I find it quite hard to relate to what ‘being older’ and ‘ageing’ means for me and as I reflected on this I realised that it’s because age and growing old come with a load of beliefs, expectations and images of what it means, and to be honest, I don’t relate to this and I really don’t want to ‘buy it’! The picture of ageing carries the expectation of becoming invisible, being useless, no longer employable, losing our independence, losing our minds, needing help, doddery, forgetful, etc.
There is no doubt that my physical body has slowed down and is not as strong as it was when I was younger, and that I do have to ask for help. There is also no doubt that I have many more wrinkles, grey hair, and less muscle tone than when I was younger. I have had moments of catching sight of myself in a shop window as I was passing and being momentarily taken aback with the reality of what I saw. Is that me? Is that what other people see? Yes, the outside has changed, but who I am on the inside feels very much the same if not a whole lot better. For one thing, I am no longer gripped by anxiousness and lack of self-confidence as I once was.
I asked my mother one day when she was in her late 80s what age she felt on the inside. She immediately tucked her legs up under her in a surprisingly sprightly and youthful fashion and said, “I feel about 16” and in that moment, she was that young girl.
We are so accustomed to reading life from the outside. What I mean by this is that we read and interpret life from what we see, and what we see with age are the things I mentioned a moment ago: a body that is not as strong, wrinkles and grey hair, perhaps a loss of energy, tiredness, and for many, aches and pains and regular visits to the doctor and ongoing medication.
Have I changed as I’ve aged? Yes, certainly, most definitely, I have. That’s an emphatic yes, in case you missed it! I don’t have the same get up and go as I had when I was younger. I have to accept the limitations of my body. I like to have dinner earlier in the evening than when I was younger and I like to go to bed earlier too. I’m not interested in late nights and feeling whacked the next day.
I want to feel fresh in the morning. It’s no fun having a sluggish body and I have no desire to force myself to be lively when my body is tired. This means there is no will to push through. I’ve given myself permission to step off the merry-go-round, and it feels amazing. I have become sensible. How about that! No glamour in that, sounds quite boring, doesn’t it? But I want to tell you, it’s perfect and I enjoy it this way.
At this time of my life there is a settling into a different pace – a more honouring and graceful pace of life, where I’m not pushed by deadlines and can feel the spaciousness of that. You could say I’m living more ‘in the moment’.
The time for reflection in this past decade, free of the demands of full time work and family (although I haven’t given up work altogether), has been invaluable for me. There are a lot of things I could have done to distract myself, but I have found fulfilment in this reflection. It has been an opportunity for deep and transformational change and a time for my body to rest and recover after working for too long with too much intensity.
It has offered me the grace of coming into a wisdom that no doubt was always there, but was not lived, honoured or connected to. I have learned to trust the wisdom that I know is there now that I have the time to stop, be still and connect to it.
What this means is that the anxiousness and nervous tension of my youth has finally settled, even though my body still carries some of the scars of having lived that way. I am able to appreciate and trust myself, something I found very difficult to do when I was younger. I am able to care for myself in a way I wasn’t able to when I was younger. This sounds like a whole and complete picture. It’s not. It is a work in progress. All these old patterns are not gone, just mostly gone, and at the very least hugely improved upon.
So, then what does ageing mean to me? Accepting the limitations of my body; appreciating who I am; letting go of other people’s ideas of what age means; and knowing that this is only one life… or you could say, only part of one much bigger life. At this later stage of my life, I am clearing my body of all that can be cleared in this lifetime in preparation for my next life.
I am in my seventies now. You may have noticed or heard that people at this age go to the doctor more frequently, have more tests, have more aches, pains and ailments; their eyesight is failing, their hair is going grey and maybe falling out as well; they are becoming more stooped; and so on it goes.
The doctors also warn you that now that you’re seventy you are more prone to certain illnesses, such as heart disease and cancers. Yes, all of this is true. It is a most important decade for clearing the body of all that it has accumulated through this lifetime. We can expect to get sick. I don’t look forward to it, but at a deeper level I celebrate it because it is releasing what needs to be released. It is a correction, in much the same way as we have colds and flu when the body is overloaded, only this time the conditions are more serious.
I love knowing that my body is clearing out what it needs to so that I don’t have to carry the propensity for certain patterns of behaviour and illnesses into my next life. Not that I will come back pure and spotless. No, I’m not expecting it to be that easy. One lifetime is not enough to clear the accumulation of many lifetimes (perhaps hundreds!). But it does make the occurrence of illness more meaningful and purposeful as I age.
There are days when I feel ‘ageless’ and days where I feel the slowing down symptoms of ageing. You could say this is a reflection of the truth of our journey, the ‘ageless’ element of the many lifetimes of our spirit and the physiological process of ageing in this life. I give thanks to the opportunity I have had to expand my awareness and broaden my understanding of what age and ageing means at this critical stage of my life.
Judy F., Australia