Tools for the journey: How does one go about facing the reality of aging and dying?

I attended a Zoom workshop on aging this past weekend. None of us can avoid the process of aging though the effort to deny it is fierce. I was surprised at how many of the participants in the workshop I attended were most concerned about changes in appearance, especially wrinkles, as the focus of their feelings about growing older. But aging is far more than the appearance of gray hair, of facial wrinkles, of body changes of all kinds, though all of those physical signs are important. 

The process of aging offers ample opportunity to confront and deal with the changes this period brings. As our body changes, our energy diminishes and we witness the passing of time in so many small ways we are often shocked into the awareness that youth is not forever and that death really is on our future “to do” list. Face lifts, makeup, and hair coloring can create the illusion of youth, yes. But take a look at the hands of someone over 60 or so and those hands tell the tale of age that artifice seeks to conceal.

It is hard to avoid the pressures to appear youthful. How often do we see in movies or on television actors, especially women, who look over 40? Confronted with so many images of youth and so few of age, it is easy to fall into feeling that aging is a curse.

But aging also offers us a gift, an opportunity to go deep, to resolve painful issues, to work through regrets, to figure out exactly what we believe and value, and to move to a place of accepting and embracing our lives as we have lived them.

Facing aging can be difficult. It is a gradual process, reluctantly undertaken, for most people. There are practices that can help, that can open this process and assist in confronting and dealing with ourselves growing older. Following are some brief descriptions of practices that can help. Give yourself the gift of facilitating your own journey and take on some of them.

 Quiet: Seek every opportunity to sit in the quiet. Turn down the volume on the external world. Turn down the inner voices that chatter relentlessly. Sit in the quiet and listen. Just listen. As many of us now are more or less confined to home in the face of the pandemic, there is likely ample time for sitting in the quiet of our now much less busy lives.

Deep Breathing: Breath is our life force. When we focus on our breathing it brings our attention back to ourselves, into our bodies and an awareness of the inner world. Focus on the process of breathing and feel the breath of life move through your body. Slow and deepen your breathing, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through the mouth. Feel your mind calm. Allow what thoughts and feelings come arise to surface. Notice them and let them go. 

Journal Writing: Develop a practice of writing about the thoughts and feelings that arise each day. If there are unresolved issues or conflicts bubbling beneath the surface write them. Follow your feelings where they lead. 

Be in Nature: Spend some quiet time outside. Walk more. Turn off the phone and headphones. Listen and observe. 

Meditation: Develop a meditation practice. There are many different types of mediation and meditation methods. Choose one that feels comfortable to you or enlist the help of a meditation class or teacher. Buy a book on how to meditate. There are many meditation apps that can help you develop a practice. I have found the Calm app to be very helpful, but there are others as well. 

These tools are not magic but they can make the work of dealing with growing old and facing the inevitability of death more manageable by making room for that work to be conscious. The image at the top pf this post is of a fading flower. It is the aging of a beautiful deep red amaryllis. It is easy to see the beauty in the vibrant red flower when it first opens. But I was taken by another kind of beauty I saw as the flower faded and slowly died. And so it is with us as we relinquish the beauty of youth for a different kind of beauty, the beauty of age.

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