I’m not sure when it happened, but I have come to realize:
a) I’m not going to live forever
b) Getting older is okay, despite the obvious changes and challenges
c) I am starting to look like my mother when she got older, and earlier than she did
d) The sixties are definitely NOT the new forties, despite what we hear in the media
e) People don’t like to see you get older, especially your adult children
f) You really ARE what you eat, so choose it carefully (she wrote, scarfing down a vegan scone from Whole Foods)
So for a):
The Five Remembrances of the Buddha*
I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.
The Five Remembrances text comes from The Upajjhatthana Sutta
(“Subjects for Contemplation”), the word for discourse in Pali is sutta, and in sanskrit is sutra) and this version has been offered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He elaborates on it in the Mindfulness Bell
For b) I am becoming increasingly accepting that there are physical, cognitive, emotional and even spiritual implications to my growing old. Among other things, these are appearance, flexibility and mobility, various thought processes, access to memories and learned facts, patience, frustrations, insights and awareness, and on and on.
For c) I look more as my mom did when she was many years older than I am now. She’d had work done, plus she only stopped coloring her hair at 80. I wear a ring she wore all my life until the day she died, and when I look at my hand, I see her hand with its lines, spots, scars and arthritic knuckles, all of which I now have myself.
For d) The sixties are the sixties, not the forties, no matter how we wish it so, and with them, despite heroic efforts to prevent them, come sagging, stiffness and pain, slower movement, delayed reactions and recollections, arthritis and pinched nerves, cataracts and thinning retinas, and on and on. True, we can color our gray hair and have all sorts of work done, but these interventions are temporary at best and usually obvious to the discerning eye. The plumped lips, to me, are grotesque, and I will not opt for them or any other kind of work.
Which do you see here? A young, fashionable and confident girl or an old, gnarled crone? The eye truly is in the beholder! And if we see old when we are young that’s distortion. And when we see young when we are truly old, that’s distortion too. And when we feel pathetic but we are still alive, living and loving and struggling, that too is a distortion. We are still here!
For e) Our loved ones, clients and friends may have issues with us discussing our age or, worse, showing it. When we stop covering our gray hair, it may freak out our children, as it did mine. Using a cane will create alarm in almost everyone you run into when you’re using it. Going without makeup for a quick trip to the post office and running into a well-turned-out friend can be a source of alarm for both of you.
For f) We really are what we eat. What we put in any machine affects how it runs, just as when we put the right fuel in the car or truck, we get the best performance out of its engine. If we feed our machine refined and highly processed foods, it won’t run as well as if we feed it plenty of whole fruits and vegetables (especially the dark green, leafy ones), whole grains and foods made from them, beans (especially black beans), and nuts; and the research shows that people who eat meats five times a month or less live longest).
Some research into longevity in the Blue Zones (places in the world with the greatest longevity) offers us some wisdom we can use, so I hope you’ll click on the link to read about it.
Yes, there are joys to aging. I’m game. Are you? We can do this!