Increasing beauty among the elderly
In my career as director of the art program at The Reutlinger Community, I was invited to participate in a fascinating three day international conference entitled “Beauty: The Color of Truth”. The gathering brought people from a variety of realms together- scientists, artists, theologians, and scholars - to look at beauty. We discussed what it is and the roles it plays in our lives collectively, culturally and individually.
I was asked to speak about beauty in the context of healing and spirituality in the elderly, and to share the “Discovering the Artist Within” program at The Reutlinger as a living example.
My panel offering, “Discovering the Artist Within: The Healing Power of Beauty” outlined our community's art program and provided visual references of our residents' works and quotes. I addressed the actual experience of beauty and creativity in our lives and the healing affect of beauty on our body, mind and most importantly, spirit-particularly in our aging population.
I spoke about how old age and aging is a part of life, and like any other, full of possibilities, limitations, and challenges. My art students in their 80s and 90s want to grow and learn, find beauty and share it. They have not stopped “becoming” - in fact, they are coming closer and closer to who they really are. What most people see (when they meet an elder) is an outer image. But each person has a spirit inside, no matter his or her age. This is part of my joy in teaching, to see that spirit set free, and expressed.
Though we say something is beautiful it seems to have more to do with energy than material embodiment. We are stilled when we experience beauty, often followed by the feeling of awe, of aliveness or appreciation of that precious moment. Whether it is received through the senses or imagined with the inner eye, it is intensely felt.
When we encounter beauty we are filled with this experience; we shift into a different state of being- a more sensitive state of openness and receptivity. OUR EYES OPEN. WE SEE WHAT WE DID NOT SEE BEFORE. In our alternative state, time and place of the material and mundane world completely disappears, our mind chatter stops and pain lessens, and there is peace.
All it takes to slip into this alternative state is a willingness to focus on beauty. This is a lovely way to share precious moments with an aging loved one. Some tips for making this happen:
- Go out in nature together and discuss what you see. What is beautiful in books, large nature photographs or in other cultures?
- Read a lyrical poem that touches you or a mystical story.
- Listen to a symphony or opera or sing together.
- Watch a dance concert, study a work of art, or create a painting of your own.
These are moments that can transport you and a senior resident to a world in which his or her spirit can soar into sound and color. Refreshed and renewed, you will be creating a shared experience and beautiful memory that will be treasured.
Betty Rothaus, MFA, is the Artist-in-Residence at The Reutlinger Community in Danville, CA.