Ageing - A Series of Reflections

Blog 21 Image Una Ageing6 Nov22Part 6. We Learn about Ageing from the Nautilus. The nautilus is one of the oldest sea-molluscs, spiral in shape and composed of many chambers that form itself into an attractive spiral. It begins as a tiny creature, that starts at its inmost centre, and grows through a series of ever-enlarging chambers. In each of these chambers, this sea creature lives for a season until it has outgrown its space and prepares to move into a new chamber. Its inbuilt instinct fashions a new space enlarging its shell as it goes, and thereby adding a new chamber suited to the next stage of its life. Because of its perfect symmetry and symbolic significance, the nautilus is given sacred status in ancient spiritual texts. 

The chambered nautilus offers us a powerful metaphor for the evolving stages of life. Its many chambers are symbolic of life’s unfolding mysteries and the ongoing progression of our lives. From the moment we are born and begin to take notice, we continue to discover, learn, and outgrow our previous thought patterns and religious development. Growing into each new stage requires a new space - a new phase of life.

The image of the nautilus invites us to ponder the different stages of our lives, and dwell meditatively on their meaning. Looking back, we can review our lives and harvest our learnings. Each stage has offered challenges, struggles, even painful memories, yet there is hidden treasure in the field of our lives. Each stage has blessed us with abundant graces. As we look back, we can pause at any one stage and learn anew what it has taught. This spiritual symbol of the nautilus was used in the teachings of Syncletica, one of the early desert mothers of the church in 250 A.D., who was a spiritual mother and guide for her followers.

There is another learning we can glean from the nautilus, who like ourselves, prepares to make the transition into and new stage of life once it has outgrown a previous one. For the nautilus, transition to a new chamber necessitates the formation of a secreted substance which eases its passage and protects against foreign invasive objects. The substance secreted by the nautilus, is special. It consists of a material known as nacre, which we recognise as mother-of-pearl, with its attractive glossy and velvety appearance. How clever and wise is the nautilus!

What I learn from this instinctive behaviour of the sea creature, especially as I make the transition into later life, is, that I too can create or rediscover an inner lining for my life. I can manage transitions, but especially this significant transition into so-called retirement, by finding riches from within. The transition from active living to active being is a major life-change. Loss of outer status can create an inner void, an emptiness once filled with busyness and acknowledged usefulness. This void can result in a painful loss of meaning. I may rush to fill the space with all kinds of activity, which rarely satisfy. Until I find those inner linings that satisfy the soul, my life will seem empty and soulless.

Gradually I begin to enjoy my new-found freedom to think, pray, to potter in the garden, meet up with friends and immerse myself in the soul-satisfying luxuries of art, music, and the freedom to ‘be’. Inner resilience grows, as inner linings increase. Wisdom waxes stronger within the integrity of being.

Soon I also notice the inner linings others have found for their lives and am inspired as I learn to appreciate the wisdom of the Biblical statement that, “the beauty of the king’s daughter lies within.”  

In selecting our wardrobe, we pay little attention to linings, they are generally secondary in our consideration, but a cosy lining makes all the difference in a winter coat!

by Úna Agnew SSL