Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Must We Always Act Our Age?

          I look to the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life. George Burns

          Age is a state of mind. If that is true, must we always act our age? I don't think so!

          “What? Didn’t she just go over this age thing a couple of weeks ago?”

          Yes, I was thrilled to celebrate my 65th birthday earlier this month. I spoke of sharing the birth date with Martin Luther King and shifting my ‘Use by…’ date to 81 years old. But I didn’t talk about how our attitudes about getting older age us. I didn’t talk about those little habits of things we say and do that scoot us into walkers much faster than necessary.

          The Handbook of Religion and Health by Koenig, et al, indicates that people who have a regular religious attendance or practice live, on average, 7 years longer than those who don’t. There are things we can do to make the best use of those extra years.

          I was pleased last fall to attend a workshop at the Center for Spiritual Living . The speaker was Rev. Chris Michaels from the Kansas City Center for Spiritual Living.  Our two Centers are closely aligned and  Rev. Chris visits us often. He sometimes travels with us to foreign countries when our Center organizes spiritual excursions to places like Bali. I have spent some time with him on one of these trips and he is a cool guy. He tells it like he sees it and people listen because he’s right on. He is not even close to being a senior citizen but he isn’t a young pup either.

          A friend and I attended his workshop entitled “Aging as a Spiritual Practice” and found Chris’ perceptions and his take on how our ways of thinking can age us faster than the clock. Chris points out that our spirits are the true essence of who we are, not our bodies. Spirit is ageless, timeless and deathless. Yet we continually remind ourselves and others that we are becoming more limited physically and/or mentally as time goes on. How many times have you said, as I have, “Oh, I forgot that because I’m having a senior moment,” or “I used to be able to do that longer…or faster…or better….”? How often do we buy into a youthful society’s message that says if you’re over 30 you’re not worth very much? We’re the first people to limit ourselves by believing and integrating these attitudes as we get older.

          Yes, our bodies are flesh that does deteriorate over time, but there’s nothing more limiting than
saying stuff like “Oh, my legs hurt this morning when I got up. It must be arthritis because I’m getting older.” OR it may be because yesterday you were so thrilled it quit raining that you went for a 5 mile walk!

          When a bunch of seniors get together, what’s one of the first things they do? Compare medicines they’re taking, or HMO’s or recent aches and pains. They talk about fun stuff like babysitting grandkids followed quickly by, “Glad I’m not the parent of a youngster. I sure couldn’t do THAT everyday.” I’m certainly guilty of focusing on the impact of an aging body here in this blog. So, what to do?

          Well, in my opinion, a spiritual practice can help in focusing on the more positive aspects of getting older. But it does take a little work. “Oh, no, I have to work???” C’mon people, if you’re retired you can make a little time for yourself. It’s nothing difficult or complicated. And, if you’re not retired, do what you can. Listen to what you say about aging and the habits you’re beginning to form about how getting older is a sink hole.

          Two main ways I find that work for me are (1) meditating and (2) spending time with people who are older than I am. Gee, doesn’t meditating work for everything!!?? It reinforces the ability to focus and stay sharp about what’s really important in life – as opposed to the correct spelling of the anti-reflux medicine you’re taking. The spiritual inquiry of spending time with people older than ourselves is a generous gift. It reinforces to them as our elders that we value their presence and it reminds us what to do or not to do as we age.

          There’s personally another thing I do to age spiritually and that’s a few minutes of online games like Solitaire in the morning with my coffee. Okay, not exactly spiritual, but doing this exposes me to ads aimed at younger people and I like being up on what the younger generation is doing.  Doing online games is also a process that keeps my brain darting about. I make sure the game isn’t so complicated that I never have a chance in heck of winning but not so easy that I know I must be ill if I don’t win every game.

          Lewis Richmond recently reminded us, “Each day and every day for the next twenty years, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65.” Longevity trends coupled with this fact mean we’ll have a lot of company. Personally, I’d rather listen to an oldster talk about how he met his wife 50 years ago than comparing swollen joints.

          Certainly getting older with illness can be debilitating and difficult to rise above. I will try to deal with that if and when it happens. In the meantime, I will work to accept aging gracefully and not worry about whether I'm acting my age or not.

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