Growing older is contemplative and opens a door to a lot of discovery if we let it. It is a vulnerable process and takes courage to face the fact that everything changes, everything ages. There are many external adjustments that are often happening, but it the internal journey that holds great promise for discovery.
Aging is beyond our control, but how we age is up to us. I have often heard the phrase, “It’s all downhill from here,” in reference to life after sixty. The question that really poses a dilemma for each of us is, “Are you going to slide down the hill or are you going to steer?” Richard Lewis states in his book Aging as a Spiritual Practice, that our life consists of “the things that happened to happen”. He goes on to describe his experience of aging in four distinct steps.
The first step of steering the aging process is an Aha moment when we truly wake up to the fact that we are aging. It is as though a veil lifts and we actually see ourselves in the mirror. I know for myself, having my mother living with me for the past 6 months has been a bolt of lightning that struck me when I was least expecting it. Watching her frailty and her internal struggles of facing her own mortality forced me to stop and assess my own. At this stage of awareness, the significance of all of the ups and the downs we have experienced over our lifetime are more apparent. We stop seeing things as we wished they were and in the present moment can see them as they actually are. Making a choice to accept that everything has happened perfectly is there for the taking. I am not saying this is easy. Having a goal to get to wisdom and the gratitude that goes with it requires us to do the work of being honest with ourselves and dealing with emotions and beliefs that can be difficult. The rewards when we do, however, are incredibly maturing in an unbelievably good way.
Coming to terms with our age is the second step. As we wander through this passage, it is a time of comparing ourselves with how we were when we were younger. Our view of ourselves may be positive or it may be negative. We hold a picture of how we once were and measure it against the “new me” that is looking back at us in the mirror. We may feel happiness or we may feel regret. For me, this step involved making the decision one Saturday morning as I left for an appointment at the hairdressers, to not get my usual monthly dye job to maintain the rich brown color of my hair. I had been dyeing my hair for about 25 years, as we have a gene in our family that turns our hair white in our thirties. My older sister had been proudly wearing hers white for years, while I stubbornly kept mine dark brown. Today was the day. The decision came unexpectedly, as I accepted the losing battle I had fought to hide the increasingly obvious whiteness of the new hair growing in. “Yes, bleach it all white”, I said my hairdresser. And so she did. I faced the shocked looks of my husband and my work colleagues in the days that followed and the many questions of why, why. “It was time”, was all I needed to say, as I knew within myself that I had come to terms with my age and my white hair. In three months the pure whiteness was there as I expected and I felt a great sense of freedom and joy as I moved on with life, letting my white hair shine.
Step three is adaptation. This is when we no longer compare ourselves to the past and rest in the age we are now. The wisdom of adaptation begins when we are willing to let go of who we used to be and begin to embrace who we are now. It feels good and you begin to feel your wings forming to take flight. There is a lot of challenge in this stage that involves adapting to change and remaining flexible as increasing signs of wear and tear are evident in the aging process. Resistance may get the better of us at times, because change does not always bring good things and our nature is to fight it.
And finally, step four is about appreciation. It is a coming to full acceptance that we each have our own life, full of its own unique experiences. Maturity is the reward of taking the journey and new doors open to live as a conscious elder, truly comfortable with being exactly who you are right now. Come join in more discovery of conscious eldering at the workshop, A Path to Elderhood. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-863-9577 for more information. Full flyer under resources/seminars.