Jane Faily is living in her eighth decade.
She says it doesn’t take a clinical psychologist — which she is — to know that “living in a materialistic society with rapidly changing communication technology is hell for older people.”
In her own life Faily has noticed “what a depressing effect the negative stereotypes of aging, the isolation, the sense of irrelevance, the decline in physical and sometimes cognitive powers, and occasional physical pain” has had on her.
“Talking to other older people, both Baha’i and non-Baha’i, I found that my feelings were widespread. I knew that the only answer was spiritual,” she says.
So the Marietta, Georgia, Baha’i decided to do something about the situation. She developed a workshop called “Meeting the Spiritual and Physical Challenges of Aging” and began offering it to Baha’is and to the public.
“I spoke about it when invited to address residents attending a county-wide Senior Centers meeting,” Faily recalls. “I was requested to present it at several senior centers.”
Her message to audiences is simple:
“Elders are a needy group in America. The spiritual vacuum most of them live in has resulted in the startling fact that the highest rates of suicide, prescription drug abuse, and alcoholism are now among older people.”
By offering the workshop to professional mental health workers, and referring to Baha’i metaphors as being from a spiritual tradition that can uplift the elderly, she naturally attracts questions about the Faith.
“The Master’s image of life in this world being like an embryo in the womb,” says Faily, referring to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of the Baha’i founder, Baha’u’llah.
“The image has a powerful impact, as most older people live terrified of death. I describe it as being from the Baha’i spiritual tradition and being in harmony with other spiritual traditions and myths to avoid the impression that I am pushing my own Faith.”
Now, to Faily’s delight, when she goes to her Harvard alumna meetings, “where I used to sit struggling to think of a way to tell someone about the Faith,” she can “easily enter the discussion by referring to my work and to the spiritual dimension of it.”
“Questions come,” she says, including ”What do I mean by spiritual? What is the Baha’i view of the meaning of life, say for a friend who is suffering in the process of caring for an Alzheimer’s parent?”
And as questions flow, “I adopt my response to the questioner, and respond with as much directness as the relationship will accept.”
“I now naturally speak of the Faith in many circumstances which were difficult to introduce it,” she says, “and by showing respect for other spiritual traditions, the danger of seeming to proselytize is avoided.
“I have been a Baha’i a long time; never have I had such a rich teaching opportunity. And being of service to a needy group has deepened my own certitude and been a joy in itself.”