Aging and Change

“Your Life is a Testimony to Change.” Rasha

The more years I have under my belt the more I realize the degree to which life is more about change than it is about no-change. That change occurs in the realms of physical, mental, and emotional development; social and political structures; career and finances; relationships with family and community; and last but not least, relationships with ourselves and our spirituality. How could one possibly interpret life as stable with all of the shifts that occur in so many aspects of one’s reality?!

In the past, I believed if I earned enough Merit Badges in my life, harm and suffering would remain at bay. I believed that if I think the right thoughts, be charitable, and try to do no harm to myself and others, I’d be allowed to avoid the hairy-scary, life-shattering episodes that no one wants to experience.

As I age, more and more often, wisdom sheds light on predicaments and circumstances in ways that allow me to see that to a huge degree, I’m not in control of whether I get sick, whether I’m impoverished financially, whether I am homeless, whether my relationships are all happy and loving, or whether my career path is smooth. I’ve learned to let go of my assumptions and expectations that life is going to go my way, especially if I try really hard to “will” it to be my way.

As I age, I find that what I thought life was about is not what life is about. It’s about something else entirely. If you are anything like me, you’ve worked hard to have the right stuff, as in having the right education, the right career, the right spouse and children, the right home, the right 401K, stock portfolio and other investments to ensure you are right where you want to be when you want to be there.

I’m exhausted thinking about what it takes to accumulate and manage the accumulation. But, this is what life is about – right? Or, this is what life should be about – right?

For some people, it’s about rejecting all of this, fighting for liberty from the evils of stuff. These individuals spend their lives judging and criticizing people who put all their efforts into accumulating stuff. They resist being part of consensus reality, and experience a righteous indignation because they believe they are outside the norm.

I’m exhausted thinking about all of the resistance required to attempt to control life. It might be time for a nap!

Who are we when we are not accumulating and not resisting accumulation? Who are we when we aren’t fighting to control our weight, our health, our portfolio, our partners and children? Who are we when we relinquish the fight for an identity or role that is deemed important and valued by others? Who are we?

As we age, many of us are forced to let go of what we’ve accumulated over our lifetimes: we downsize our careers, our houses, families. We discover that putting effort into anything that isn’t fun is actually exhausting. We become more vigilant about what brings joy. We discover simplicity is much more enjoyable. Sitting outside, watching a tree grow becomes an experience of wonder and delight – an experience that captivates one’s humanness and is soul-fulfilling.

When I was in my early 20’s and just beginning to cultivate accumulations – husband, house, stuff, I had a next door neighbor – Reg. Reg was an old, retired Welsh fellow. Most of the time he sat in his backyard for hours every day and watched the seasons change.

Reg had an enormous Chestnut Tree in his backyard. Squirrels and birds populated that tree and entertained Reg all day long. He would come out after breakfast, go in for lunch, which his wife Ann had fixed him, then come out in the afternoon until the sun went down.

I’d often go and visit ol’ Reg. I felt sorry for him. I thought his life must be boring, and because he had angina, he had to stay relatively quiet. That is how I saw ol’ Reg.

One day, Reg’s wife died unexpectedly. Reg still sat outside with his tree. Then one day, because the tree was dying, and branches were beginning to precariously fall on neighbors’ gardens, the tree was cut down and taken away. I experienced it as an amputation of a part of Reg’s being. I believe that losing this tree, this constant companion, was when Reg really began to die. His children sold the house and Reg disappeared from my life forever. Well, sort of.

Forty-five years after meeting Reg, he is still very much a part of my life – in fact, I’m a lot like Reg. Where at first I interpreted Reg as being bored and having nothing better to do, I came to see that truly there was nothing better to do. The simplicity of Reg’s world was perfect. Sitting outside, watching the unfolding of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter brings me huge delight, as it did Reg. The exquisiteness of even one single bird flitting across the yard makes my heart soar.

Life is a fascinating process for each individual on the planet. If we are lucky enough to get to the age when we are considered old, we begin to participate in the unfolding process of the being within. We see that there is a ME within that isn’t affected by how much or how little one has; a ME that doesn’t care so much about vanity of any sort – beauty yes, vanity not so much. An evolution of Self is occurring, whether we acknowledge it or not, which, if we are here long enough, inside our human suit, we begin to value that which we’ve been attempting to value all along: Life, as in the acknowledgment and the honoring of the being within all of life – no exceptions.

Change is a constant in everyone’s life. Change is what we fear most, because with change comes loss. And, though we so wish to avoid loss and grief, there is no way to avoid the inevitable unfolding of what comes and what goes. I believe as we age, we are gifted with a multitude of opportunities to shift our expectations and arrive in serenity of acceptance and allowance.

The adventures of aging are gifts that are given to those who are curious enough to stick around. Curiosity builds courage and resilience, and change becomes the part of life that makes it a great page-turner – you just can’t wait to see what’s gonna happen in the next chapter.

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If you’d like to join Dr. Rosie in the AGING – Who Me in-person discussions at the Orcas Island Senior Center, they are meeting next on Tuesday “ June 27th, from 10 – 11:30 a.m.

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