How to age Gracefully – from a Spiritual Perspective

 What is Spiritual Perspective?

Life is a constant balance between our Physical, Emotional and Intellectual conditions. 

 In Sanskrit language “Condition” is described as Upadhi. It is a holistic understanding of what it is? For example Physical condition for each of us could imply our body and all its parts as material objects of nature, no different from all other objects of matter. As an example our bone is a structured composite. It can be compliant up to a point and can be brittle and fracture at the extreme! A collection of such bones in different forms and shapes held together by muscles and tendons and ligaments creates our skeleton. We see it in totality as our body! In this respect our bones are no different from the structural elements like beams in a house! In this respect our body is no different from any other body or anyone else’s body or any other inanimate object of nature!

 The Physical condition includes our Physical body as well as all the life processes (Breathing, blood circulation, neural processes, sensory perceptions, vision, hearing, ….) that make us a living person. Emotions are our ever present responses to our Physical conditions. We are impulsive and reactive when we are subjective. We are reflective and considerate when we are objective. For more details see:

Beyond our physical and emotional conditions we are also endowed with the ability to think and reason on any number of issues and topics. This analytical skill or condition is co-existent with the other two, from our birth and continues as we age with time. Hence aging gracefully requires paying attention to all three conditions – Physical, Emotional and Intellectual. It should not be limited to just one of the three. 

These three conditions of who we are and how we age are like the ever present waves on the surface of the ocean. But the waves do not exist on their own. They are part and parcel of the deep ocean supporting it and indeed enabling all the waves to exist. There is no separation between the waves and the ocean beneath. Also they are all part of the same body of water! Similarly all our Physical, Emotional and intellectual conditions exist and remain inseparable from the vast nature (and its laws). Collectively they are called Brahman in Vedic Philosophy. Living, especially aging gracefully must include acknowledgement of this reality.

Aging gracefully in a spiritual perspective must include (a) Comprehensive look and management of our aging Physically, Emotionally and Intellectually (b) Constant awareness of our inseparable union (under all these three conditions) with nature and its laws (Brahman) and (c) Such awareness leading to an outlook of universality that “I” and the Universe at large are one and the same indivisible, eternal and omnipresent! Perhaps such graceful living (and aging) is reflected in the Vedic pronouncements: I am Brahman (Aham Brahma Asmi) and May everyone and indeed everything exists in peace and harmony (Sarve’ Jhana Sukino Bhavanthu)?

Recently I came across the essay “How to Age Gracefully” By Jane E. Brody. I have quoted a few lines from this essay with a few additional comments from a spiritual or philosophic perspective. I must emphasize that the comments are not offered as a critique. Instead they are offered as additional reflections on what we commonly accept and how such thoughts and views could be reshaped, if one chooses to do so.

The day after my 80th birthday, ……….my life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.

Congratulations to anyone who has reached their 80th birthday. I am getting there slowly but surely! Let us also celebrate everyday as a new day, birthday for the next year to follow! Special days like birthdays, anniversaries, etc. add color and meaning to the tapestry we call life. Inadvertently we should not let such joy and celebrations add to our emotional bondage. This in turn leads to fear of morbidity and the so-called “bucket list”! Could we have a list of aspirations that we leave behind for those who follow to pursue instead of a bucket list? The old tree in my backyard is the best inspiration for me. It has been dead and cut down years ago. But no matter what I try, there are always new shoots coming off its roots buried well underground! Perhaps our physical actions, emotions and intellectual drive while we live can leave a lasting impact that inspires and engages future generations with a long list of new things to do – a never ending bucket list?

I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider. ……………….. The stickiest wicket going forward will be driving. Many cars now on the market have protective bells and whistles that compensate for the declining senses and slower reactions that accompany aging. …………. I’m also beginning to tackle another burdensome issue: clutter. My late husband  told me I reminded him of an elderly woman he knew who kept pieces of string “too small to use.” I’m taking his advice to heart. Wish me luck.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are obvious steps to manage the changes in our physical condition as we grow and age. Minimizing stress influences our emotions which in turn improves our physical health. Taking Yoga classes or attending meditation sessions are among the obvious. But managing our stress is less obvious. Where does the stress come from? Can I decrease my stress if everyone around me is stressed out? In my effort to reduce my stress am I compounding the stress for others? These are questions genuinely worth pondering at least periodically if we truly want to age gracefully! 

Being prudent about “safety” in our physical condition and the need to minimize our “possessions” with the passage of time are practical sound advice to age gracefully. Should they be limited only to physical safety and material possessions? Harm caused through inadvertently chosen words and their emotional scar may be far worse than any physical injury in a car accident. Ill-will, flawed reasoning and unwillingness to forgive are often sources of harm that perpetuate over generations far worse than many physical injuries at old age. Yes, we should remove the clutter and free up the burden for others to clean up after us. But, who will declutter our mind and its emotions and false hopes, beliefs, prejudices and expectations? Should we work on decluttering our mind as a priority over decluttering physical goods?

I took an inventory of my life and started at the top, with my hair. …. And they looked just fine, sometimes better than they did with hair dyed dark above a wrinkled façade. I rarely use makeup, and my usual summer costume remains short-shorts and tank tops. Wrinkles be damned. I’m proud to have them.

When we are toddlers our parents are obsessed with our looks. As we grow into teens we are obsessed with how we look to get the attention of others.When married and with your family you have to look good to make everyone around you feel better! When you are old, – you can choose the age 50s, 60s – or really old – 70s and 80s – then looking good is a self driven obsession when no one else cares! Our looks, the physical appearance is always judged by someone outside of you. But my emotions and thoughts, how beautiful and inclusive they are is known only to me! Whatever the physical appearance, let it be. Being aware of one’s feelings and thoughts and how to manage them keeping everyone and everything in mind is the essence of Spiritual evolution within each of us?

But I will continue to be irritated by bad grammar, and correct misuse of the language whenever I can. And I will stubbornly resist altering my habits. …………….. Fear of falling “can actually lead to more falls” by making you unduly anxious, hesitant and focused on your feet instead of what’s in front of you.………………. I often climb to reach items that I can’t store on a lower shelf. But I always use a sturdy step stool.………………. “We all have issues. The secret to successful aging is to recognize one’s issues and adapt accordingly.” 

Each of us has personal habits, choices and preferences. They are both good and bad. It is futile to think that all our words, actions, feelings and thoughts will be good and noble. Seeking such perfection is an exercise in futility. Instead anyone who has grown older has also endured physical challenges, emotional upheavals and thoughts and reasoning that needed some degree of control. In other words each of us is an evidence of “good” in our own ways. It is important to celebrate that as we seek improvement where we can. Celebrating our “good” at the exclusion of challenging oneself for improvement is unwise. But negating all the good that is already there and makes who we are is not wisdom as well. That is like avoiding the softness and sweet smell of a rose, which always has its thorn as well. Perfection need not become the enemy of the good. I believe that this simple thought will make many who are old enjoy and welcome their old age rather than resent and be fearful of it.

Sooner or later, we all must recognize what is no longer possible and find alternatives. I continue to do 10-mile bike rides several times a week in good weather, but two-week cycling trips up and down hills are now history. A dear friend in her 90s is my role model and serves as a reality check. 

What is not physically possible is more or less obvious. Less obvious is our limitations in managing our emotions. Our ability to think and reason only increases when our mind (and our brain) is actively engaged! Go ahead and identify your declining physical limits. Be mindful of your emotions and their impact on others, especially those who care for you. Do not make your declining physical limits become a growing emotional burden on others. In this respect, as you grow older taking care of your physical fitness is more for others and their relief than for you! Continue to sharpen your mind and its reasoning skills. Put that to good use by helping others to think and reason, especially the next generations that follow us. In all these pursuits role models are always useful and valuable. Also be a role model as best as you can be while you follow your own role models! Such role models need not always be known to us in person. Seeking God as our role model is truly practicing Divinity in our Physical actions, Emotional realm as well as in our thoughts and reasoning!

I’ve vowed to stop talking to whoever will listen about my aches, pains and ailments. It doesn’t provide relief — in fact, it might even make the pain worse. Rather than instill empathy, the “organ recital” likely turns most people off, especially young ones.

As we grow older there will be a tendency to make decisions and choose actions based on anecdotes. That is Subjective! “Organ recital” happens only when I use someone as my listening chamber! Is it totally the fault of the listener or is there blame to be shared by the reciter? To share one’s own physical, emotional and intellectual status and experience objectively should not be shunned anymore than listening to the same from others. By showing this ability to “bare their chest” elders can promote openness in their communication with others, especially with youngsters bottled up in their nest of fear, anxiety and apprehension! The goal for such communication and sharing is to let the listener know that he/she is not alone or their experiences, feelings and thoughts are unique and crazy. Instead it is the beginning of an open and honest exchange promoting empathy to replace false and pretentious sympathy, to promote care and assurance for mutual reliance replacing fear and apprehension for being connected and engaged with each other. Managing this communication process for the better good of all is a sure sign of aging with grace!

And I do cherish my young friends who keep me youthful in spirit and focused on issues important to my children and grandchildren and the world they will inherit. They, in turn, say they value the information and wisdom I can offer.……………. I also strive to say something flattering or cheerful to a stranger every day. It brightens both of our lives and helps me focus on the beauty around me. But my most valuable advice: Live each day as if it’s your last, with an eye on the future in case it’s not, a lesson I learned as a teen when my mother died of cancer at 49. Her death inured me to catastrophic loss, which I handle better than little ones.

It is undeniably true: Harsh experiences of life prepare us to handle the challenges of life better. Many who have had smooth sailing may also be the ones that struggle with aging gracefully. This is also the flaw in the way in which we grow up, always governed by subjective choices in our actions, emotions and thoughts. The notion of “I” generally prevails as limited and personal. Being deliberately aware of this pitfall must start early in life. Instead it needs to become “We” and “All” without limit. In case we have missed that opportunity it is our duty to learn that. This Spirituality in practice and the education about it must happen at any age. Then striving to say something flattering or cheerful to a stranger every day becomes a natural part of aging gracefully! Such an expansive mind also welcomes everyone into our orbit. All children and grandchildren become my children and grandchildren! As I age gracefully I am not isolated and alone, at least not in my mind and its emotions and thinking. Instead I am part of an ever increasing larger family!

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