“Old age is the only disease you can catch by imitating its symptoms.” Mario E. Martinez, Psy. D.
Some of you may feel that my entire reason for writing about ageism is because I am experiencing it. That conclusion would be incorrect. I have experienced it; however, I have mostly observed it my whole life. In North America the older you are, the more likely you are to experience ageism. This is an important topic for the over-60 crowd, of which I am one. Although, so far, my own experience of ageism is minimal, I have seen ageism in its many forms and have been interested in it my whole life.
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
“You are old,” said the youth,” as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door –
Pray, what is the reason of that?”
“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his gray locks,
I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment – one shilling the box –
Allow me to send you a couple?”
“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak –
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”
“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose –
What made you so awfully clever?”
“I have answered three questions and that is enough,
Said his father, “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs.!”
(Lewis Carrol, 1832-1898, from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND)
We are as old as we believe we are. Identify with your ageless soul not your aging body. ( However take great care of your body as it is the sacred temple of your soul. ) I have had many great role models for aging. Some of them in my own family. Many have given me a blueprint for ageless living. Many of these role models were my yoga and life-writing students at the Monterey Centre in Victoria, B.C. While I was teaching them yoga and writing, they were teaching me ageless living. As you know, all teachers learn from their students. I am blessed.
So, what does “old” mean? It means we have reached a certain chronological age whereby we are ‘seen’ as ‘past our prime’ or not ‘seen’ at all. I looked up the word “old “on the web. It said, “having lived for a long time; no longer young.” Hmmm. Not so bad, eh? However, underneath that was written “the old man lay propped up on cushions.” Ah! There’s the rub! The problem arises when “old” becomes synonymous with “infirm.” After all, sadly, ill children often lie propped up on cushions. Old is not and does not have to mean infirm. However, in our culture, you will need great mastery over your own mental energy and great self-esteem if you are to enjoy aging. Because, the web dictionary goes on to say “long in the tooth, grizzled, hoary, ancient, decrepit, doddering, senescent, senile…” Are we having fun yet?
Let’s not ‘buy into’ our culture’s view of aging. Let’s do it “our way” to quote one of Frank Sinatra’s hits. (Even Sinatra was called “ole blue eyes” as he aged!). If aging for us does mean lying propped up on cushions – go for it – but let us recognize that it is a choice. Not inevitability. Because recent science has shown us that we choose how we age. I listened, not long ago, to a fascinating lecture by Dr. Joe Dispenza who has demonstrated that we can change the way our brains are wired; therefore, we can change our brains so they do not reflect our culture’s negativity re aging. We can change, Dr. Dispenza says, the biology of our brains and bodies. We can avoid what Dr. Christiane Northrup calls “the cage of age.” Agelessness happens, Dr. Northrup states, “in that space where we choose to step into joy and possibility rather than remain stuck in a vicious cycle of anger, fear, and grief.” In a Hay House Radio interview with Dr. Northrup last year, Dr. Dispenza calls this wisdom – “memory without the emotional charge.” If you are over 60 you have noticed how quickly you can move from grief or anger to joy. Isn’t this a wonderful gift? To allow your emotions to flow through you and not hold onto them. After all, we are not our emotions. As we age, just like children – we fully express our emotions and then ‘move on’. We have all observed children. One moment they are crying their eyes out and the next they are engaged in joyful play – living fully in the moment.
Those of us who follow the Ascended Master, Jesus, enter the Kingdom of Heaven while still on Earth. We allow ourselves to be childlike: “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Christ was telling us that we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven while we are still in the physical. We do not need to wait until we cross over. He gave us the key – “become as little children.” Of course, this does not mean to be immature, as that is childish, not childlike. Jesus meant to be loving and non-judgmental, accepting and full of wonder. Some of us believe that enlightenment means remembering the purity of heart that a child has and then channeling it out into the world.
Dr. Deepak Chopra has certainly changed our views about aging: ” Any time choice seems to be cut off, some form of illusion is operating. Thousands of years ago the greatest of Indian sages, Shankara, declared, “people grow old and die because they see others grow old and die.” It has taken us centuries even to begin to catch up with this extraordinary insight. As a physical process, aging is universal and, to all appearances, inevitable. A steam locomotive doesn’t wear out over time and fall apart because it sees other locomotives doing the same thing. The only conditioning that affects any machine is simple wear and tear; certain parts get worn down faster than others because they absorb the most impact or friction. Our bodies also absorb impact and friction; various organs and tissues wear out before others. This physical picture looks so much like mechanical wear and tear that we are blinded to Shankara’s deeper point – the aging body is responding to social conditioning.” (AGELESS BODY, TIMELESS MIND) Dr. Chopra quotes many studies regarding people in other cultures with various beliefs about aging. There are cultures, for example, where ‘old’ people do not expect to go deaf or lose balance or stamina – suggesting that our beliefs about aging hold great sway over how we enact it. Dr. Chopra says that although it appeals to our common sense that we grow old because we simply wear out – “no wear-and-tear theory of aging has ever held up under close scrutiny… ” “How’s the old ticker? a doctor will ask an elderly patient, as if her heart were a clock winding down on its spring. Unlike machines, however, which run down with too much use, the human body is capable of getting better the more it is used. A well-exercised bicep doesn’t deteriorate; rather, it gets stronger. Leg bones gain mass in proportion to how much weight we put on them, which is why osteoporosis is practically unknown in tribal societies where lifelong physical activities is the norm.” (pg.65)
In our culture, great emphasis is put on age, period. We are often defined by our age. When I was a teenager, 15, I went away to boarding school for awhile. My mother wrote me frequent, long, newsy letters. I found them in my trunk after my daughter was born – so my mother had crossed over 4 or 5 years or so before I found them. EVERY letter ended with these words: “love from your fat, over-forty, little, old, gray haired mother.” Poor Mum! Of course, she had suffered many things in her life – but – she had also absorbed our North American culture’s view of aging women. She succumbed to it, not surprising really. A little while ago I watched an interview given by Meryl Streep recently. She was talking about playing an old witch in “INTO THE WOODS.” The movie. However, Ms. Streep said that she was offered THREE witch roles the year she turned 40! She said she got Hollywood’s message! However, she held out on playing a witch for a few more decades. Good for her! I wish my mother had been able to benefit from the work of Dr. Christiane Northrup who defines agelessness as meaning “daring and courageous.” Dr. Northrup advises us to take some chances: “I know this can be hard to do because we live in a shaming culture, but, don’t give in to other people’s limited ideas about how you should dress or style your hair. If you want to keep your hair long, go for it. If you want to dye it purple, don’t let anyone stop you. If you’re a bold lipstick kind of woman, choose a shade that can be seen across a room. Do you love stilettos? Find yourself a pair that’s five inches high, and develop the muscles in your feet and ankles so that you can wear them proudly and skillfully… That is how an ageless goddess owns her beauty – no shaming, no apologies.” (GODDESSES NEVER AGE: THE SECRET PRESCRIPTION FOR RADIANCE, VITALITY, AND WELL-BEING)
We also have a great role model in Dr. Wayne Dyer who tells us to be wary of being overly serious and stodgy as he says these are classic ‘old age’ symptoms. Dr. Dyer has made the decision, “I am never going to let an old person inhabit my body.” Dr. Dyer says, “our bodies may indeed be rented by an aging being, but that eternal, invisible observer who is noticing it all will stay childlike, innocent, and ready to enter the kingdom of heaven at the appointed time with such an attitude firmly in place.” (WISDOM OF THE AGES)
I believe, as I recently told a woman affiliated with the Council on Aging, that Baby Boomers are forever changing the way we age. We may live in a culture that does not value “old people” as Dr. Chopra states: ” In America, … old age is not valued, much less exalted.” However, Dr. Chopra and others are radically changing the ways we view aging. We all, also, know people from our pasts who bucked the system and aged ‘their way.’ Ultimately, when we are centenarians – sure, we may find we have lost some hair and a few teeth along the way – but – we’ll be alright – as long as we don’t lose anything really important. Like our sense of humour!
With Love, Monica