The older I get, the more I like to tackle things I probably have no business tackling. In the course of the past 10 years, I’ve done everything from tennis lessons (I was never much of an athlete) to dance classes (hip hop and belly dancing, of all things), from pottery and mixed media (I was always known for being “bad” at art) to Italian lessons (Spanish was always my second language of choice). And for the pièce de résistance, I am nearing the completion of 200-hour yoga teacher training, where I am, by far, one of the oldest in the class.
And therein lies the beauty and joy and inspiration. I spend a lot of time with younger adults these days. In our training studio, we are learning together for 25 hours at a clip over seven weekends. I am humbled and inspired, awed and amazed by the young people who are wise beyond their years, deep on the spiritual path and committed to making the world a better place. I sit beside them in class, or huddled over a plate of rice and lentils at lunch, and soak in their enthusiasm and determination.
Learning past midlife is often underrated or avoided. We age and think we know it all. We age and think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The truth is that it is only through continually growing and learning—in our spiritual lives, our physical lives and our intellectual lives—that we remain vibrant and relevant, engaged and enthusiastic, not just for the things that matter directly in our lives but for the things that matter to others, to the greater community, to the people we love and to the strangers who join us on the path.
One of the key things I’ve realized during my training is that it’s not just about the learning; it’s about the community that surrounds the learning. We can learn while sitting in front of a computer screen at home, but learning that puts us into relationship with others, that draws us deeper into community, is what changes us on a fundamental and foundational level. Much like the way our Church and our parish are meant to change us. Sure, we can pray at home—and we should—but, at some point, we have to join our prayers with those of others in community where we strengthen each other and move forward together. That’s what most people crave; that’s what many people find missing: a united community that does not just say the words together on Sunday but lives the truths together day by day.
When I walk into my training community at Jai Yoga School in Slingerlands, N.Y., fellow students rush over to hug me and inquire about the people I’ve asked them to pray for. We share our deepest fears and greatest hopes, we make mistakes in front of each other, cry in front of each other, and laugh together. There is so much joy, not because everything is perfect but because we are willing to be vulnerable before each other.
Finding a new class will help you stay physically and mentally fit, but finding a spiritual community will carry you when you are in need, challenge you when you think you’ve stretched as far as you can go, and connect you in ways that will soften your heart and transform your life.
In “Bread for the Journey,” Henri Nouwen wrote, “Community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own.”
Where do you find that kind community? Who makes up your spiritual tribe? Cultivate connection and compassion somewhere in your life today and watch the magic happen.
This Life Lines column originally appeared in the March 25, 2020, issue of Catholic New York.