It’s tough getting old.
A friend of mine who’s pushing 70 told me that his body’s like an old car. First this bit goes, then that bit goes… It’s tougher still when you’re surrounded by images glorifying youth. On the media we see oily muscly men with practically no body hair, women who’s proportions have been photoshoped so that they resemble barbies.
But there are advantages.
If it’s a life well lived, old age can be one of the best times. You can reap the material fruits of working hard and saving money, can enjoy friendships which have deepened over time, and can act with deeper self-knowledge than before. Whatever we gather–be it knowledge, wisdom or stuff, we’ll likely have a store of it to relish and share later in life.
So what I’m thinking about today is, how to age with grace?
Some people really hit their stride in their later years, but in what? There are some things we can’t take with us into old age: the smooth skin, endurance and strength of youth. Oh, we can age more slowly or more quickly, depending on how we live. But age we must. Some of us are dragged into older age while desperately clinging to the things that only youth allows: tons of energy, lots of sex, unstoppable immune systems, parties… Of course if you watch your diet and do yoga, you can stretch your life out (hardy har har), but we’re all getting older. Or our bodies are, anyway.
Where are the Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, New Kids on the Block?
Or where are any host of young actors and actresses who moved from A-list to B-list, then to C, then off into the oblivion of non-famousness, Sinéad O’Connor’s letter to Miley Cyrus (language warning) sums up the music industry, and really most entertainment industries. They’re factories which churn in the young, pretty and talented, then churn out the washed up. (It’s better to burn out than to fade away) Rock stars, movie stars and models have it easy in youth and hard in old age. In the media, women have it harder than men. The window of being suitable for the uses of those industries is small. The body will change.
Different parts of us age differently
Now the way I understand it, (based largely on the teachings of Bhagavad Gita and other spiritual books) we’ve got three aspects: our self (soul, spirit, atma), our mind and our body.
Our bodies are aging constantly, starting at the moment of inception. I’ve heard a body hits its peak at around eighteen years, then slowly deteriorates from there.
Pursuits of the mind, on the other hand, often really kick off later in life. Many authors are published for the first time in their fifties or sixties. Professors hit their stride after much life experience. In their later years, scientists mine jewels from decades of research. Musicians become masters.
Yet the mind also fades later in life. Also death is ever approaching… what to do?
How to age with grace: spiritual life
I know many people entering into old age who really inspire me. They all share certain things in common: they’re engaged in spiritual practices. They identify themselves as being spiritual beings who continue after the body and mind fail. They know that their spirit doesn’t die, and they’re identifying with their spirit. They’re not holding onto something impermanent, and so they’re no afraid of entering old age and, eventually, dying.
I don’t believe in the moon
Now if you don’t believe in any kind of spiritual life whatsoever, that’s fine. I personally choose not to believe in the moon. Seriously though, I reckon if we spend our lives cultivating awareness of our immortal selves, old age and death won’t come as a shock. Death will just be the shedding of skin.
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. (Bhagavad Gita 2.22)
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I’ll be publishing once every two weeks. I was doing once a week, but I want to put more time into each post, and also into getting them out there 🙂