Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Flexibility: The Holy Grail

It seems to me that one of the hardest parts about aging is the tendency to become enslaved by habit; those parts of our lives that we do over and over again on autopilot, simply because it is what we know. And I do mean enslaved. Like getting so locked in to a pattern of behavior that any effort to resist it feels like swimming in jello. The God of Apathy takes over.

I suppose that’s partly why we fall into these habits in the first place – the apathy or depression about getting older. A realization that, in my experience at least, comes in stages. It starts with this sense of time speeding up, somewhere between 40 and 50. Then you start noticing shit about your body that’s difficult to deal with – it doesn’t work the way it used to; the wrinkles, sags or grays start sneaking up on you. Or you start surprising yourself with the stuff that comes out of your mouth. Or it dawns on you that people don’t look at you the same way anymore. It’s insanely easy to start panicking. You want to rewind the tape. What happened to my waist? My biceps? My face? Did it all just catch up to me? Who is that looking back at me in the mirror? Did I just say that? Who the hell am I?!!

So you start comparing. And thinking a lot about who you were. And if you’re not careful, you wake up one day confronted with how regimented you’ve become – the days bleed into each other, and the phrase “same old, same old” takes on a whole new meaning. You think about getting out but the prospect is unnerving. As the saying goes, “old habits die hard”. That’s because the older we get, the harder it is to mix it up. Flexibility of mind, heart and body becomes something we have to work at. We’re hanging on to how it was five years ago, or whenever, trying to slow down the rate at which time seems to be slipping through our fingers. We resist change by courting the familiar. And before we know it we are going through the motions, resigning ourselves to the process of aging, as if we lacked choices in how we experience it.

All of this, ironically, as we avoid facing death. We tell ourselves that doing so is giving up on life. Educator Stephen Jenkinson sees it very differently. “The skill of dying is the same skill as deep living,” he tells me. That the extent to which we can embrace death is the extent to which we can live our lives. “Not success...not growth...not happiness. The cradle of your love of life is death. The fact that it ends.”

I’m thinking that gives me options. Options I never had before.

3 comments:

Debra L. Schubert said...

"The cradle of your love of life is death. The fact that it ends.” Holy bejesus, that's freaking powerful.

I feel, in many ways, that I'm just starting to come alive (late bloomer?). I'm loving life more than ever and am sad and angry it's (more than?) half over. Aging can be an evil mistress IF WE LET IT.

And, habits? Oh, yeah. I feel those heavy chains...

My Buzz on Vibes said...

Great post! I definitely fall into this trap and tend to stay rooted in my comfort zone. I really have to push myself to try new things, and it does seem like more of a struggle than it used to be.

Jesse Mendes said...

Thank you, both of you, for your comments. Really comforting (no pun intended!) to know that others share my experience. Debra glad you resonate with his words -- for me, this is no less than a spiritual calling. And I, like yourself, am a late bloomer -- life didn't really start for me until I hit my 40s, and even now, at 48, I feel as if I am just starting to wake up, to become "teachable", so to speak.

Jesse