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Are You Aging or Ageless?

The truth is that you are both: aging because we all are, one breath and one wrinkle at a time and ageless because the real you has no age and doesn't change no matter how old your body gets.
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The truth is that you are both: aging because we all are, one breath and one wrinkle at a time and ageless because the real you has no age and doesn't change no matter how old your body gets.

Years ago a friend was visiting her grandmother, who at 87 had Parkinson's and was shaking so badly she was unable to care for herself. One day as my friend was helping her out of the shower, her grandmother looked her in the eye and said, "Darlin', I may not look it, but I'm still 20-years-old on the inside." Perhaps, like me, you know exactly what she's talking about.

Even though you are both aging and ageless, what counts is which notion is guiding you in the way you live your life, the way you are with others, and the way you treat yourself. When I focus on how old I'm getting, I feel doubt and fear and my confidence flies out the window. When I remember who I am, the same Jinny I've always known steps up to the plate.

You see it doesn't seem to matter what our birth certificates say -- whether we're in our 20s or 90s -- we get distracted by our thoughts and worries about how old we are. Of course, that's natural and just part of being human, but a life focused on our age, how we look, self-imposed limitations, and fear is painful and pointless.

My recent blog post asking "How Old Are You, Really?" attracted greater response than anything I've written for a long time. Quite simply, we agree that a focus on aging leads to a world of denial, pretense, fear, and self-absorption while an ageless approach can lead to a life of purpose, fulfillment, freedom, and happiness. Having tried both, I recommend the latter.

When life is focused on aging

Here are some examples of the thoughts and behaviors common to this option:

  • Worrying about how my age affects my chances of success
  • Overwhelmed by projects and plans that don't really matter
  • Too busy with my life to reach out to others
  • So distracted I can't be still, let my mind rest, meditate
  • Concerned that life is short, but acting as if my life will last forever

That last one hits the nail on the head -- the more I live in the way described here, the more I forget what I'm here for. As His Holiness Shenphen Dawa Norbu Rinpoche recently said,

"Our life is like a lamp in the wind. It can blow out at any time."

On this point a friend wrote to share, "Being born in July of 1935 makes me nearly 78. Off hand I couldn't care less. In some ways I feel a little older, but it doesn't seem to bother me a bit because I'm enjoying my life more every year. A couple of months ago I terminated my Rotary membership because I realized that there are about 10 projects that I want to complete before my life is finished. They may take another 10 years to complete, so I have my work cut out for me."

As one much young reader shared, "I'm as guilty as the next person of seeking to find out how old someone is and then putting them in a mental category, and I just hate this! It's not because I am trying to maintain my youth by lying about my age and hoping everyone will think I'm younger. Because in truth, the people you interact with will take a look at the 'skin bag' you are in and make their own assumption about your age. We are all as old as we feel and should not let society use the number that life puts on us."

When life is focused on being ageless

Here are some examples of the thoughts and behaviors common to this option:

  • Taking more time for meditation and prayer each day
  • Improving my ability to stop, get out of my head, and be present
  • Letting go of negative, judgmental, and unkind thoughts
  • Catching myself in self-absorbed and pointless moments
  • Focusing on being generous with the gifts I've been given

When I don't concentrate on how old and therefore irrelevant I am, I'm naturally drawn to giving to others. The more I forget my age, the more meaning my life has. As William James so wisely said:

"Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact."

I frequently see evidence of this intent, as in these notes from these readers:

"My soon to be 90-year-old sister is engaged, involved, funny and still driving. She has managed to cultivate a wide-ranging group of friends that take her to the theater, movies, concerts and her favorite book club. Our church can hardly function without her. In short, she is fabulous."

"I don't know how old I really am, but at nearly 76 years of age, I feel younger than several years ago. Going on in life, one realizes how many things we may have cared for are not important, and one understands that we have to value the essential. What is it? For me it is to be always the same with everybody I deal with. I don't want to say that I love everybody with the same affection, but I behave in the same way. People for me do not have labels, and I do not classify people in categories like age, money, success, race and religion."

And from another dear friend and one of the most accomplished and kind people I've ever met --his last sentence is a simple and inspirational insight.

"On the subject of getting or feeling old I cannot generalize. I was 91 when I lost my life companion. That will age you even at a younger time in life. The other condition sure to make you feel old is your health, mental and physical. I have been very lucky in that respect. George at the High Alpine restaurant on the ski hill gives you free lunch if you are 90. I still enjoy it. Frankly, what else is there that gets better after 90? Still at any time you can console yourself by the knowledge of your many accomplishments and the joy of your human relationships."

I believe the bottom line is that in your ageless heart you know you're here to contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. As Abraham Lincoln said so presciently:

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."

Please leave a comment below or write to me: I'd love to hear about your experience of aging and agelessness.

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