It’s a scene from a typical college campus: a dozen students gathered around a lecturer – coffee cups in hand. Questions fly back and forth as debates break out, and a rich dialogue ensues.
In this setting, the students are residents of CHHSM member Horizon House, a life plan community in Seattle, Washington. The lecturer is Thomas Moore, Horizon House’s first scholar-in-residence.
The idea for the program was conceived by Horizon House resident George Nickelsburg, who organized the event along with the Rev. Linda Purdy, director of spiritual care.
“The idea was to bring someone into our home here for a few days who could have ongoing contact with people in different ways,” Nickelsburg says. The goal, he says, was to let Moore share his interests and competence, stimulating conversations with and among residents.
In October, Moore presented four days of talks on topics ranging from aging to art, music, religion and spirituality. A musician, psychotherapist, former monk and professor, Moore has published more than 21 books, including The New York Times best-seller “Care of the Soul,” which encourages readers to seek sacredness in everyday life.
Nickelsburg first met Moore while working at the University of Iowa as a religious studies professor. When he learned that Moore was working on a new book titled “Aging With Soul,” he knew the prominent author would be a perfect fit for the inaugural program.
Residents were invited to meet with Moore to discuss unfinished chapters of the book, which they studied during a four-week period before Moore arrived.
“There were a number of aha moments that were wonderful to watch,” Purdy says. “They loved his authenticity, his strength of character. He respected what they had to teach him, but they also loved some of the new ideas he introduced.”
Other events included several informal conversations, a study of music composition, a public lecture on how to age creatively, and a talk on aging and the emergence of genius. Moore also spoke to health services staff and local leaders on how to best care for the soul in the healing process.
Moore reminded participants that aging can be a lifelong journey of discovery that leads to greater community, stronger relationships, more fulfillment and self-realization.
“To be human and to contribute to a more humane world we need to learn about the soul, about our depth and the precious vitality inherent in the world itself and in all its particulars,” Moore says in his writing. “Without this soul, we live in a dead environment and feel that death within ourselves.”
Purdy says this philosophy is similar to Horizon House’s take on aging.
“We focus on wholeness and whole care – our physical and mental and inner well-being,” Purdy says. “And that’s part of our goal here as we examine mortality and fulfilling life. Knowing we are mortal, how can we make life here more fulfilling?”
More than 500 guests attended the scholar-in-residence events. Purdy hopes that the program’s success will lead to similar events in the future.
“Hopefully this has planted a seed for future experts-in-residence,” she says.
Nickelsburg hopes that more residents will be inspired to explore their potential.
“As our bodies get older, our inner selves can ripen,” Nickelsburg says. “As Thomas Moore puts it, aging cheese is good and aging wine is good, and aging people can reach their potential as people dip down and see what their soul is made of.”