Updated: Feb 8, 2021
What does it mean to age consciously?
I ask myself this question almost every day.
I find myself daily reverting to old thinking habits which identify beauty as being youthful and thus, completely out of reach to me in these later years of my life.
I have to do a complete reset of my mental construct in this regard, and remind myself that beauty has many forms, and is even experienced in the formless. I have to do this, pretty much, everyday because for at least 50 years, though I thought I was free of such a conditioned mindset, I was hooked into the culture I’ve most identified with, the American youth culture of external, superficiality. I believed I had released myself long ago from this cruel orientation, but truth be told, that wasn't so. When gazing at portraits and photos of indigenous women in their elder years, with unusual garb and amazing lined faces, ancient eyes, and gnarled hands, I’d think ”oh how beautiful they are...so real, I can see their inner beauty, and that’s what counts”. Now that I am witnessing my own lines and creases, seeing the sagging in my face and eyes that has come with hormonal loss, the truth of how I feel about my aging face and body is right in front of me, every day, each time I see myself in the mirror.
And truly, it is painful to say goodbye to youth. To say goodbye to that innocent sense of immortality and embrace the stark reality of my mortality. To let go of all that has been familiar for the last half a century and longer. The inside as well as the outside of the physical me.
Because it’s all changing. No matter how much one practices yoga, no matter how well one adheres to a healthy eating regime, limits exposure to toxins, both physical and otherwise, no matter how diligent and disciplined one has lived their life, they will most certainly grow old. Each of us will experience the natural shifts and changes that take place living in a body on planet earth. Gravity and the process of time itself will inevitably bring forth these changes.
It takes deep inner work to come to a place of comfort and ease as relates to this aging process. To embrace this new reality, this intractable truth.
So, what is it to age consciously?
I believe, in this very moment, that to age consciously requires self-love. Not ego love, but self-love. Love of the being who I am. Love of the life I have lived and live now. Love of this body that has been my vehicle for all the years of my life. Love for the aches, love for the limitations as they show up in my body, in my practice, and love for each new line on my face and sag of my skin. And most definitely love for the lessons learned and wisdom gained having lived through and overcome all the challenges and hardships, the losses and periods of grief as well as the joys and sorrows that these many years have wrought. These latter years, the Wisdom Years, might well be the prize well deserved, and this recognition the greatest gift of all.
Loving is also listening...listening to this body as she speaks to me, quietly and sometimes, if I'm ignoring her gentle requests, she speaks more enthusiastically, screaming at me if I won't pay attention. Learning to recognize her language, the language of an elder body, is my study now. Deciphering the nuances of "beneficial stretch" and moving beyond that into pushing it too far or for too long. Or perhaps using props now, where I didn't need them earlier in my life. Or maybe it's relearning my range of motion, or how much rest this body really does need to function happily. Listening as my body shows me the strength she is still capable of building and her appreciation for my not giving up. Listening as she guides me to support my joints and ligaments, instructing me to engage in my yoga practice, now more than ever. Listening as she guides me to understand the nutrition that best serves her, and thus, me. How she still enjoys the early morning sunrise, the sensations of wind on her skin and grass between her toes, and the opportunities that I reach into. Developing this language, this language of love and listening, has become paramount in my life.
In my mind and in my heart it feels so good to acknowledge loving all of me in this way, however, in practice it requires moving away from my conditioned mind and all the automatic responses I experience every time I look closely in the mirror.
Sinking in to a soft place in my heart and sending love to my own being, the woman who lives in this amazing vehicle made of skin, fascia, muscle, and bones, has become part of my practice. Each time my eyes meet mine in the mirror, as I gaze back at myself, I am filled with love and deep compassion. These moments are often the most potent moments of my day. They are filled with so much tenderness, such immense depth and recognition.
I take these moments with me, into my yoga practice and into my days. I notice the changes. Sometimes there are new limitations, limits in my range of motion as I move through each asana. I notice these and compassionately embrace exactly where I am in each moment, in my body, in my mind.
I feel a spaciousness within myself that was previously filled with more criticism and judgement, less compassion and ease. I feel resilient and even excited to be a witness to my own process of growing older. There are plenty of moments when I imagine this process of aging to be likened to a reverse adolescence. Watching, witnessing, experiencing the shifts, the changes as they introduce themselves to my experience of living and become part of the me that is present now, I enjoy a vibrancy that fills me with enthusiasm for each new moment in these Wisdom Years.
Each day I find myself making friends with myself, once again.