I recently turned the big number 60. Six-oh. As in, oh my goodness, how did this happen on my watch?? At the same time as I was digesting this unsettling event in my life, I finished reading the memoir Being Ram Dass, the life story of a Harvard psychology professor turned spiritual seeker and yogi. One of his legacies was growing the hospice movement in the US due to his belief that death is something not to fear but to honor. After suffering a stroke, he wrestled with his broken and aging body during the last 20 years of his life before he died at the age of 88 in 2019. During those years he strove to "age consciously."
What does "aging consciously" mean for me, for you?
I asked this question of a number of women between the ages of 60 and 75 whose opinions I value. We all identified some version of three practices that help us to accept ourselves in our aging journey. Practices that help us to even delight in aging rather than dislike--or worse, reject it. How do we do this in a youth obsessed culture that views aging as something to avoid at best and as a source of suffering and unhappiness at worst?
By focusing on where we are, not where we have been.
1) Celebrating moving into the season of wisdom, rather than aging away from youth.
In our journey toward arriving at the last third of our lives or so, we have developed wisdom. We agreed that a great joy of this season is to share our hard earned wisdom with others. Volunteer, give back, serve, plant seeds in others' lives. Ah yes---bloom again!---as some strong perennials do in my garden at the end of summer. They bloom again if they had been cut back and trimmed after their first bloom. We are similar. Experiencing loss, having to let go of some dreams, leaving some relationships or possessions behind----in these ways we are pruned by life's journey. In this pruning, we grow our compassion, emotional intelligence, patience, and empathy. These are the hallmarks of the season of wisdom. I don't waste this wisdom by keeping it inside. I want to multiply it sharing it.
2) Gracefully transition our focus from doing to being. Our 20's, 30's, and 40's are the decades of doing: creating careers, raising children, maintaining homes. In the last third of our lives our bodies have less physical energy, more aches and pains. We have more time when we retire. These realities of aging give us the opportunity---the gift!--- to practice less doing and more being. I pause more in my life and gaze at the bright sun shining on the cold snowy landscape with my warm dog on my lap. In those moments of just being, I appreciate the beauty I see outside my window, the devotion I feel from my dog, and the satisfaction of feeling full with my gratitude for these things. In moments like these, being is enough. I spend more time attending to the health of my spirit, my soul, as my life journey draws me closer to that time when I will no longer have a physical body.
3) Nurturing friendships that help us move toward "blooming" again. Friendships with those who help us expand beyond our body's limitations and help us tap into creativity that we previously didn't have time to explore. Cultivating friendships that give us courage to let go of that which no longer serves us. Decades of focus on individual growth shifts as focus expands on helping each other bloom again. We share our wisdom with each other.
Consciously embracing our place on our aging journey can lead us to being proud of what had been the old-fashioned concept of an "elder." This was a person who exemplified being grounded in their own skin as a wise, awakened soul. This role was one that was respected and honored. It can be again as we choose to welcome the benefits of our older age.