I remember the time when I thought that thirty was too old to ride a horse, forty was too old to play cricket, fifty was too old to make love and sixty was the end. In a way I’d given up on all the activities that I valued before I’d even started because I saw age as a barrier to the joy of activity. Paradoxically youth was also a barrier for me because I had this belief that ageing was essential for me to be able to stand out and lead and change the world – and, as they say ‘have the courage of my own convictions’.
That’s how I was brought up and, as someone steeped in duty, I was convinced that hard work was what life was all about whilst enjoyment, free time and holidays were for retirement, or for people who didn’t conform and therefore didn’t take life responsibly.
There was the fun of youth before it got serious and possibly the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if you lived long enough. In between you just got old with minimal fun, following convention, and that was how I saw my life being mapped out.
Ironically of course this conveniently and paradoxically meant that I didn’t have to take true responsibility, by which I mean having to look properly at my own choices and how they would affect those around me. Instead it allowed me to bury myself in doing the things that I would justify to myself as being needed to go through life so that I would feel as little as possible, but at the same time leave me with that empty feeling of always wanting more.
Conversely the so-called irresponsible person was far more responsible and honest in his or her choice of living than I was because somehow they embraced their choices – and I could feel how much deeper were their relationships as a result, as they looked deeper and expressed more openly about how they felt about others.
In spite of all the images around duty and hard work I did actually break part of that inculcated planned life progression – I had great fun riding when I was forty, albeit not often, I played cricket until my mid fifties, making love is still a joy at sixty (although somewhat hampered by prostate cancer – but that’s another story) and . . .
. . . at the age of sixty-three I have more to live for than I ever did in the first half of my life.
I also found myself owning and running a very successful business when I was thirty-seven, which defied my image of the optimum age for a corporate leader, i.e. someone over fifty-five years old.
Nevertheless, I didn’t do half the things that I now know I could have done, either because I felt that I was too old or too young or too inexperienced. That’s a pretty damning exposé and I didn’t help myself by subscribing to a multitude of addictions including work, alcohol and tobacco, which stultified my life and were instrumental in my cancer and earlier heart attack.
So what was all this about? Whilst I was doing all this stuff, I was having what I considered was fun at the expense of everything else, including myself. The stresses and tensions that were built up could have destroyed me so I had various outlets to allow me to ‘let go’, including shooting as well as cricket.
I was avoiding feeling myself ageing – I was scared of the wrinkles and the incapacity. I saw ageing as ‘closing down’.
That was until I started to take stock of where I was and could see what was happening to me and what was happening to my family relationships.
It was then that I realised that I was not experiencing true fun or joy – what it had been was something very superficial that was pandering to my emotions and getting me through the years.
On the outside I’m sure it all seemed ‘great’ – inside it was different and it was like that until that moment of taking stock – for which I’m eternally grateful to my wife, Tricia and my sons, David and James, because they introduced me to Serge Benhayon, a philosopher who has an amazing capability of distilling everything into something quite simple.
I have also been inspired by his family, who I’ve met over the years because all of them have shown me that there is a different way to live and to build true relationships, starting with appreciating myself and then letting others in – a pretty good formula when all is said and done. That was twelve years ago and the superficial fun of my previous three decades has been transformed into a deeper sense of living as various truths have been unlocked and images of ‘how life should be’ have been dispelled.
Serge, and others whom I have come to know, showed that there is another ‘way of living’ and it’s given me a chance to let go of what I’ve been clinging onto that, on the face of it, made the world what it is. There are no rules and no platitudes and I find myself actually embracing the whole idea of ageing. I look at my hands and the wrinkles don’t alarm me. I have realised that it’s okay to appreciate what I’ve achieved and who I am – most of all who I am – and now I have a purpose. I’m a slow learner, which is another way of saying that I found all sorts of excuses to continue my hedonistic existence – until I realised that joy didn’t come from walking around with a lollipop in my mouth, but it came from embracing my life, jumping in and being open and honest and I eventually found that it’s possible to build true relationships, which is what, for me, has made all the difference.
It’s also impossible to over-emphasise the support that I received from Serge and his family, and my family and so many others, before, during and after my surgery for prostate cancer and the difference that this made in my understanding of what was happening.
It may sound strange but I saw my illness, not as an imposition or punishment but as an opportunity to heal, to learn and to get to know my body and me. That was big and it was selfless and what happened reflected back to me how much joy there is in living and living well. It was another step up the ladder.
In my new way I have re-discovered standing on one leg, and the joy that this brings every morning when I get dressed is out of all proportion to such a simple act – try it! I’ve learnt to say ‘No’ when it makes sense not to say ‘Yes’. I’ve learnt to use a running machine and walk on it gently. I can hug my work colleagues and not feel awkward. And I will become a grandfather, which I accept is not for everyone, especially if you don’t have children, but what it means for me is that I will have the opportunity to embrace a wider family and use my life experience to share with others, experience the true joy of ageing and show what it can be like.
All of this and my deepening relationships with others and especially my wife, Tricia, have added a huge dimension to my life and given me a purpose.
It’s what makes it worth waking up for every morning of every day, wherever you are and no matter what age you are – whether you’re thirty or ninety or anything in between.
Michael N., UK