Our bodies age. As members of the kingdom of animals, we inherit a biology that grows less efficient with time. Glitches and injuries accumulate. Our youthful form is lost, and our aged one is gained.
By dint of fear of change, the innate sexual attractiveness of younger bodies, and massive exploitation of both by marketing forces, we feel embarrassed and deprived as our bodies slowly deteriorate.
Not all cultures view aging so negatively. So the bias could be overcome. But how?
- Don’t take aging personally. After all, aging happens to everyone, from the beginning of life until its end. And like they say, Growing old beats the alternative! Every person who has ever lived beyond early adulthood has grappled with the changes the years impose. Granted, some people age more slowly than others, but every one of us looks and feels older as time passes. You are not alone.
- See aging as Natural. We live in an era when ‘organic,’ ‘all-natural,’ ‘non-GMO,’ ‘cage-free,’ and other eco-marketing catchphrases are used to sell products. Moderns want the growth and harvesting of foodstuffs to proceed naturally. Well, aging is no less aligned with Nature than vegetables cultivated without pesticides; why not embrace growing older the way we embrace organic foods?
- Appreciate the gifts of aging. As we grow older, we grow wiser. This isn’t folk mythology; it’s fact. We learn from experience. We find more acceptance in our hearts. We assess our strengths and weakness with more humility and self-compassion. We begin to view circumstances in shades of gray rather than black-and-white. Youthful hunger wanes until we find ourselves valuing what matters over the long run above what feels pleasant in the short run. We care less about personal goals and more about collective ones. To my mind, at least, the gain of gentleness, nuance, and altruism more than compensate for the lessening of passion and militance.
- Embrace the big picture. If you listed the names of all 108 billion people who have ever lived, at the rate of one per second, it would take 3,400 years. And the entire human saga has unfolded over just the last 0.005% of the time since life began on this planet. Does it make sense to feel affronted by a body’s aging when so many people (and countless other lifeforms) have endured the same fate, and when the span of even the longest human life barely measures as a single tick on the cosmic clock? Each of us is a unique product of history, but we delude ourselves if we believe our own lives more important than those of all the others. If we identify with Life as it has grown on this planet for billions of years, rather than our personal speck of biology, we gain freedom from the constrictions of daily concerns. We feel opened to a larger world, a larger sense of Self, and the great, beautiful mystery that is Living.
- Nurture a sense of humor. It helps to take aging less seriously. Early in 2014 I underwent major surgery. Postoperatively, I was horrified to see how the abdominal muscles I’d been strengthening for years ended up looking scarred and distorted. It helped lessen the sense of grief when I joked about losing my ‘last bastion of sexiness.’ The use of humor has a long history of helping the aged feel less burdened by wrinkles, sags, dribbles, creaks, and farts. Join the fun!