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Friday, August 15, 2014
Aging better as the merry-go-round slows down
Photo by Michael Pelzer
Gosh, with all the really big stories floating around the twitterverse recently, I thought that I would pontificate on at least one of them.
Maybe Robin Williams or the Robocalls guilty verdict or the veterans of Canada organizing to defeat the Harper government or Statscan not being able to count employment numbers. All worthy of attention indeed, but for the moment at least I will leave them alone, and share some thoughts on a column written by Virginia Bell for Huffington Post on "aging better".
Bell claims it gets better as you get older. "You get better. Life gets better.The merry-go-round slows down and you can finally enjoy the ride..."
I don't usually read past the first couple of paragraphs of most stories ((I've become an all the news in 140 characters kind of guy) but Bell's comment intrigued me.
She suggests that it's not easy but possible but "necessary to make peace with yourself, your past, and the whole process of aging. That naturally involves forgiveness, compassion, and patience; for yourself first of all and for others. In fact, aging is the ultimate 12-step program; Aging Anonymous! Instead of giving up drugs or drinking, you have to give up all the things you're still holding onto; the material things as well as the emotional baggage; the grudges, resentment, and regrets. It doesn't happen overnight; it's an ongoing process and like any recovery work it's tough, humbling but ultimately life changing."
Aging Anonymous! Nice touch. Bell also makes it clear that it doesn't mean we can't continue to be "active, ambitious and successful but hopefully the ego is no longer calling the shots..."
Damn ego. I recall that after retiring from College of the Rockies, the phone didn't ring as much; I was no longer the centre of attention as the sage on the the stage in front of the classroom, which I had, at least in my own mind, been for more than 30 years. It was downright depressing and I recall chatting over coffee with Dr Berry Calder, the college president about it.
Berry laughed and gave me the solution. "Come up here and get a cup of coffee from my pot which you have been doing for years, wander the halls and chat." I did and soon I drifted away from the college, gradually making the adjustment. I hardly ever visit the place now.
Bell offers good advice: "The projects we pursue and the life we lead need to reflect that and be aligned with who we are now and not who we once were. If we're able to make that transition then getting older can be a rich and fulfilling experience."
She offers four suggestions:
1. Finding a purpose for this phase of life is essential: It doesn't have to be professional but we all need something that brings us joy and gives us a way to be in the world as an elder person.
2. If you don't have a purpose then take some time to discover it: Ask yourself, if you died at this moment what would you regret not having done? A life review is a valuable process; one that is highly respected among psychologists, social workers and gerontologists.
3. Develop your inner life: Carl Jung believed what healed patients in the second half of life was to cultivate a spiritual outlook. He recommended tools such as dream analysis and creativity. Journaling, prayer, or spending time in nature are also ways to awaken those parts of the self that were not developed while we were building a career and constructing our social persona. Meditation is another.
4. Simplify, simplify, simplify: As we age the desire to acquire is less and the need to scale down becomes stronger. Our focus is shifting and we don't have the time or physical energy to deal with a lot of stuff.
Bell adds: "Ultimately, aging well it's about being authentic; discovering your own rhythm, making your own rules, going at your own speed. It's being flexible enough to change and grow but not feeling pressured to stay relevant and look youthful. So lean back, lean in, reach up, lie down and most of all love yourself where you are."
Before you ask, yes, I have been working on bits and pieces of Bell's four suggestions for some time. Even today I am.
For example, when I was a daily newspaper reporter, I may have had to write on one of the political stories I noted at the beginning. If I was still teaching English literature, no question I would be preparing a lecture on Robin Williams outstanding performance as a teacher in 'Dead Poets Society" and the use of metaphor in Walt Whitman's "My Captain. My Captain" in the movie and in his life.
But I'm not. In fact I am on my way to have coffee with the guys in the Friday Morning Coffee Club where maybe, just maybe we will discuss the burning issues of the day, and maybe not too. We may just laugh at the absurdity of it all. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org