Today is the last day of the “40 days of celebration”. Let me explain.
A little while ago, I turned the old 4-0. Now, this is an interesting age, not only in the physical and aging sense, but also (and often more importantly) in the mental and emotional sense. If you haven’t passed this milestone, or known of someone who has, it is often considered to be the hardest one. I have a number of friends who mentioned that their 50th birthday was wonderful, but their 40th was a real drag. So aging, decade numbers and the mind are under consideration.
Yet that doesn’t explain the days of celebration. I decided in advance to create a contrary state to the potentially negative, ‘dreading birthday’ one by allocating 40 days before my birthday as days to celebrate – no other rules, just that. Once I got there, I decided to extend it to 40 days after my birthday as well. And I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot about the mind of celebration (and forty day projects)
Old on the Outside, or Inside?
I often hear people talking about physical ailments or mental lapses that are due to age. As you know, we tend to believe what we say about ourselves, so if you’re saying to yourself “my memory is going – age!” or “I’m not as spry as I was in younger years”, is that what you really want? I don’t think so. Fortunately I have some wonderful examples of brilliant aging, and have focused on books that support the idea of choice – that we can either grow or decay (I’d say that works with the body and maybe even more profoundly with the mind). I choose to, for the most part, grow! I remember working to help people who had been made redundant to get back into the game some years ago, and remember some complaining “I’m 42, so no one’s going to want to hire me, I’m done for, put out to pasture.” I just wished she had been in the ruins of Ankor Wat last year, when my parents in their 70s were climbing up and down the precarious steps of the temples – out to pasture in no way at all. Just as we check our language not to offend others, it’s interesting to listen to ourselves and the concepts and words we use for the aging process – make them what you’d really like to see happen in the upcoming decades.
What do Others See as we Age?
I’m taking some courses at the moment that are full of young people. For example, I’m finally learning how to play volleyball. I think that the last time I was in a volleyball class was over 25 years ago – a slight anomaly in a class where the general age is between 17 and 20. So sometimes I find myself thinking about what they might see in me. As far as I’m concerned, I’m feeling healthier than I have in past decades. Yet, if truth be told and I’m brave enough to get close to the mirror (ok, not so close) there are some ‘laugh lines’ that weren’t there during my college days. I have been known to be extremely bad at guessing ages, partially because it doesn’t really matter to me. I can see how these ‘kids’ in class have a long way to go on the experience scale, and they’re all worried about their appearances even though they all possess the beauty of youth. In talking to a couple of them, age came up and they were surprised at how OLD I was. One said I must take good care of myself (which I try to). However, besides the good skin genes that I inherited from my parents, I think the real youth serum is in the mind. I don’t think old, and I believe it shows. There are lots of ways to look younger, but maybe living life, learning new things and feeling good are some of the contributors that don’t come in a bottle. There’s a group at www.redhatsociety.com who’s goal is to greet age with verve, humour and elegance – seems like a great approach to me.
“Mid-Life” – A Crisis or a Celebration
I hear about people who have mid-life crises, or at least I see comics and caricatures on television who are supposed to personify the middle-aged man or woman in crisis. I know that I plan on living a very long and healthy life, so I’m nowhere near mid-way, but the psychological shift for this time is when people stop counting the years they have lived, but pay more attention to the number they have left. I think there might be some things to be learned from different perspective on times of life, but I prefer to see it in celebration terms rather than crisis terms. I believe it is the Navajo who speak of the sun just having one day – rising in the morning and setting in the evening – and that we need to live in a way that would make that sun(and ourselves) proud for that single day. “The Last Lecture” a book by Randy Pausch on his change of perspective and priorities in his life (Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams ) after he discovered he had terminal cancer might be a book worth looking into, or even reflecting on. If you could give one more lecture (do ___fill in the blank__ once more) what would it be like? What would you focus on? I know that many people, as they get older, look at the priorities that they or society set for them and wonder why they wasted their time on them. I know that I, personally, have made some better or ‘less better’ choices (as Jason Mraz sings “you win some and learn some”) over the years, but every so often I surprise myself and pick something really great or connect with someone truly wonderful, in spite of flubs and the missteps, and that makes all the difference. Those are the people and things that make life continually worth living for.
Celebrate the Day: What Does Celebration Actually Mean?
I found a number of definitions for ‘celebration’ but I like this one best: to observe (a day or event) with ceremonies of respect, festivity or rejoicing. What’s a good reason for celebrating? I thought it might be turning 40, but I’ve actually decided it could be useful for other times – that it is Tuesday, the sun is shining, money came out of the ATM… it’s almost endless. So a celebration of the day can be any day. So how to celebrate? It doesn’t necessarily mean a big dinner with turkey, or a birthday cake. It doesn’t mean new jewelry or the latest techno gadget wrapped up in pretty paper. While it’s totally possible that it could include any of these things, the reason I like the definition so much is that there are so many choices.
1. Observe the day with rejoicing. How do we show our joy and appreciation? Most of us seem to under-express our involvement and forget to enjoy sometimes. I bought a little plastic train set that were elephants instead of traditional cars. I got it in the parking lot at chatuchak market for a couple baht. Well, if I had made him king of the universe, he wouldn’t have been so happy. That little train occupied him for hours, with so much bubbly joy that my ROI was through the roof. He reminded me that turning up our joyful expression is also catching.
2. Observe the day with festivities or rituals. Interestingly, great celebrations depend on the individual. Some people like going out with friends dancing, others like a quiet bath or dinner with a loved one, some like presents, others like various other ‘special’ rituals. Interestingly sometimes we find it hard to get it right for others we care about or for ourselves – having a celebration day fall short in some way. There’s a book called “The Five Love Languages” which speaks of the different ways we ‘speak’ about love, whether it’s recognition, quality time, physical gifts, acts of service, or physical expressions – which is why some couples have so much trouble getting what they want from the other. It’s because they may be speaking completely different languages. It might be interesting to apply this to celebrations as well – for yourself or when you’re organizing a special day for someone – to keep in mind the most relevant way of speaking festively.
3. Observe the day with respect. I know that when I take the time to do something for myself, support others or are simply grateful for what I have, the day seems to improve immediately. If something like that makes you feel better, helps to create a better environment internally or externally, creates stronger self- or other-respect or connection, it might be worth celebrating more often.
Expectations and Hindsight: How they affect Celebration
When we think about celebrations in the classic sense, we often think about presents. Well, I’d like to change that to present. I know that birthdays are a great time to look back on what we’ve achieved and what we’ve learned, and project to the future on what we want or need, however, the most glorious celebrations have been very now-centred. I encourage those who want to increase the amount of celebration in their life to follow a few simple rules. First, that we can change our perspective at any point in time – now seems about right – to change the past/back story and our part in it (lose some or learn some?) Second, that maybe it’s time to set aside our expectation of what the celebration (or the life that we’re celebrating) ‘should’ be like – expectations unmet are the fastest present slayers. Third, that even in the worst times (if it feels like now, this is a great experiment to do) you can stop reading this, look around and choose to reflect or focus on at least one thing in your life that deserves notice or celebration. And that’s the tipping point that shifts days of drudgery to respectful, festive, and rejoicing times.
There are always another 40 days?
Full disclosure. I know that because this was a conscious mind exercise – something that I had to think about or remember constantly – I ‘messed’ up. I went days without remembering or respecting or rejoicing – in fact there were some days that seemed quite the opposite. However, when I did remember, then it was a lovely concept to get back to, a period of presence, of contented observance. The great thing about this process is that it doesn’t have to be ‘because’ of something, it doesn’t have to stem from a particular day, it can just start. I think I’m going to do another 40 days of celebration. And another, and another… Let’s see how many years I can keep that up for, and as I get better with practice, how much more rejoicing and festivities there will be on a regular occasion.
Hope you have a good one, whatever you’re celebrating.