and body, child and divinity, self and God. Yet, the same sciences that now take us to this place show us the neurophysiology of evil. Can evil, too, be God? The book answers this question in some detail, but one hint to give here is that God is not a transactional being: in other words, “If I pray to you, you will make my life safe and happy.” We have been laboring under a transactional attitude toward divinity. At the point where religion and science meet, there is a different God than we may have yet imagined.
Q: You mentioned the science of genetics, and you also link it in the book to the word “destiny.” What do you mean by this? Destiny is often seen negatively, not as a liberating concept but as a trap.
A: There is a great suspicion of saying that anyone, especially a child, is “the product of destiny,” or “formed by fate,” or “predestined for a certain life.” I am suspicious, too, of efforts to cage children or adults in preconceived ideas of who they are or should be. One of the great innovations of our age is that a child can have a chance, now, to grow up to be “whoever he or she wants to be.” In talking about destiny, then, I am not talking about the trap of pre-destiny. I am talking about the map of self or the divine map that each child is born with—his or her genetic coding. In The Wonder of Children we explore how the science of genetics, cross-applied to neural science, shows us on the child’s genome the divine map the child has been born with. Until very recently, we couldn’t see this map (adults presupposed and projected predestinies onto children). But now (and with increasing depth and range every month) we are mapping the genome, and learning the destiny of every child. It is formed and shaped by life, by nurturance, by experience, by environment; but the child is not a “blank slate.” The child’s divinity is provided at conception and birth by the genome. We can aid the child’s soul development even better when we understand the practical applications of the science of genetics in our own parenting, educating and policy-making.
Q: In the book, you talk not only about what happens while the soul is developing in concert with body, but you also talk about death. What happens to the soul when the body dies?
A: Every child, also, asks this question. It is one of the defining questions of childhood, then gets deferred during parts of adulthood, then reemerges during midlife, when we face growing mortality, then is encountered fully at death. So, one way we answer the question is to look at the wisdom available to us at each stage of life. There are two kinds of answers that the different stages of life tend to give us, answers echoed in both our religion and our science. The first is the idea that there is no death. The deeper we understand that soul, god, child, and person are one, the deeper we understand the truth of the idea that death is illusion. This is a more Eastern way of approaching the question. A more Western way is to say, “The soul leaves the body at death.” And while that is very true, it in no way mitigates the fact that soul and body were one physiologically during life. The soul is not “either body or soul,” it is body and soul. At death of body, the infinite energy, the light of soul is not destroyed, but continues, activating the memories and feelings of those who remain alive, still attached to the “dead soul,” and continuing into other dimensions our science has begun to penetrate, especially the sciences of after-death theory, and the physiological sciences that show us how even human hair keeps growing, minutely, beyond the time of cardiac and neural shutdown.
Q: For this book, you take wisdom and information from all the world’s religions as well as many sciences. Yet your book is also very practical. What is one practical thing you want people to do in order to better care for the soul of the child?
A: Soul development depends on attachment and bonding. Every brain and body is genetically wired to develop itself, but the full soul development of brain and body depends on each child receiving the care of between two and five completely bonded caregivers. Humans are group creatures. Our brains, our bodies, our souls need a lot of care. Our contemporary society is experimenting with the diminishing of caregivers for children. Some children are raised through crucial stages of life by only one person. This one person, who strives to give the best, may be overwhelmed, busy, trying to raise many children. And even in homes with two parents, many children are essentially alone. When we think of children as “kids,” or economic interns bred for material success, or bodies to be fed and clothed, we might not realize how many caregivers they yearn for. But when we understand our children as divine, we notice that they are teaching us to care better for our biological or adoptive families, our extended families and neighborhoods, and our institutions, such as schools. Each of us will be able to take care of nearly any problem our children develop—including disorders such as depression, anorexia, hyperactivity—through an increase in parenting, mentoring, community building, and institutional restructuring. Children who are abused or under nurtured do not become spiritually intelligent, though they will, to some extent, become adults. Lacking full spiritual intelligence, they often act destructively. If provided with not just a one- but a three-family system (this concept is fully explained in the book), they become happy and successful adults.
Q: Why is this book a natural follow-up to The Wonder of Boys and The Wonder of Girls, and why at this particular time are people so ready to receive your book’s message?
A: My books in child development have always included a great deal of both religion and science, so I think I have been inching in the direction of The Wonder of Children for much of my professional career. In a sense, it is a climactic moment for my nature-based child development theories, for I am now not only showing that human nature is a crucial (and mainly uncharted) part of contemporary child theory, education, and parenting but also that we cannot speak clearly of human nature without speaking clearly of the hidden divinity of each person.
We live in a wonderful time, one of great intellect, innovation, and free thought. My work keeps pushing the boundaries of thought and theory, and so I think it finds acceptance. One way it pushes is by being practical—by making science accessible to all of us who are, every day, working to raise children and live in service. It also pushes by putting dents in social and ideological theories that really aren’t logical, theories often based on thinly disguised personal opinions of experts, not actual science. And it pushes by asking people to care for children with all the tools available, including the spiritual tools.
We live in a time when some children are at great risk, others are very lonely, and others are being raised by incredibly busy people. All these children and their caregivers need inspiration, new ways of seeing, new practical strategies. The Wonder of Children was written to provide these things by a researcher who is first a parent and then a human being searching, like everyone, for answers to the great questions.