Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

A Short Guide to Aging Gracefully

 

A woman delights in watching her great-grandchildren play.Did you notice? You just got a tiny, imperceptible bit older. And there? It happened again. But instead of obsessing over each moment and its passage, a cultural undercurrent is crafting an appreciation for the process. There is a wrinkled beauty that comes with a life long-lived, some have found, and the challenges of old age offer opportunities for existential exploration and discovery. Acceptance, rather than resistance, can deepen the experience of life for old and young alike.

“There’s a whole adventure waiting to open up for people who are aging,” Lewis Richmond tells James Shaheen in Tricycle, “but they do have to get through that ‘I wish I were younger’ phase.” Richmond, a Buddist priest, meditation teacher, and author of the recent book Aging as a Spiritual Practice acknowledges that aging comes with many challenges. If we can recognize those and move beyond them, “there is something precious and new about growing old.”

An increased awareness of mortality and impermanence brings a certain amount of gravity with it. Yet this is when we begin asking the most important questions about ourselves and the relationships that define our lives. These questions can open us to growth. “There is a lot more static of regret and worry as you get older,” says Richmond, “that’s why meditation practice can really help. […] What’s real is that this is your life, and it happened, and there’s no going back. There’s only altering your attitude and perception about it so that you can go forward.”

Handled appropriately, these same realizations can enhance our ability to admire life’s complete cycle. In Shambhala Sun, Lin Jensen writes, “Aging is itself an agent of impermanence. The flesh gradually atrophies and the bones ache a little, signaling the end that is to come. I’m discovering aging to be an interesting uncharted territory to journey in.”

And what happens next? Whatever our deepest-held beliefs about life after death may be, life on Earth continues to cycle. Matter changes form. “Impermanence is midwife to the newborn,” muses Jensen, “new life springing from the womb of the old. Things rise and fall, rise and fall. In all that goes down, there lives a going up. This is reassuring when you’re witnessing the end of something.”

Still, the end is not as abrupt if we've shared our stories. Writing for The Good Men Project, Brandon Ferdig reveals how exchanges with his grandparents and elderly acquaintances have given him a more tangible connection to history, to the strength of the human spirit, and to fluidity between generations. Most of the time, writes Ferdig, “we gloss over the present with worry and daydream, missing the depth and truth of who we are.” Having taken the time to learn and appreciate the stories of elders around him, Ferdig has found more depth to himself.  “The elders among us relate, in the most powerful and direct way, that heartache and challenges are something everyone has to face and that anyone can overcome; they reveal how change—to people, places and situations—is imminent; that there’s so much more to each person than what we see in them today—including ourselves.”

 

Image by Ann Gordon, licensed under Creative Commons.
 

rammil
10/7/2012 2:14:35 PM

Lots of regret when we got old, if I were young...blah...blah...blah.... but what I learned is that regreting those thing that I haven't done when I was young maybe I wouldn't be here right now.There is really a reason why we haven't done those things because it teaches us the true meaning of life, To become the person who we are today. Mmil - attract women


ramon sender
4/13/2012 6:57:46 PM

A Testament To Age by my author-mother Julia Davis Adams (1983) In my eighty-third year, it is time to celebrate life. Relieved of the clangor of emotion, I now rejoice in the beauty of every day — the unending play of light, the diversity and shape of bird and flower, the glorious changes in natural forms, the unthinkable intricacy of my own body. Every day is a revelation of wonders to be perceived. Not only the senses are delighted by little things more noticeable when life is less crowded, but there are satisfactions of the spirit as well, nuances of friendship, the touch of love freed from demands, the interchange of sympathy and joy from soul to soul. I enjoy watching little children gradually become aware of life, in observing how their minds run about their boundaries, test their limitations. One can enjoy them more fully relieved of ministering to their necessities. Animals contribute their own awareness, acutely focused, centeredon the moment, amusing, charming. I am grateful for the cosiness of a warm bed, but it seems a pity to sleep when there is so much to learn, so much to realize and know. The possibilities are infinite. Awakening is an experience to be relished, watching day dawn, the world gradually restored to light and color. The body may rise reluctantly, but the spirit soars. Today is a renewal of the miracle of living, breathing, perceiving, enjoying. Today is to be cherished in gratitude. Today is a gift divine. Youth is delightful with its surge and passion, but it is a wonder and a benison to be old.


donnahoebe healy
4/13/2012 3:42:51 PM

At 66, I have learned so much throughout this life and do my best to gently share with my younger friends and family. Perhaps they will not have to go through what I have in order to strive. They say "aging isn't for sissy's." I can agree with that! Thankfully my aging body is holding up well (thank you genetic make-up) but will not last forever. In the meantime, jolting those brain cells every chance I get as so much more work to do in this life and want to be conscious while I am doing it.