Check it out: a picture of me and my husband Steve. This year we will turn 68 (Steve) and 65 (me). Like many people our age, we’re adjusting to getting older and our next phase in life.
People in the modern world tend to fear getting older. Youth is equated with beauty and vitality and everything good in life. Age is associated with poor health, ugliness, and uselessness. No wonder people don’t want to get older and try to do everything they can to hide their age. I’ve noticed that almost every woman my age dyes her hair. But my mother never did, nor do I. For one thing, it’s toxic. But the truth is, I regularly get stopped on the street by total strangers who tell me they love my long graying hair. I do too.
Indigenous cultures respect their gray-haired elders. They understand that wisdom often (but not always) comes with age. And I can tell you that, in general, those of us in our 60s tend to be a lot happier than the young. Things slide off us more easily. We know that change happens and what goes down tends to go up in time. We trust the universe a bit more. Our bodies may not be quite as vigorous and strong as they once were, but we aren’t necessarily less healthy.
Of course, getting older isn’t always easy. It has both challenges and rewards, just like every stage in life. In recent years, a new movement has sprung up — the conscious aging movement. Just type “conscious aging” into your browser and find out all about it. The goal of this movement is to embrace, not resist, our natural aging. As I’ve been writing in past newsletters, living in resistance is a recipe for unhappiness and even disease.
So what’s getting older all about, anyway? I believe our key task, if we are willing to undertake it, is to go within, truly face ourselves, transcend, grow in wisdom, and ideally, share that wisdom with others.
During the first half of life, we’re so busy learning and accomplishing things in the outer world that it’s easy to avoid looking too deeply within. Life is all about what’s going on outside of us, establishing our ego-identities, racking up achievements, trying to relate to (and often impress) others, accumulating things, pursuing excitement, and raising the next generation of humans.
During the second half of life, many of those things fall away. Our outer identity no longer matters as much as it used to and we’re not working as hard. Our kids are grown, pursuing their own life journeys. We might distract ourselves with various activities and pursuits, but there’s a lot more space in our lives. So inevitably, we have to face ourselves, looking at our aging faces in the mirror each day.
That’s when it’s time to shift gears and realize that the task of the second half of life is an internal one. We now have space and time to look deep within and find the golden thread of our lives. It’s time to grow in wisdom and equanimity and find self-acceptance and more compassion for ourselves. When we do, we can feel more compassion for others as well. Key to achieving all of this is to heal old ingrained emotional patterns that have usually been with us since childhood.
Sounds fun and cozy, eh? No, it’s rough! Most people will avoid this task like the plague. They’ll drink another glass of wine, play another round of golf, binge on Netflix, maybe embark on some new business venture, and anxiously search for some fountain of youth that will turn back the tide. We all do it.
The fact is, our outer ego-identity will try to fight us every step of the way. It doesn’t want to ease its grip. At the same time, however, our deeper inner self is straining to be heard and healed. This battle can often yield disease and a myriad of physical difficulties — from insomnia to arthritis. We then have two choices: pop a pill and keep deflecting, or meet the difficult task in front of us head on.
I can tell you from my own experience that everyone my age is facing this and that most people will choose the pill. Sometimes you simply have to in order to keep on living. But the only true way out is to embark on that deep and difficult journey within. If you make progress, some light will eventually break through and a bit of wisdom and equanimity will start to seep in.
I’m not saying I’m a pro at this. But I can tell you that Steve and I are both working hard at it. I’m hoping that our efforts will make the rest of our journeys through this lifetime a bit easier. Actually, I wish we had embarked on this process years ago. But I suspect that most of us aren’t really ready for it until the second half of life.
So don’t fear getting older. Embrace it! If you are lucky enough to still be around, it’s your opportunity to grow into a more complete human being and make more progress on your evolutionary path.