I think one of the most challenging aspects of aging is the growing awareness that our one last breath is drawing nearer with every breath we take. By perforce, that awareness embodies the realization that time is fleeting. It passes quickly – and there’s less time to do the things we want to accomplish, to achieve our dreams, to heal relationships, to change directions – to step joyfully into whatever we see before us.
That pressure of time passing can act as both a deterrent or motivator to making change happen in our lives.
Sometimes, we can fall into the habit of acting out on our belief there’s no point in doing anything. We don’t have enough time to make change happen and we’re too old anyway. Our acting out looks like inaction — but the act of thinking about doing nothing is action in and of itself.
When we choose to believe every breath matters and every breath is an opening into wonder and awe, the possibility of our taking active, committed and passionate steps towards whatever it is we want to achieve or do overrides time’s insistence we keep watch of each passing minute, without doing anything else.
I like to multi-task. Keeping watch of time motivates me to keep doing the things I want to do to add richness, variety, excitement, joy, mystery, wonder and awe into my life.
I’ve lived most of my life like that. Why change now?
If like me you’ve been on this earth awhile, you’ve probably heard people, especially your elders, say things like, “Growing old is not for the faint of heart.” Or, “Growing old is no fun.”
I remember when I first awoke from that relationship that was killing me and began, after an absence of a few years, to do the thing that I knew would be most healing for me; write in my journal. The first thing I wrote was, “And now for the hard part.”
I remember stopping and looking at that line and thinking, “Wait a minute. Who says this part has to be ‘hard’? Going through that relationship was hard. Why does healing from it have to be hard? Can’t I choose otherwise?”
It was in that moment I chose my path. obviously, I had a lot to heal, internally, with my relationship with myself and others. Obviously, to get to that ‘healing’ I had to go through the pain. But… did I have make going through it feel hard? No. I could choose to go through it, no matter what ‘it’ was, In Love.
That meant, no matter what I was experiencing, no matter how painful or dark or grimy my road, I had to choose to treat myself and all the world around me, with tender loving care. I had to hold onto the truth of my own loveability. I had to choose to love myself.
Today, I am deeply grateful for that lesson I learned and embraced so long ago.
And… here’s the challenge. I’ve let some of that lesson go! Fact is, there are times I have perceived aging as a ‘dark and gloomy night’. A place I did not want to go. A place I dare not shine the light within for fear it would be extinguished.
My mindset and my choices dictate how I age and while, just as I cannot control my emotions, I cannot control time and its passing, I do have the power to choose how I express my emotions and I get to choose how time’s passing resonates within me and upon my life.
I have the power to choose to be angry with aging, or lovingly accepting of its beauty and its warts, making the most of each precious moment I breathe.
Seeing it all through the eyes of love, feeling it all through a heart flowing with love, and experiencing it all as part of this journey called LIFE, creates a wealth of opportunity for me to grow and expand and breathe life into each moment without placing too many expectations, or fear, into what the next one will bring.
When I quit viewing aging as a thankless, relentlessly painful, and loss-filled journey, I create space for wonder, awe, and magic to be present too. And just as opposites can co-exist in the same space, aging and love can co-exist without one being overshadowed by the other.
That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge the real and sometimes challenging realities of aging. Let’s face it, getting older is messy. At times it feels like it’s happening entirely against our will with its demands we face its seemingly relentless reminders of how fragile and vulnerable we are becoming or how our limbs just ain’t what they used to be.
That kind of reality can suck, especially if we spend all our time trying to avoid it — because avoiding it tends to suck the air right out of us.
Which is why I am choosing to face the realities of aging, the good, the bad and the ugly, with a grateful heart, counting my blessings every step of the way, savouring each deep breath of the wonder and awe of each moment.
Because, as long as I am breathing, I get to age. And that is a privilege many do not get to experience.
The stillness of morning envelopes me like a warm blanket on a cool winter’s day. Outside, the sky is dark in the early misty gloom of dawn not yet risen. Inside, the glow of my desk lamp casts a halo over my fingers typing on my keyboard. Piano music plays softly. Beaumont the Sheepadoodle lies under my desk, his head resting on my feet. The gentleness of his snores warms my heart.
I am grateful for this morning.
Gratitude, the experts say, is good for your body. Your whole body of which the mind is part of the whole.
We, westerners, tend to separate body and mind as if the two are connected yet separate entities with one having the upper hand over the other whose purpose is to be the vehicle that carries it around.
They are interconnected. One brain. One body. One person. One. Whole. Being.
This is why gratitude is so important. Our thoughts are our body’s thoughts, not just our minds. Our thoughts become our reality. Our thoughts impact the entirety of our being — including our health. And, when we practice gratitude, we ignite endorphins that happily dance through our veins and arteries, filling our nervous system with feelings of joy. (At least that’s how I like to imagine them.)
There’s good news about aging and positive thinking!
According to this article in the Globe and Mail from October, 2015, “Neuroscientists have suggested older people have a sunnier outlook because the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in emotional attention and memory, becomes less active in response to negative information. At the same time, older individuals maintain or even increase their reactivity to positive information.”
Yesterday morning, walking back from the park with Beaumont, I watched two city workers clean up the garbage left behind by the weekend visitors to the park. There was a lot of it.
As they worked they chatted. As they worked, they created inviting islands of green space free of garbage.
I watched and was grateful they were out so early in the morning making the park whole again.
I decided to share my gratitude.
I walked towards them. As they noticed my approach they both stopped working and watched me.
“I just wanted to thank you for making the park so inviting and clean!” I called out.
Suddenly, both their faces broke out in smiles. “You’re welcome,” one of them called out.
“Thanks for all you do to keep our city beautiful,” I said before moving on with Beaumont.
As I left, I heard one of them say to the other. “D’ya hear that? Someone appreciates what we do.”
I was smiling as I walked away. It felt good to give a gratitude bouquet to strangers. Especially as I truly am grateful for the work they do.
Their work is important. It matters.
I am grateful for my mind’s ability to remind me to not just think thoughts of gratitude, but to share them freely wherever I can.
Spreading gratitude is important. It matters.
I am grateful that with aging, I am becoming… more at ease with my power to spread gratitude.
I am grateful that with aging, I am becoming… more accepting of life’s gifts. More thankful for life’s beautiful moments. More capable of letting the not-so-nice moments fade as I pour love and joy into each moment I experience the gift of my life on this earth.
And I am grateful that there are people like University of Oregon neuroscientist and research associate Christina Karns, studying the impact of gratitude on aging. In the same G&M article (above), Karns is quoted as saying, “It’s [Gratitude] different than those sort of basic emotions, like happy, sad, fear, anger. So there isn’t going to be just one system in the brain that is implicated in gratitude.”
While happiness occurs in the brain’s immediate reward systems, gratitude is believed to also involve the cortical structures associated with higher order cognition and social reasoning, she says.
Gratitude is a whole-brain undertaking. And, as the brain is as integral to our well-being as the heart and belly, veins and arteries, limbs and skeleton, being grateful pays dividends throughout our body creating well-being and lightened spirits where ever it flows.
As we age, numerous studies have shown, we become happier. Apparently, we are, on average, at our most positive in our senior years.
I am making a conscious decision to flow in gratitude. Choosing to express it whenever I can, where ever I am.
I am grateful for all of you. Grateful for your presence. Your words of encouragement. Your sharing of your insights and thoughts. Your light. Our shared connection.
Years ago, as part of a play he was performing in about homelessness, my dear friend Max wrote a short soliloquy about his lived experience of homelessness.
I am a father, a brother, a son, an uncle, a friend.
I am a carpenter, a musician, a writer, an artist.
I laugh. I cry. I bleed. I feel pain. I feel joy.
Which of these is diminished because I am homeless?
In her comment last night on yesterday’s blog, which reminded me of Max’s words, Iwona wrote,
I am a writer, a quilter, a calligrapher, a photographer.
I am a wife, a friend, a relative, a confidante, a mentor.
These are the qualities and traits that I am proud to acknowledge.
Some may say these are "labels".
And Cristl wrote her manifesto too,
I don’t like labels as I have been called a criminal, homeless, senior and blunt. None fit me as the people I am now. I am a passionate person who believes that every person be treated with dignity and respect. This includes me.
While Nance shared her beautiful insight, as did JoAnne.
Somewhere along the line we decide which labels suit us. We can accept labels we agree with, and make our own labels. We can live without labels. We can talk about what we do, without making it who we are.
But some people work very hard to have certain labels. It’s good to think before we label.
And maybe that’s the thing about labels.
I have the power to choose my own. The one’s that work for me. They are not all of me. They are often a reflection of my passions and what’s yearning to be expressed within me.
I do not give others the right to choose them for me. And, while I get that for demographic stats it’s easiest to group people under labels or headings that denote similar attributes, and l understand that labels are convenient for identifying demographic trends and policies that work and policies that need to change to address gaps in public services, I have the power and the choice of determining what the ‘label’ that puts me in a specific group means to me.
I have the power to choose how I live the labels with which I am identified.
I have agency.
Which brings me to my own statement of Who Am I. Because in my agency, I also know that while there are many ‘isms’ I have encountered because of my gender, I have privilege that too many others do not experience because their choices were limited by the labels we applied to keep them in their place.
I am a human being of great worth. I am a woman. A mother, a wife, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. I am an activist, a disruptor, a staunch defender of our human right to be treated with dignity and respect. I am a believer in upending our social constructs to create equity and inclusion for those who have been marginalized, pushed aside and under the colonial structures of our past. And however I am, where ever I am, I am an artist, a writer, story-teller, creator of words and images, a lover of life and this fragile condition we call our humanity.
Which of these is diminished because my age puts me in the demographic cohort of being labelled a ‘senior citizen’?