July 2017 marked the 150th Anniversary of Canada, my country of origin, as well as my mom’s 80th birthday. One was full of music and fireworks and community festivities while the other was celebrated with food, fun and family.
Whether marked by a blowout or something more low-key, the passing years brings us experience, insight, strengths and possibly challenges. What does it mean to get ‘old’ – is it something we can alter or slow, or is it something we should embrace as the years race on. We’ll look to the mind and some lessons I received from my octogenarian parents on aging.
What’s wrong with ‘old’?
Nothing, if age is revered and those with the wisdom and sagacity are seen as a valuable part of society. In some cultures elders are celebrated, yet it seems that many of the messages that we get about aging are more deprecating than complimentary.
There are some general trends that occur as we age. While we may experience success after success, we will probably experience some failures and missteps. If we focus on the losses, they may eclipse the triumphs.
There is a greater chance that we’ll experience loss. It may be in the form of mentors, friends and family. My Grandmother, who lived to be almost 100, lamented about her loneliness because all of her friends had passed on by the time she hit her early 90s. This can lead to isolation and a feeling that we are alone or separated from the realities of the time.
We can also lose our faculties in some way. Our bodies are precious vehicles that carry us through life, but (until science/technology shows otherwise) they are meant to last for just a ‘lifetime’. Mobility issues can have us grieving for times when we were more ‘spry’. Various transitions and changes may feel like losses as well.
Anti-wrinkle creams and other commercials touting ‘age defying’ properties give us suggestions that we are battling against the years, most superficially in the way we look. Especially with women, marketers aim their advertising dollar to make ‘younger’ (yes, a moving target) the constant goal. Repeated over and over, in various forms, hypnotizes us to believe this and do what we can to combat an invented enemy with products.
My mother disliked getting ‘cute old people’ cartoons – there would usually be a couple of cane-toting individuals complaining about their failing memories, ailing bodies, and general disapproval of all the things the ‘kids’ are doing. She knew that stereotypes are shortcuts to the mind and that they make it easy to group people together even if it isn’t true for all. These cartoons didn’t relate to her in her mind and she refused to acknowledge them.
While a mentor of mine said change happens from ‘grave to grave’ (meaning things don’t shift until the older generation has cleared out of change’s way), I’m going to source two people I love and respect about how to ‘live long and prosper’ mentally, physically and emotionally.
Tips on aging (gracefully)
As I spent time with my parents, they gave me suggestions on how they continued to be vibrant, involved participants in life. Many of the items they suggested align with the way the subconscious works and that research studies have indicated may be firm stepping stones along the path of health and well-being. (Aren’t my parents clever):
- Man’s Search for Meaning:
My parents are very purposeful. They tend to discover the ‘important’ in what they do, who they see and how they participate in their lives. The subconscious mind tends to capture and retain those things in life that are special, rather than uninvolved. Connecting with meaning tends to not only be more compelling for the mind, but also tends to keep us from falling off our emotional high road into ruts of loneliness or despair. Does it matter what has meaning to you? Not really – the most robust ones tend to be lofty but accessible, have some staying power, and may sometimes involve something greater than our inner circles or selves.
- Mind Network, Social Network:
My parents have been involved in a lot of groups over the year (see meaning section) and have a surprisingly wide swath of diversity in their ‘gang’. This exposes them to different pools of thought – the subconscious mind loves to be economical/lazy but actually strives on a little pushing. They have friends in their 90s and many decades younger. This ‘evergreen’ span of interactions not only gives the mind novelty but reduces the possibility of social isolation as peers may no longer be around. If you looked at your acquaintance collective, are they uniform or diverse? Would more uniqueness stretch and strengthen your system?
- Use it or Lose it:
My mom is always doing mind puzzles, word searches, or online brain games. My parents read and go to school by taking a course every semester, learning something new. Not only does this provide them with interesting things to talk about, but it forces the mind to add to the storehouse of information, create and practice associations, keep curious and fortify their mental muscles rather than allow them to atrophy. An idle mind tends to reduce the vigor of mental an emotional connections, and like an arm coming out of a cast, that unused appendage needs to work harder to get it back to form. Is there something you’d like to study but haven’t yet? A place you’d like to explore or discover – whether in your own town, around the world or in a book? Your long-term mind health will thank you for keeping on the leading edge of learning.
- Exercise Your Rights (and your right to move):
My Aunts, in their 70s, are two of the most active people I know. They take hiking holidays and have the bodies of… very fit people (see, didn’t have to use an age comparison!) My family don’t tend to go to the gym but walk, swim, travel, canoe, move… They tend to see their corporal form as something they are guardians of – protecting, enhancing and using. My dad mentioned that he wanted to still be able to climb up the stairs of the temples in Cambodia or cathedrals in France when he goes back in the future. That’s a great goal (and his actions support it). There is more and more research that emphasizes the life-enhancing aspects of exercising your right to move your body. And the mind thanks you as well. You don’t need to run a marathon, but adding movement to your everyday tends to boost both mind and body. What can you include in your every day, even for a couple minutes, that makes you feel better over the long-term?
- Dump your History:
I’m often supporting my clients in learning the lessons from the past, but refusing to carry the weight that might be burdening them in the present. When we hold tight to an event, person, or transgression (whether ours or others) they tend to stay forefront in our mind and awareness. Which doesn’t allow us to receive or experience all the current good fortunes that may be surrounding us. There is a place for old stories. I love hearing them from my mom and dad – and have learned a lot from them. But to live in the past prevents us from turning our gaze to what’s around us… and what’s around the corner for us. Is there any history you’d like to review or share that benefited you in the past? Is there any you can close the chapter on?
- Follow, Yet Question (or have someone who can):
My mom fell and tore her shoulder a few years ago. She went to physiotherapy for years and has great mobility now. She complained that some of her friends had reduced mobility because they dropped out of PT – yes, it was hard, but she knew she wanted her body working again. At the same time, she’d question the need for some procedures that may not have benefited her, but were ‘all the rage’. She didn’t do what all the other ‘kids’ were doing. There’s that fine line between taking expert advice and making alternative choices. When my mom had a stroke last year, she wasn’t able to ask the questions she needed to make informed decisions on her health. I stepped in with the rest of my family to be her mouthpiece. It is often handy to have others to support you in your areas of weakness – there’s no weakness in that! Will the choices always be right – whether made by yourself or with the help of others? – not always, but realizing that our choices are important and ours to make can be both sobering and liberating.
- Dapper (Dad) Dressing:
My dad’s advice was ‘don’t wear suspenders’. Taken more broadly, the advice might be generalized to ‘don’t wear clothes that make you feel old’. Suspenders were the accessories that “old men who tend to be pear shaped” wore according to my dad, so he doesn’t. I remember an outfit I used to put on when I wasn’t feeling so great – then one day I got rid of it – our repetitive patterns to the things that surround us, reinforces their power. Why would I want to have something that made me (or reminded me of) a low time? I know that people are worried they won’t be ‘age appropriate’ but it might just be someone else’s idea of age. How do you get a bikini body? Get a bikini and put it on your body! Are there clothes that make you feel vibrant and gorgeous? Wear them. Are there others that sap your energy or are labeled ‘fat clothes’ or some other suggestion that may not support your mental/emotional well-being? Release them lovingly if you can.
- Give Your Gifts:
My parents drive their peers around, visit old friends, volunteer within their various communities to support others who need help more than they do. They are active contributors. It keeps them moving around (without the ho-hum of the treadmill) and socially viable. And it shows. Not only are there benefits to altruism for health that have been revealed in research, they also get reinforced positive suggestions by their actions. While others’ thanks aren’t the reason they do what they do, it’s a wonderful reinforcement of their health and activity. Friends of my parents have often said to me, ‘your parents are so wonderful. They are so dynamic and capable – they can do anything!’ Imagine getting those reinforced suggestions over and over. Nix decrepit, replace with hearty. Axe feeble, swap for vigorous and loving… our internal words affect our view of ourselves. You have gifts. When you share them, you bring them out into the light, where they are seen, thrive and seem to multiply. Are there talents that you’ve hidden that others may benefit from – with no loss on your part? It may be a gift that keeps on giving.
Do I sometimes give myself suggestions that might not support me later on? Yes, but I find I’m catching myself much more – Forgetful? It’s not because I’m old, I’ve just got a lot on and haven’t written anything down! – and turning around the thoughts that tend to define us over time. Like a solid investment, looking after our mental, physical and emotional health now tends to give greater returns later.
I’m so grateful to have role models who are walking the path before me. They show me that the upcoming years of life can be full and meaningful, juicy and exciting, rewarding and fun. They have shown me that getting older is not only natural, but is something to look forward to.
If you want any support to enhance your journey through life to enjoy it more, please contact me directly.
It’s going to be great…