Being a 66 year old woman married to a 78 year old man has encouraged my interest in exploring the aging process more deeply. I don't want to have an 'old world' context about getting older. “Old world aging process” means an unexamined aging process. It means living from fear or from the wider cultural perspective that aging is a shame or a dread. I want to see what's possible for me and within my marriage.
I don't want to have a black/white idea about retirement. “I've worked all my life to save my money so that I can retire and do ???” There are parts of my work I have left behind (retired) and parts of my work I adore and see no end in sight. I choose to create my own way of aging, letting go, taking care of my physical body and moving through the world from a position of fulfillment rather than resignation. This attitude is not a piece of cake. I work on it every single day and I don't have a 'perfect' record. I do, though, continue to find my way back to a place of resiliency and kindness around aging.
Two primary qualities that support aging with grace:
I've noticed over this ten year span, two qualities that have made my own aging process easier – a deeper level of self compassion and a more mature kind of wisdom.
Growing a more profound level of self compassion has saved my bacon more times than I can say. Finding ways to be kind as I stumble around this world with more aches and pains, more health challenges and more fears and worries has been a challenge. Yet, finding room in my own heart for this older, sometimes struggling body and the fears that accompany mortality has been an essential part of my spiritual path.
The practice of developing more self compassion for me includes using Ho o pono pono, the ancient Hawaiian Shamanistic Practice. The translation for these words is simply to say to ourselves many times each day - “Hey sweetheart, I'm so sorry for …. and I love you and thank you for bringing this to my attention for transformation and healing.” It is NOT ABOUT forgiving others but is rather about forgiving what we see in others that already lives in us. Joe Vitale in the book, Zero Limits is a good resource if you want to learn more about this concept of self forgiveness.
In a future blog, I'll be sharing about a system of self management called reparenting. In my book called, Becoming a Love Dog, there is a chapter called “The Car Diagram,” which is a step-by-step way of growing self compassion. Both books are available on Amazon.com.
When we age without a capacity to learn and grow – we just get older. When we age with consciousness, we become elders.
The ways I deepen my own wisdom include having a daily meditation practice, studying the works of spiritual teachers and mentors I enjoy, and developing a profound resource system that supports me on every level.
I just spoke with a client from Arizona and she was sharing how she had gotten cataract surgery and it was giving her a whole new lease on life. Rather than continuing to think her body is like an old car that is always falling apart and needing repair – the eye surgery opened up her vision and gave her hope – she said “some things get better as we age.” She also shared that she had gone to Sounds True and ordered an adult coloring book. She chose a coloring book that has Goddesses and other Deities in it. She is growing her wisdom as she ages by keeping her creativity going.
About ten years ago, I wrote a paper on Conscious Aging that I shared in various venues. It was called “The Fifteen Proficiencies of Conscious Aging.” I'll close this blog with the five of those proficiencies that fit with this article.
- Learn to shift your thinking from the old paradigm (old age is a disease, where we are decrepit, powerless and useless) to a new paradigm which is to consider old age a triumph – where we ripen to it, surrender to it, even make peace with it and in some cases, even enjoy getting older.
- Actively research well known cultural icons of conscious aging. Use their life stories to fuel and positively project their energy into your own aging process. (examples include: Einstein, Margaret Mead, Maggie Kuhn, Monet, Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, etc.)
- Take a stand for ending isolation by creating a support network larger than your own immediate friends and family. Get a black-belt in customizing a support system. In New Mexico, there is an organization called “Conscious Aging New Mexico” that has many wonderful offerings.
- Consider shifting your thinking from being frightened of change to a process of learning to welcome change. I'm not saying change isn't scarey, but to feel the fear and move forward anyway. Remember that our souls are larger than our personalities and they are eternal. Take steps to shift our constantly reinforced phobia of aging and dying so that you can have faith in the process of life that includes dying.
- Live for simple things. Bernie Seigel shares that most all terminally ill patients say they want to go on living because of simple things like getting a back rub or eating a piece of apple pie or seeing their grandchild one more time. What simple things matter most to you?