Four years ago I started writing this weekly post believing that sharing the experiences I encountered on the journey to Elderhood would help others traveling the path behind me.
I’ve been distracted along the way, diverted by the country’s social unrest, a divisive political arena, my antipathy for the president and of course, most recently, the Coronavirus pandemic and the shock waves that shook America to the core after the George Floyd tragedy exposed the legacy of racism that slavery drilled into the country’s bedrock.
But amidst the chaos I kept learning what it takes to ease the anxiety and occasional anguish that accompanies aging, the years rolling by like that last digit on a fast turning odometer. It’s been eye-opening, and heart-opening.
As I look back, I think the process starts when your weight is at its highest and your spirits are at their lowest. Maybe it’s after a sleepless night when you got up four times to take a pee and finally scheduled a roto rooter job at the urologist. You just had to face it, buddy boy, you are not the man you used to be!
The corollary is you can’t do the things you used to do! Which brings you to the first step to obtaining the added joy and meaning in life that I’m promising: determining what you can do, and within that parameter, what you want to do.
Here’s how that went for me. (I’m plowing old ground here, but the weeds keep coming up and must be pulled out repeatedly.)
First, there was the come to Jesus moment when I sucked it up and resolved to be done with the past. I had told myself a thousand times before that, it was impossible to re-write happy endings to ill-fated history. Still, I kept trying and you know the definition of someone who does the same thing again and again and expects a different result. But approaching Elderhood, it was high time, long overdue, to stop my futile effort to change how others lived their lives. If I were to have peace moving forward, I knew I had to set up impenetrable boundaries to keep guilt and regret at bay. Warning: this is not easy. There is emotional pain and deep sadness attached, but the past cannot be recreated.
Second, having come to appreciate the meaning of ‘be here, now,’ I learned how to see and be grateful for the moment itself, as it was, not as I wished it could be. For me it meant a new definition of ‘surrender,’ not as giving up and throwing in the towel, but as accepting the reality of “what is” at every given second. And even better, making that second into a peaceful moment, a happy moment, an intimate moment, a creative moment… I had the choice!
Third, I began to distinguish between behavior prompted by ego, and behavior inspired by my better self, the former seeking applause, the latter an inner happiness. I came to an intuitive awareness that there was something going on in a realm outside my normal perception of space and time. And I learned how to enter that dominion to find inner peace and the answers to all those questions that made sophomore year a haze of marijuana smoke.
I do suggest you give meditation a try. I’ll pique your curiosity with this come on: you’ve heard the phrase “see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.” It all comes clear when you sit cross-legged on a zafu cushion and free yourself from the myth of self-importance.