Are We Getting Weaker?
The basic issue with aging is that we see it as a series of losses. ( I talked about this in my post on Creative Aging.) Looking at age as loss leads to feeling like the ax is going to fall any moment. It threatens to make fear a companion. It points like a black ghost toward a time in the future when we will pass away into who knows exactly what. It all begins with that first feeling of joint pain or arthritis creeping into awareness. This is a warning sign that starts grabbing our attention, penetrating our consciousness, ever so slowly. What is really scary is knowing this means we are losing, falling apart –– helpless to keep the machine from wearing out. It hits really hard if you’ve been fit for most of your life.
They say the structure of fear is putting negative visions into the future. With physical pain, our bodies are making requests, in the present, to pay attention to something. Our bodies yell, ”It’s time wake up and take care of this pain”. Pain invites us to make comparisons between what we felt in the past, with no pain, and what we feel now; and then what that means for the future. It points to some physical part of us deteriorating. This may not be temporary. We may need to do somethings differently. For example, after running for over 20 years my knees won’t let me do it anymore. They hurt every time I try. I need to change my exercise. It could mean more or different exercise. But it definitely means change.
Cultivate Inner Strength
Should we struggle to maintain the level of activity we had growing up? Is it really necessary to ski, bike ride, and run into our 60′s, 70′s and 80′s? I mean what is necessary for us to do to live a healthy life into an older age? Most of the people I know including myself, exercised to be stronger, better looking or better than other people our age. It was a sort of club of excellence. But, now, I think it’s necessary to pay attention to those messages from our aging physical parts. I believe it’s important to adapt. It’s vital that we continue to be physically active, but we must look to what else we are. It’s time to develop the parts of ourselves that are more than our bodies. The encore years are about integrating healthful nurturing exercise with spiritual inner growth.
Joan Chittister in her book, The Gift Of Years, wrote “The task of every separate stage of life is to confront its fears so that it can become more than it was. For the young, it is overcoming the fear of functioning alone. For the middle-aged, it is dealing with the fear of failure. For those of us who have moved beyond the middle years, it is learning to cope with the fear of weakness.”
How do we cope with the fear of failure and weakness? We build spiritual connection deep within ourselves. We learn to disconnect from our emotional and physical ideas about ourselves. We separate ourselves from the idea that we are not enough physically, because we don’t have young bodies. We expand our ability to feel compassion and, at the same time, disconnect from other people’s traumas. We build a new kind of strength that we are increasingly physically designed to cultivate. We can’t go back. Besides, if I tell the truth, going back doesn’t interest me at this point. We learn to value what is not subject to weakness. We find a new type of strength. We feel our aliveness inside ourselves and do things from there. Nothing has really been lost. We can shift our awareness and notice we are as strong or stronger than ever.
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