We make such an enemy of age in our society, don’t we? And since I’ve learned that the sooner I convert my self-created enemies to friends the happier I’ll be, lately I’ve been considering ageing. How can I befriend it? Most of us, as we get “up there” a bit, turn out to be pretty terrified of age and ageing. Can we actually learn to love our personal ageing process instead?
But this isn’t what most of us spend our lives doing, is it? It’s certainly not what we’re encouraged to do in this culture. We’re offered more and more products, medicines, supplements, exercise programs, courses, books, processes, strategies, all designed to help us in our frantic attempts to stop ageing, even to reverse it if possible. And as a result we end up obsessing about growing older, even as we try with all our might to make sure it never happens to us!
So why has ageing become so taboo in this society? I suspect it’s because in this action-oriented western culture people learn to look primarily at the outsides of things, not the inside. Appearance, not essence. Doing and having, not being. And so we have all grown up looking primarily at the outsides of ageing. And then we see just what our minds would expect: elders who are limited, pain-ridden, restricted, forgetful, slow, weak, isolated.
Yes, no matter how many positive thoughts we cultivate, and no matter how healthily we live, our bodies and minds will undergo certain changes we’ll perceive as limiting. But what if instead of looking at the outsides, we turned our attention to the insides of ageing? What if, while aware of the probability of undergoing some limiting changes in body and mind, we were equally aware of the expansive changes in heart and soul that are also being offered to us? What are the inner strengths that can show up just from being here and living our lives, just from swimming in these currents of grace, day after day after day?
Yes, we may lose physical strength and stamina as we get older. But what kinds of emotional and spiritual strengths have we developed to see us through situations that would have drowned us a few years ago? Here are a few I’ve been considering:
Resilience of heart and will: Are we learning not to lie down and give up when we feel life kicked us instead of kissing us?
Perseverance: More and more, are we capable of making a deliberate decision to keep on learning, to get up when we fall, to keep learning, keep growing, keep exploring this life, no matter what?
Mental flexibility: Are our minds replacing fact-based calculation speed with a swifter and swifter “opening” response, where we let go of our judgments, see the oneness, and are willing to know that we don’t know?
Truth recognition: Our minds may not add numbers or remember names as quickly and easily as in our youth. Maybe we can’t do story problems now, but are we better at recognizing our own self-told stories and letting them go when they don’t serve us?”
Understanding: Maybe we wouldn’t do as well on Jeopardy, but do we do better at true discernment? At making choices as to how we’ll answer the questions life tosses at us?
Expansive vision: Yes, our eyesight may get dimmer. But meanwhile has our perspective grown, our ability to survey the whole territory? Where in our life have we gone from a local, small, one-sided perspective to a much larger, more inclusive one? Has expertise at “where’s Waldo” given way to looking for the gift hiding out in every single situation?
Insight: Our physical depth perception gets less acute as we get older. But what about our ability to perceive nuances under the surface of things? Do we see issues in more colors and shadings now, less in black and white? Do we perceive three, four, five dimensions to issues that previously had only two dimensions: Good/evil. Right/wrong. Mine/theirs? And has this increased inner vision made life a more interesting journey?
And maybe the biggest question of all: has all this made our later life a more limited, isolating experience—or has it made our life a more fascinating journey?
What if Robert Browning was right when he wrote, "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be—the last of life, for which the first was made." What if our life is a crescendo, not a diminuendo?
After all, we’re all ageing. Every single day since our birth, we have awakened one day older. Whatever our current chronological age, is it time now to ask whether we are also waking up one day wiser? One day more compassionate, more peaceful, more understanding, more loving?
Yes, physical passion can diminish with age. But are we steadily falling more passionately in love with our life? This is a love affair, I’ve found, that just deepens and deepens over time.
And to fall even deeper into this love affair, how can we encourage this process of growing expansively and gracefully older? How can we flow gracefully, eagerly, with the currents of our life, instead of struggling upstream against them? Fighting ageing means trying to slip out of, or swim against, the current of our life. Is this something we really want to do? Or would we prefer to let this current, this grace, carry us along, and rejoice as we go?
As I’ve started to pay less attention to the outer signs of ageing, and more attention to the inner signs that I am not degrading, but evolving, I find myself facing questions that sound more like the things a young adult might be asking:
WHO do I want to be? An isolated, separate-seeming self? Or an integral part of an exquisitely beautiful, delicately woven ecosystem extending not only beyond this planet, but beyond the visible universe?
WHEN do I want to live? Back then? Later? Or now?
HOW do I want to live? Reluctantly, barely tolerating what comes to me? Or learning to master the fine art of loving it all?
WHAT do I want to do? Is my biggest contribution the outer work I do, or is it the energy I put forth into my world?
WHERE do I want to invest my thoughts, my energy, my attention? There are so many ads and articles telling young people: “Don’t wait too long to invest in your retirement! Start investing now, for a comfortable future!” Whatever age we are, what would it look like to invest in what expands as we grow older, and bit by bit withdraw our mental and emotional funds from what is destined to shrink?
Could it be that what we invest our attention in now—whenever “now” happens to be in our lifespan—determines what we’ll experience in our later years? Will we see ourselves as limited, feeble, slow, unloved, shut away… or will we be too busy enjoying our broadening perspectives on life, our increased freedom of inner choice, our deepening capacity to love, and love, and love?
We are blessed in that this society, while still very outer-focused, offers an increasing number of inner paths and choices as well. May you invest well… and age ever more gracefully. And may these blogs, and the Life Tools that accompany them, prove useful along your path to freedom, wholeness and joy.