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There is a secret in this world that is rarely spoken of. It is hidden from view, unseen amongst the cracks of time, invisible and forgotten by most. Deliberately obscured, if it shines through a crack, it is quickly concealed by those who sideways glance at it. It is similar to catching a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror and not recognising ourselves. It is as if the fabric of time itself is speeding up at an alarming rate.
So, this forgotten secret, merely whispered in hushed voices, inspires me to write more personally. The secret is about getting old. Yes, in the mainstream media we hear about it as an economic topic. Apparently the economy can no longer afford health care and pensions for the elderly. It is also mentioned to encourage people to buy upmarket ‘care apartments’ and to have botox and plastic surgery ‘to stay young’
I recently read that turning 30 was getting older and it shocked me. When did 30 suddenly become getting older and that we are considered unemployable after 40?
In Process Oriented Psychology, I always look at both sides, so I am going to write about the up’s and down’s of ageing. What is fantastic and wonderful and also what is just plain difficult. Who really talks publicly about the intimate experiences of growing older? The youth culture has branded our planet and being elderly is not a popular topic.
‘You are never to old …to dream another dream.’ C.S. Lewis
I consider myself incredibly lucky that I haven’t really experienced feeling older until my late fifties. I have recently been unwell, in lots of minor ways for eighteen months. I initially felt like my body had betrayed me, before I realized how fortunate I am. Some friends are experiencing far worse, facing heart surgery, long term chronic pain and terminal cancer. Yet, I was dreaming that getting old wasn’t going to happen to me. Then I thought I must be like many of us, because we don’t acknowledge that it is going to happen to us, until it does!
When I processed my age, I noticed I swung between feeling positive and negative. I also knew that attitude and balance is the key. Activities and interests that had lasted nearly 35 years just dropped away from me. I wasn’t depressed but something unknown was changing. It took a while to realise that new directions were presenting themselves to me, which allowed me to deeply follow my creativity, start a new career with dogs which I had wanted to do for years, write my second book and still continue my work as a therapist. I began to thank my body for slowing me down, so new paths could blossom and grow. I hadn’t really stopped for 33 years, so it was time.
How old would I really feel if I didn’t know my chronological age? Is age really just a number or is it a whole lot more? If we keep growing in different ways, maybe we will never grow old.
‘I never feel age…If you have creative work, you don’t have age or time.’
Like happiness, isn’t youth a state of mind and being, playful and free? Time and age may make its mark on our face and body but cannot blemish our gratitude and wonder of all the experiences we have already lived. There will also be many more to arrive at our door. Seeing everything fresh in each moment keeps the spirit alive and well and enhances the enjoyment of life. Living in the past may bring sweet or mournful memories or our memory begins to fail us. However being here in the present moment, rewards and refreshes us again and again.
Why not just live our life, not despite our age or forgetting our age, but with no reference to age? We can re-invent ourselves as we get older and create our own journey. A new path is made by walking into the unknown. Imagination has no age, dreams are timeless and laughter can happen forever.
I have many inspirational friends who are great role models in their 70’s and 80’s who swim every day, travel and teach around the world, join the State Emergency Services and go out in gale force winds to rescue people in floods. Others proceed to use their lifetime of skills to work with unemployed youth or tutoring refugee students struggling to pass their school exams. Some start writing bestsellers in their nineties or paint.
As we age, we develop a truer connection to who we really are, are not so concerned with what others think of us, grow more confident and authentic and find our own voice. We are less concerned with externals and trust our internal and spiritual processes more.
“Aging is not ‘lost youth,’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength. It’s a different stage of life…Don’t miss the surprises, the possibilities, and the evolution that we are just beginning to know about because there are no role models, no guideposts, and no signs.” Betty Friedan
So are we old age pensioners or wise elders? Are we really limited to the two choices of have to age gracefully or disgracefully? Ageing has become more complex with the cosmetic and plastic surgery industries booming and amplifying our insecurities and fears about how we look. The pressure has also become more subtle with the expectations of having to work until we are 70 or look after the grandchildren as childcare is so expensive. It seems that having a balance has been lost in the ‘we all have to stay young’ script. Either we are considered ‘past it’ or we have to pretend we are 25!
What happened to embracing life as it actually is, rather than pretending we all live in a Peter Pan land? Why are we so against the natural processes of life? It is like we are a world gone mad, fighting against our natural destiny.
Women in their 40’s and 50’s still suffer menopause symptoms silently behind closed doors. Men live in fear of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Aging is not limited to a few. In every moment, time passes for all of us. No-one is exempt. Why have we become so frightened of no longer being young? We have all been deceived and manipulated by advertising and hypnotised by the culture of youth.
So celebrate yourself, at whatever age you find yourself to be. Rather than believing that it’s terrible to get older, know that our body and thoughts will throw us challenges, but if we listen, there is great wisdom contained within our body symptoms. The body is like a barometer that is inviting us to let go of what we are familiar with and move forward into new and exciting territory.
Know that once we let go and unfold new and unknown perspectives, we stop being afraid of ageing and dying. We begin to live anew by learning to go with the flow of Nature. Every age in life is a new adventure, if only we knew it. It doesn’t need to be kept a secret anymore.
‘In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.’