In 1995, Renewal Judaism founder Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi published his book “From Age-Ing to Sage-Ing,” based on his studies of world religions and lifelong values. The concept of the book — that people should look for ways to make the golden years of their life as easy and fulfilling as possible — struck a chord with Phil Gerson. Gerson plans to host a workshop series this spring called “Transitions for Men” based on the book’s teachings.
“I believe we’re born with our own unique spirit and our own unique character,” said Gerson. “As we get into adulthood, sometimes we’re forced to make choices that take us away from that character, that uniqueness.”
Gerson prides himself on returning to what he calls his “authentic self” over the last 12 years following his retirement. He worked for more than three decades as a computer systems engineer at Boeing, but since leaving the company in 2001 he has focused his energies primarily on volunteering and artistic efforts.
He has taught workshops based on the Age-ing to Sage-ing philosophy twice before, once at Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle, and once through the TELOS continuing education program for retirees at Bellevue
College. While the programs had strong participation, Gerson noted that most, if not all, of the participants were women.
“Women tend to be more comfortable talking about issues of the heart and spirit,” Gerson explained, adding that he wanted to give men the same opportunity. He sees his workshop as just that — a challenge, really, for men to better understand the spiritual side of their lives and get in touch with who they truly are.
In addition to the lessons in “From Age-ing to Sage-ing,” Gerson will be incorporating lessons from Dr. John C. Robinson’s book “What Aging Men Want,” which treats Homer’s epic “The Odyssey” as a parable for men’s lives. In “The Odyssey,” Odysseus goes off to war, and after a long and eventful journey struggles to return to his family 20 years later. Robinson’s book demonstrates that this is similar to men coming out of the workforce and struggling to reconnect with their families and themselves. Gerson says there are plans to offer a full conference based on Robinson’s findings in August of this year.
“The real issue is what do aging men want, and why is it so difficult to get them to sit down and discuss their story and understand the spiritual journey as well?” Gerson asked.
Gerson feels that he is an ideal candidate to run the Transitions for Men workshop because of his personal experiences, including the tragic loss of a child, the passing of his wife four years ago, and a son who struggles with mental illness. The process of the workshop is focused on letting participants understand where they’ve been, to help them heal if necessary, and to encourage a clearer focus on how they might spend their remaining years.
Gerson also plans to address the question of “home” in the Transitions for Men workshop, explaining that “home is that feeling of being in a place where you can be yourself and you’re accepted. Each man has to determine what that is for himself.”