The art of aging
NEGIN MOTAMED embraces the process of aging and provides tips for participating joyfully by going with the flow of natural cycles and enjoying the later part of life.
When we talk about aging in today’s culture, it seems that it is something negative that happens to us, which we have to ‘go through’ as we say in English, in the same way we go through traumas, miseries and disease. It shows that deep down we have not accepted it as a natural stage of our lives. Perhaps this is because we look at our life from a material standpoint only to see the deformation of the body, gradually moving from strong to weak, from beautiful and young to drooping and old, from completely healthy to ill, and so on and so forth.
From a material standpoint it obviously is the fall of life, a process of diminishing, setting and annihilation of matter. It can be seen as the road that takes us to death, and in the same way that death is taboo in our material culture, aging is also taboo. Hence we now have an industry of anti-aging beauty products, such as creams, hair colours, Botox injections and even surgeries. Also we have hormone supplements and aids to prolong the younger body functions that are not as active as before, go through their changes or simply stop as they are not needed any more.
This fear of aging has turned into a deep fear in our collective consciousness to the extent that some people don’t even live their lives fully; they compromise to enjoy the sun’s warm, healing, pleasant touch on their skin for a few minutes and cover themselves under layers of clothing and sunscreen. Some people even hide their age as if they have committed a crime! To me, hiding or reducing the number of years that we have lived is an indication of not agreeing that we have really lived those years. And if we have lived those years so fully, can we not be proud to announce them as a meaningful part of our lives?
It is true that aging is a part of the natural cycle of our lives and has its own course just like the cycle of the seasons; the transition that happens from spring to summer to autumn and then to winter happens whether we like it or not! However when we accept the natural cycle of things and go with the flow gracefully, it suddenly takes on another quality. All of a sudden we become an active part in the process. We change our position from the victim standpoint to the co-creator standpoint. We don’t have to fight it anymore; instead we work with it. We claim and take back the power that we inherit from Nature. All of a sudden we are not passive. Rather, we actively and joyfully participate in the process.
But what does it really mean to participate joyfully in the aging process? The first step is obviously to accept it as a fact and as a natural stage in our lives. That will lead us to look into it and learn about it, from the physiological changes in our hormones, muscles and bones, to the emotional changes, and so on. It is like preparing for autumn before we come to the end of summer. We know exactly what we have to do to prepare our garden for the autumn. We start collecting the flower seeds before they scatter, we harvest the crops of our vegetable garden, and we prepare the soil for spring and put the bulbs in the soil. Later we collect the leaves from the grass, and cover the flower garden with them, and we cut the unwanted branches of trees and shrubs. We collect the outside furniture and winterize the water taps, and so on.
Likewise by familiarizing ourselves with the changes we are going to experience while aging, we prepare ourselves mentally for them and then we can choose the strategy of our choices towards these changes. Some of us may choose to make our houses smaller so we can easily maintain a living space as our physical strength diminishes. Instead we will spend more time traveling and relaxing, and maybe cultivating new habits such as meditation, Yoga, healthier diet, etc. Generally at this stage of our lives, we have less responsibility for children and more financial freedom to pursue a new vocation. So some of us may decide to dedicate our time serving the society, whether voluntarily or as a new career, doing something we aspire for.
It is all possible when we allow aging to appear fully in our being and consequently in our lives, as we go with the flow and observe keenly our inner and outer changes. We notice that some things do not matter to us anymore and other things matter to us much more. We notice the changes in our different body functions, as everything seem to slow down, as well as observing our skin wrinkling and our hair turning white. So instead of denying these facts and resisting the changes inwardly and in our appearance, we can choose to look at them with wonder and explore the quiddity of it whatever it may be according to our experience, pausing and reflecting on our new conditions and acting accordingly.
It is something to explore with an open mind and open heart, with a sense of wonder and curiosity. As if we are preparing for a journey to an unknown and untraveled land! The reality is that our appearance as we grow older is a reflection of our long-time thought patterns, habits and lifestyle. So whatever does not please us as we look into this changing mirror, we have to change on the inside!
If we look at the human system as a whole, it consists of the material aspect and all the other non-material and subtler layers; our intellect and thinking faculties, our emotional layer, our ego, and our overall consciousness. These non-visible, non-physical, yet more profound layers make us who we really are. What is the significance of having a human life? It cannot only be because we have a bigger brain and we walk on two feet, or in other words because of our physical differences with other species. Our physical aspect with all its uniqueness makes us just another animal species. So it brings us to think more and more of our spiritual aspects, and unlike our material aspects these can grow as we grow older. This is a potential, a possibility that we can work on so that we thrive. The reality is that not every old person becomes wiser and expands in his consciousness, but the possibility is there for us if we start to discover this aspect of our being and work towards our growth.
Perhaps through conscious observation we can naturally be guided to discover more about these other layers of our being when our outer beauty fades away, opening a doorway into our inner world. All this is part of actively participating in the process of aging. And this is the reason behind the traditional respect for elders in all ancient traditions and indigenous cultures. They symbolize the wisdom and consciousness that is supposed to be there as we add years to our lives. Where and when exactly did we lose the respect we used to have for elders and for old age in today’s culture? What happened that we lost touch with nature and its cycles?
By the time our bodies become weak,
immobile and ill, and we have to ultimately
drop them and leave them behind,
we already have our giant colorful wings
to allow us to soar above gracefully.
We have all seen elders who radiate a magical unworldly subtle beauty that emanates from within and reflects in their appearance. It is as if each wrinkle on their face allows the particles of their inner beauty to shine vibrantly through their fragile body, their pale skin and their white hair. It is as if their physicality becomes more and more transparent to allow what they have developed inside to come out. There is an aura of poise along with lightness around them and in their presence, as if they have even more presence. These beings are definitely not afraid of aging, instead gracefully embracing it as they are confident of the wealth and beauty they have acquired within, which with no hesitation they give forth. That to me is the art of aging. And it doesn’t happen through sticking to a superficial understanding of beauty that is skin deep. It doesn’t happen until we welcome the newness of change; until we accept change as the only unchangeable fact in our world and work with it so we can bring about expansion in our inner existence and our consciousness as our bodies age.
It is a process of metamorphosis like the caterpillar experience. By the time our bodies become weak, immobile and ill, and we have to ultimately drop them and leave them behind, we already have our giant colorful wings to allow us to soar above gracefully.
Article by NEGIN MOTAMED
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