We’re getting older and older – as a population and each one of us – each day, every day. Our health seems to be pretty good; or not so bad. There is some sense of…well, aging: slower, occasional or frequent pains, not so sharp as we used to be, sometimes Senior Moments, slightly out of balance. Not too bad, most days! We’re “hangin’ in.”
We live longer in a time when we concentrate on how to age well – perhaps, as some people think, to sage more than age. But much of this, so far, is mostly about coming to terms with our dilemmas, adjust as much as we can to the idea of death. Look for answers to life’s dilemmas, mostly outside of ourselves. Good ideas, certainly. But…
But…something seems missing from this description of older people. What’s not much thought about – or practiced – is the idea that we might actually “grow” or “develop” as we age, with some sense of directions our growth might take.
Also missing from this accounting of aging, is the pursuit of who we truly are and can be: paths of growth, toward deepening our “characters,” a quest: toward something like personal “wisdom.”
The very idea of wisdom seems to be virtually absent in our thinking. Other places or traditions in the world seem to think that the older one is, the more knowledge one has: the experiences of each new day, the sense of telling what or how we know, being teacher to others and to the world.
Aging, within “wisdom traditions,” seem to see the aged as gifted and expansive. Each day, every day, one knows more and grows. Noting the world, healing what ails it and us, communing with the spirits of nature and one’s nature: that’s the way of the world. Older age – a great gift, perhaps a blessing. Mostly beyond the urges and rages of youth, we can find places in our being to study and practice anew.
Sages, shamans, pastors, imams, rabbis, priests: many cultures place in us the sense that being and knowledge are in tune, and in tune with the greater world. Character is destiny! – said Heraclitus, the great “puzzler” who thought that all was change. Character is the idea of the longest life: who we would most love to be in this ultimate summation of being: “Have I lived a good life?”
But not much is the idea of destiny here, as we find ourselves getting older. We seek to live long, but to “retire” as early as possible. What, then? Live easy, live well, ease into a life of…ease. Travel, play golf, watch TV, talk, gamble, use medications to ease all that ails us…or might. Get used to it, and do as well as we can; a slow deterioration overtakes and overwhelms.
This leaves very little thought or discussion about how to grow ourselves, to pursue, to fill-out our greatest possibilities: whatever that might mean for each of us. Looking mostly outward, we seem to neglect or dismiss the person we truly mean ourselves to be…Have I lived a pretty good life, a meaningful pursuit, expanding ideas and knowledge?
How, then to grow ourselves? Think, reflect, meditate. Pursue our “Next Places“, to examine ourselves, to rethink all the aspects of our selves: the seven, thirteen, twenty year old; the selves others told us to be (or not to be); to reexamine how and who we “make-up,” toward becoming who we would be, and move toward our next and growing senses of self…today, tomorrow, most days.
Work with our bodies: stretch, move – practice Yoga, Alexander technique, Tai chi or other explorations of the aging body. Enter more deeply into the music of our lives, the ways we view the world – our experiences become forms of art. Loving oneself more seems to lead us into loving…others, life, the very ideas about being who we are and will to be each next day.
Who are we: at this moment in our lives? Who were we told we were, who did we make others and ourselves to be? Where do we find or develop paths for becoming that person we might be: next, next, with a growing sense of…who I mean to be. Time to pursue our characters, with a growing sense that aging is more gift than burden.