I was talking with a friend today about aging and vitality, and reflecting on what is it that allows some of us to feel contented and vital as we move through our 70’s and beyond, while others seem reclusive and distant and unhappy with their lives.
When I was young a spiritual teacher in her 80’s once warned me “If you are not spiritual, all you will think of in old age is your health” and I think to some extent this is true. There is no point in thinking of ambition or raising children or more accumulation. All of that feels long past. So your need to be attentive to the body can become all-consuming. But what if spirituality can keep your spirits up, and your life rich with depth and meaning, no matter your age and even despite health challenges and limitations?
From what I see among friends who seem contented, peaceful and engaged in life no matter their age, is that there is a spirit – a touchpoint within them that nudges them to awaken with curiosity each day, value the simple beauty in the world around them, and follow a creative or social expression that offers the simple satisfaction of connecting with life. These movements may feel meaningful or they may be pleasurable, but they are not pursued with the intention of enhancing an image, or adding an accomplishment to a resume, the way they are done when we are young. This is movement without attachment to results, without hurrying or cramming in more than can be managed in the moment. It is engagement for the simple pleasure of it. Sometimes it is being generative — passing along something you have learned to another, sharing what is meaningful in living a satisfying life.
If you have seriously pursued spiritual awakening you have learned it is ultimately an inside job – it is an interior search to clear away any life debris that keeps you from knowing who you are, what is true beneath the accumulated beliefs, hurts, complaints and conditioned patterns of your psyche. How did you begin? Who have you always been? Knowing this helps you know who you will always be. It offers a return to a faith in simply being, like a small child but with breadth and wisdom about the human condition. It is a trust in the unfolding of life and death. a trust in the flow of our life as part of the whole.
Many people feel they have known so much pain and confusion that they cannot get free – the weight of life has overwhelmed them. But this simple being, the in-the-moment present experience, when it is free of thought, is always here, just waiting underneath to be re-discovered. Our lives are movement within a great stillness. We are energy and consciousness in a continual flow, following the river of creation and culture and life experience. Every day our very cells are changing, our bodies and minds respond to something new. Our possibilities are immense. We are part of a great mystery and it is healing to know that this mystery and the movement of our lives within it, are the natural and unavoidable way of the human condition in our time and history. Realizing or remembering we are not this brief passage but the essence of life expressing itself, will free us from the past, help us live harmoniously into older ages, and keep the adventure of life ever-present.
The mind tries to hold on to the past, as if this would somehow stop the movement, the growth, the every-unfolding movement. We pretend when we are young that it is possible to have control over what happens next., and mistakenly feel inadequate when we fail. Aging has taught me about the illusion of control in two ways: the discovery that here I am being elderly, and I cannot image how I got here so fast, because inside I am very much younger; and in looking back I see how all of the significant events in my life were not a result of control but only a random happenstance. Our birth itself is random. There is an apt saying that “You have no control over when you are born and when you die, so why do you think you are in control of everything inbetween?”
Through some grace a compilation of my life’s work was released this month under the title “When Sprit Leaps: Navigating the Process of Spiritual Awakening”. Where it goes and who it will touch is beyond my knowing, clearly beyond my control. The early chapters speak of our experience of being both consciousness and energy – these are the components of life that exist before, during and after our dance in human form. They are the real essence of life, propelling our physical forms through the many experiences we enjoy or endure. They are aspects of the spirit that reveals itself when we deeply seek Truth, or to know God, or to know what we are. The book is about the journey of an awakening spirit – how it happens, what it brings forth, and where it is going. In awakening, we also discover we are paradoxically the stillness in which this moment of life happens.
Waking up is knowing the answer to the deepest questions and letting our life relax into its natural course. If you are so fortunate as to know this, then aging does not seem much of an issue – just another way of experiencing and engaging and living. – and you know you are fortunate to be given this extra time. A deep knowing of our own spirit allows us to relax into life just as it is.