Monday, April 13, 2009

Thoughts on Aging

I worry sometimes about getting old. It helps that my father is almost 97 and that my cousin seems young at 85 but there are certain unmistakable signs that I am getting up there. I always was one of the youngest ones at most business meetings. Now I am usually the oldest. I find myself going to bed earlier and never thinking about going out at night. Also, I find it hard to plan for more than two or three years ahead. I remember when I was younger thinking in terms of five or ten years into the future.

Physically I feel fine, although I am more conscious of the need to take care of myself, watch what I eat, and in general treat my body more gently. Actually, I am a little more lenient with myself than I was in my thirties and forties when I felt more urgency to keep my weight down and exercise vigorously. I felt more pressure to not have any physical problems, or aches and pains. Now I accept them more easily without as much concern. I still have hypocondriacal tendencies, but they definitely have moderated.

Mentally, though, I feel that I have not aged but am seeing things more clearly. I don't have the mental stamina that I once had to work day after day in a concentrated way. However, I am able to get things accomplished more quickly with less effort. I feel like I have less clutter, interfering with my thoughts, and that I can more easily penetrate to the heart of situations. It has helped me to recognize in all areas of life that things are not always the way they seem to be and that I cannot know for sure that I am right even when I feel confident that I am. This has prevented me from becoming too judgemental or set in my ways. I am not as impulsive or impatient and am able to step back a little from problems and look at possible solutions from different angles.

My goal in these writings is to be as honest with myself as possible, not to glamorize or exaggerate except when I am obviously or subtly being a little humorous. As I read this I am starting to feel a little better about this aging process. There are downsides, to be sure, but there are also advantages. A big advantage is that the pressure to produce significant results from my actions to prove to the world and my parents that I have value has been replaced by a desire to have productive days and make progress where I can.

It is interesting to me also that as I have become older I see more clearly the problems in the world and the degree to which things are screwed up while at the same time I am less concerned about fixing them. This does not mean that I don't care or that I have given up. I just don't have the same anxiety or frustration about things that I had when I was younger. Now there might be those who have a different experience and find themselves with more anxiety and frustration as they get older and realize how little impact they have on the state of the world or how little they have accomplished in their lives. I am not troubled by this at all.

I have come to see that there are very few absolute truths. There are choices, though. We make them every day. One of the ways to improve our lives is to learn to make better choices, and not to repeat the same mistakes. As we grow older we can choose to free ourselves from our past attitudes and behaviors so that we can enjoy the remainder of our lives or we can remain entangled in our past and give up the possibility of freeing ourselves. We can age gracefully and unburden ourselves, or we can take on more clutter and weigh ourselves down. In reality we can begin making this choice at any point in our lives. I would recommend doing it sooner rather than later.

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