How Can We Discover Ourselves With Age?Oct 25, 2023
Aging is a strange journey, isn’t it?
Despite birthday celebrations and pageantry, there is an uneasy sensation that comes with crossing over the threshold of some loaded decade marker—moving into some era that once seemed truly unimaginable, such as our 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s.
This month I had a birthday, and as I passed through the undefinable and mystic door of another year, I realized that I still find the experience difficult to process. Like aging itself, a single birthday is many things at once: a cause for joy, a reason to get together with family, a time of reflection, a time to wonder about time, a pause to wonder about goals on this earth and an eternity thereafter.
Aging: It can be painful in its bodily aches and emotional challenges; poignant in its compulsion to focus on losses, unrealized dreams, and even mortality; and wisening as it forces us to shed unneeded baggage and focus on finding true perspective, generosity, joy, spiritual connection, and self-actualization.
Each year as the autumn chill begins to creep into the air and another October birthday of mine approaches, an annual call for personal reflection seeps into my soul. I can actually remember this sensation being present as far back as childhood, at age 6 or 7 and then into adolescence. While others were simply playing video games or going through the motions of mindless homework perhaps, I was listening to whatever music stirred me at that stage of life (Michael Jackson, Julian Lennon, Duran Duran, Huey Lewis and the News, Jon Mellencamp, to name a few), and taking stock of life and dreaming about the future.
As the tree leaves turned from vibrant, juicy greens to golden yellows and fiery reds and then fluttered to the ground, I wondered how I ought to change going forward. As certain birds got ready to migrate south and other animals prepared for hibernation, I thought about journeys and transformations. I dreamed about future loves and successes. I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to a basketball player. I knew that I was imperfect and needed to improve myself. I knew that life was both joy and sadness. I knew that I could do something special if I stayed determined. I felt compelled to acknowledge, even at an early age, the soulful headiness that is personhood.
Life is something special, and our souls and these years we have been gifted from God are special: that is, I guess, what I was feeling back then. And that is what I try to focus on each birthday.
Life is poetic and divine. It can be heartbreaking and challenging for sure, but never something to be cheapened or taken for granted (although I guess we all go through periods of doing that, even if subconsciously).
I was reading an old journal of mine the other day, one that dates back to the early 2000s, just as I had recently married and begun writing a novel (still unpublished); just as I had begun navigating the stress of a new career path. In some respects I was thriving, but in other respects I was struggling. I was struggling to find balance and temperance in my life, struggling to deal intellectually and emotionally with past heartaches, struggling to prove myself, and struggling to simply find peace of mind and direction.
At the time I was taking cheap alertness aids from the gas station so that I could stay productive and engaged as I moved through long days, and I was also taking antianxiety medications that had been prescribed to me a few years earlier. Some of the “simple,” well-defined goals that were outlined in that journal of mine, goals like ceasing to take the alertness pills, would be realized in the relatively near term. But others, such as getting the prescription medications out of my life (Paxil, Xanax), would not come to pass for more than a decade.
We rarely get things right on the first try in life. I’ve discovered that there are almost always starts and stops and twists and turns on the way to personal accomplishments and the realization of wisdom and goals. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think so.
Quitting those pills was an outlined goal of mine, but reading the subtext of my old journal, I am now, many years later, able to recognize a desire for goals that were and perhaps still are harder to define: getting closer to God, loving myself more fully and unconditionally (“win or lose” in life), loving those in my life more fully and unconditionally, finding greater confidence, finding sustained purpose, finding sustained freedom from anxiety, anger, guilt, boredom, fear, melancholy, and the other emotional banes of human existence, and generally getting healthier and happier.
In many respects I’ve made great strides toward these broader goals in the course of the past decade, but it is still my desire to realize them more fully as I pass through the portal of another birthday and continue to reach for the correct sort of meaning and joy in life.
Toward that end, this post will offer a few ideas on how we can all better with age: happier, healthier, wiser, more accepting of ourselves, and more spiritually connected. As I focus on fruitful self-exploration this fall, I hope that you will join me to find greater progress, love, and peace in your own life.
A FEW "POINTS OF FOCUS" FOR GETTING BETTER WITH AGE
1. Stop Trying to Make Your Life Fit Into a Neat Box
It won’t, it can’t, and if someone has one that appears to, then they’ve probably lived as a coward or drone, or they probably have a lot of “behind the scenes” stuff that you aren’t seeing. I think that most of us were brought up with the idea that your study in college, set the foundations of professional and home life in your twenties and maybe thirties, and then “settle in” to that neat little life of storybooks by your forties.
Now, has that actually happened for anyone reading this? If so that’s great, but I would venture to guess that the majority of us have realized that life is a continual process of trying and failing and then trying and finding victory and then doing it all over again. It is a process of realizing that we were dumb twenty years ago in some respects but wise in others. It is a process of continually making changes and setting new goals and at times just trying to hang on without giving up hope.
Embrace your struggles. Embrace your successes and failures. Embrace the unique craziness that is your existence, and realize that life never was a Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade painting, and it never will be. You don’t have to find “the perfect” life, you just have to find one that works for you and embrace it.
2. Love Every Iteration of Yourself. Accept With Understanding Your History, Good & Bad.
Show compassion toward the totality of yourself. Show patience, grace, and encouragement to both the old self and the new self and everything in-between.
Think of the different stages of your life. Take a moment and close your eyes, and picture yourself at 7 years old, 17 years old, 27 years old, and so forth. Think of yourself at your worst and at your best. Think of yourself at your sickest and healthiest, at your most scared and most confident.
Now, give your most frightened self a hug and tell him or her that things will be okay. Give your sickest self a stroke on the head and tell him or her that God and time heal. Give your most confused self some direction, give your most accomplished self necessary congratulations, and give your most anxious self some encouragement. Life—this earthly journey through experience and aging—is complex, and none of us can “do” it perfectly. But if we can accept, forgive, love, and encourage the history of ourselves, then we can have a better future and begin to get a clearer picture of our soul and legacy.
3. See Yourself as More Than Yourself
See yourself as connected to the earth, to humanity, to nature, to history, and to eternity. There is a time for getting in touch with your body, and there is a time for getting outside of your own body and mind. There is a spiritual necessity to detaching from your pains and desires and needs, and indeed from the very thought of “you.”
Today, take a moment, close your eyes, and try to focus on yourself as an egoless, eternal soul, hovering over the various landscapes and energy fields of the earth. Hovering through history, connected to the roaming animals, the mountains, and the rainforests. Picture yourself connected to the ancient Egyptians, the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Gethsemane, the American pilgrims, the African American slaves, ancient royalty, ancient jokers, the homeless, the soldier, your grandparents, Christ.
Get comfortable where you sit right now, and take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth.
Continue doing that, and as you do feel your spirit leaving its body and blowing over the lands and the oceans, time traveling through the centuries; picture it without a career, without a “style,” without money needs, without the stress of any job or relationship or sickness—without the thoughts and physical sensations that have come to define “you.” Picture your soul being free and simply floating through history and geography, making observations and gathering good energy.
Picture your soul as much more than what you’ve come to know as your current life. Picture it as shape-shifting and eternal. Erase its limits.
Now, after having done that, pull yourself back to where you sit reading this, and imagine how you can carry that eternal, broader vision with you into daily life. How can you connect on a daily basis more intimately with a more mystic and meaningful vision of your life and what it means to be you?
Think of that question this month, and allow creative answers to begin setting you on new paths.
Remember to think of your life as sacred ground, remember to love every version of yourself, stop trying to force life into a neat little box, and remember to take care of yourself and your dreams.
Work to continually discover and nurture yourself so that you are finding greater happiness and peace with age.
Oh, and remember to get outside and get a few good pictures of the beautiful fall colors.
Take care until next time,
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