George Burns said, “I look to the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life.”
Age is a state of mind. If that is true, must we always act our age? I do not think so! I recently was thrilled to celebrate my 65th birthday earlier this month. I celebrated by attending a workshop entitled “Aging as a Spiritual Practice.” I found out that our perceptions and our ways of thinking can age us faster than the clock.
Spirits are the true essence of who we are, not our bodies. Spirit is ageless, timeless and deathless. Yet we continuously remind ourselves and others that we are becoming more limited physically and / or mentally as time goes on. How many times have you said, as I have, “Oh, I forgot that because I'm having a senior moment,” or “I used to be able to do that longer … or faster … or better .. “? How often do we buy into a youthful society's message that says if you're over 30 you're not worth very much? We're the first people to limit ourselves by believing and integrating these attributions as we get older.
Yes, our bodies are flesh that does deteriorate over time, but there's nothing more limiting than saying stuff like “Oh, my legs hurt this morning when I got up. OR it may be because yesterday you were so thrilled it quit raining that you went for a 5 mile walk!
When a bunch of seniors get together, what's one of the first things they do? Compare medicines they're taking, or HMO's or recent aches and pains. They talk about fun stuff like babysitting grandkids followed quickly by, “Glad I'm not the parent of a youngster. I'm certainly guilty of focusing on the impact of an aging body. So, what to do? The Handbook of Religion and Health by Koenig, et al, indicates that people who have a regular religious attendance or practice live, on average, 7 years longer than those who do not. There are things we can do to make the best use of those extra years.
In my opinion, a spiritual practice can help in focusing on the more positive aspects of getting older. But it does take a little work. “Oh, no, I have to work?” C'mon people, if you're retired you can make a little time for yourself. It's nothing difficult or complicated. And, if you're not retired, do what you can. Listen to what you say about aging and the habits you're beginning to form about how old is a sink hole.
Two main ways I find that work for me are (1) meditating and (2) spending time with people who are older than I am. Gee, does not meditating work for everything !? It reinforces the ability to focus and stay sharp about what's really important in life – as opposed to the correct spelling of the anti-reflux medicine you're taking. The spiritual inquiry of spending time with people older than ourselves is a generous gift. It reinforces to them as our elders that we value their presence and it reminds us what to do or not to do as we age.
There's personally another thing I do to age spiritually and that's a few minutes of online games like Solitaire in the morning with my coffee. Okay, not exactly spiritual, but doing this means me to ads aimed at younger people and I like being up on what the younger generation is doing. Doing online games is also a process that keeps my brain darting about. I make sure the game is not so complicated that I never have a chance in heck of winning but not so easy that I know I must be ill if I do not win every game.
Lewis Richmond recently reminded us, “Every day and every day for the next twenty years, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65.” Longevity trends coupled with this fact mean we'll have a lot of company. Personally, I'd rather listen to an oldster talk about how he met his wife 50 years ago than comparing swollen joints.
Certainly getting older with illness can be debilitating and difficult to rise above. I will try to deal with that if and when it happens. In the meantime, I will work to accept aging gracefully and not worry about whether I'm acting my age or not.