I don’t remember when I first noticed it. Ten years ago, on my 50th birthday, I didn’t feel its presence. Now I do and it has caused some inner turbulence. But aging is like that. From time to time, it will remind me of how small I am, that I don’t always get to choose, that I’m not always in control of what happens, and that I won’t always have it my way.
Aging isn’t about getting old; it’s about becoming more deeply human and humane with each passing year. The body that grew up and out into the world during my youth follows a different trajectory now. It speaks a different language now. I am learning a new grammar of being. This is as it should be. The primary task of aging is to make ourselves large enough to fully inhabit a force of nature we are completely subservient to. I’ll still try to alleviate the hardships and avoid suffering when possible, but I won’t make an enemy out of the natural forces moving within me.
Embodiment, and therefore aging, is an intimate conversation with reality. In recent years, my body has introduced to the word “chronic” and reality of chronic challenges and pain associated with neck and lower back pain. Looking back, I wish I had known a great deal more about joint care and sun protection. Looking back, I can see patterns of behaviors that lead to where I am now. Looking back, I can see my contribution to my reality in the here and now. But you don’t know what you don’t know. Too late now.
I’m having more tests now and more interactions with doctors. I remember this happening to my parents. Now I am my parents. I am not unique nor are my circumstances special. I recall that first diagnosis that used the word “chronic.” It was humbling – and foreboding. It describes a physical challenges that will gradually worsen over time. Of course, I will do what I can do to “manage” it, “slow” it down, and mitigate the worst of its symptoms. But I cannot make it go away. I am the apprentice; aging is the master.
I don’t subscribe to “anti-aging.” Why would I place myself into contradiction with a natural force of life? Why would I oppose aging? Why cling to delusions? There’s more to life than clinging to longevity. There’s more to life than cowering behind a fragile façade of youthfulness. There’s more to life than complaining about how difficult and unfair aging is. Adaptation is about facing the conversation with reality that is waiting for me, the one I don’t wish to have, not hiding myself behind a monologue of avoidance.
As I move deeper into the second half of life, I recognize aging as an mentor in the art of acceptance. It advises me to confront the things in life I have no control over so as not to be physically, mentally, or spiritually confined by them. Acceptance does not mean resignation. The art of acceptance begins as the courage to properly humble myself, turn directly into a harsh reality, and elevate aging to the status of an aesthetic.
The art of acceptance offers a space to contemplate aging as a source of beauty, wonder, and creativity that respects the genuine hardships it is sure to impose. It is a conscious choice to find joy within decline, meaning within transience, and purpose within impermanence. In the end, this is the conversation aging is asking us to have. This is the underlying ground of aging as the art of acceptance.
[Back to Frontier – Body]
- This article is inspired by John O’Donohue‘s book Anam Cara. He dedicates chapter to the idea of old age as an inner harvest, creating meaning, and the process of bringing our life to culmination. Aging, in this sense, is about depth of experience, not merely about the passage of time and becoming old.
- Throughout my work, I use the term second half of life in the sense James Hollis defines it in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. The second half of life is a depth concept, not a chronological division of a lifespan into two equal amounts of time. During the second half of life, we seek seek a deeper sense of meaning and ask the question, “Who am I apart from my history, roles, and story?”
- I use the word acceptance to describe an act of spiritual clarity. In this sense, it has nothing to do with resignation, being weak, or giving up. In his article What is the Deepest Acceptance? Jeff Foster says, “It’s not a question of you trying to do this deepest acceptance – it’s a question of recognising it, seeing it, noticing it in every single experience. “