Coming to Terms with Aging

“…inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.”  — Terry Pratchett

Aging is hard.

But who likes blunt talk? The word is, we’re living longer and healthier lives. People in their seventies, eighties and nineties can be seen around Hudson these warm days, walking, playing golf, going to the gym. They’re working at their health, mindful of their bodies, especially of their minds.

Some are less fortunate: struck down by accident, prematurely aged by their own genes, stricken with chronic illness. We’re told that health is everything; how do you think that makes sick people feel? We’re also told that the key to aging well is being “young at heart.” That might mean not being grumpy, but it also implies that we should hang on to being young. It evades the blunt truth: no matter how great your genes, your eating habits or your luck, you will sooner or later decline, and you won’t like it.

It’s easy to forget what we’ve earned, what we’ve
learned and the power of what we might pass on

To age gracefully is to accept age without regret. Easy to say. We know we should count ourselves fortunate to be alive now, no matter our eventual fate, but accepting the loss of vitality isn’t that easy. We lose our illusions too. It takes time to develop a good attitude. It’s an acquired skill; it doesn’t happen by itself.

The first signs of aging feel calamitous, like sand pouring through your fingers. “What’s happening to my youth, my vigor, my independence?” It’s easy to get fixated on that, to forget what we’ve earned, what we’ve learned and the power of what we might pass on.

After living with MS for twenty-two years my wife describes herself as fifty-three with the capacity of an eighty-year old. “My mother’s eighty-four,” she says. “She has COPD and is stronger than me.” There are things Caroline can’t do, but she focuses on what she can do: as a life coach, a wife and mother. She overflows with life.

Speaking of which, aging isn’t just about body and mind. It’s about heart. What hurts most is the thought of decline, and when we put our hearts into that we suffer. We actually have a remarkable capacity to work with disability and pain, but most of us handle anxiety badly. We fixate on it, give into it and allow it to undermine our courage, even though it’s we who make ourselves anxious.

Aging and wisdom don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand;
you’ve got to put your heart into it

We take it personally before we’re even old. As children we already witness decline in our parents. We fear aging, and not without reason. How will you age? How will you cope? How will your family treat you? Will you have enough money? Losing independence is huge.

Justified or not, getting wrapped up in those fears is not the way to go. We may be less able to contribute with our bodies, but that doesn’t shut down the heart. Encouraging others, listening well and daring to expose the illusions of youth are the great gifts of the wise. We can choose to cultivate them and pass them on. It gives meaning not just to our old age but to our world.

The question is, are you wise? Aging and wisdom don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. You’ve got to put your heart into it.

Mindful Reflection confronts you with your full potential; it reminds you that you never fully know yourself, that you’re a work in progress. That realization alone is the root of wisdom. Mindfulness reboots self-esteem, and self-esteem is the finest avenue of reflection. Share your experience. Explore the happiness and the pain. Be clear. Nobody can transmit wisdom, but you can lay the ground for it to grow, and seed it with your hard-earned tales.



Author: Stephen Schettini

Host of The Naked Monk

2 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with Aging”

  1. The notion that as you become older you become wiser may be the silliest thought anyone can imagine to comfort decline. In primitive cultures this may be true and that is partly because in such cultures, there are roles for the aged. Not true for the world we live in today so that the contrary may often be true, the older you are the more stupid you become. In Beckett’s END GAME, for example, the old parents live in garbage cans, discarded, thrown out.

    Personally, I am inclined to agree with the man who wrote:

    “A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not death.”

    The writer is Spinoza.

  2. Spinoza was ahead of his time. He and just a few of his contemporaries embodied the existential quandry that we’re all in today. You’re right: this accelerated consumer society is no fun for the aged.

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