Ageing gracefully is so much easier if you are friends with your own body, thinking less about how you look and more about how you feel inside.
However, this is easier said than done, living as we do, within a society that glorifies youth and beauty.
We have entire industries who study and work to stop the signs and stages of the aging process through foods, cosmetics and skin care products, medicines and surgery. This is a response to the culture in which we live, unfortunately one that tends not respect or admire older people, and a society that sidelines and even denigrates them.
The World Health Organisation reports that ageism has a negative impact on physical and mental health, so it’s clearly something we need to address.
Its said that ageism is experienced by everyone who lives a long enough to suffer it – and it can start very early! Ageism arises because as humans we ‘automatically’ categorise people as same or ‘different to us’ – the other main categories being gender and race. This stereotyping carries with it huge swathes of bias and conditioned responses that limit and effect how we think about and behave toward, those ‘different’ people to ourselves. This can lead to prejudice and outright discrimination.
Ageism is about being at ‘difference’ not only to those younger than the person, but also ‘at difference’ to the beliefs and behaviours of the particular culture we live in. In our case, it is a culture that upholds youth and beauty.
Is it any wonder then that we all ‘fear’ or resent the perception of being seen as ‘old’?
Yet this has not always been so; historically older people, well older men actually, held positions of authority and stature. This influence was reflected out into the community and respect for the elderly became a society norm. Generally speaking this influence extended into this time through the patriarchal social structure and our legal systems. In the past (and the present for some cultures) women often had no authority or influence except through the male in the family, usually the father or husband.
This too is reflected into recent times in our western culture – for example the Equal Credit Act allowing a woman to open a bank account or obtain credit without the signature of her husband, or another man, only came into existence in 1970’s! Even today, women are often judged, and take or lose power, by the position and/or power of their partner – but lets be clear, both men and women are effected psychologically, mentally, and emotionally, by that cultural behaviour print and its associated expectations and paradyms.
However, in the western culture things are changing rapidly in these last years in terms of gender and race, so let’s return to our subject of age now.
As we grow old, the beauty steals inward. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Age is still revered in Eastern cultures, wisdom is prized and the older people who carry it, are respected. In Greece age is celebrated with the older members of family central to that celebration. In Japan older family members are offered the utmost respect inside and outside of the home, with major decisions still presented to them for their counsel. In China, respect for the elderly is a fundamental part of its deep history.
So, living in a culture, our western culture, that is riddled with ageism, its necessary and healthy for us to consciously take another perspective when looking at ageing, and ageing gracefully in the face of such opposition, even within ourselves.
So what does ageing gracefully mean?
Ageing gracefully means embracing age. Grace is a kind and lovely refinement. Grace is something that is freely given, even if unasked for or undeserved. An attitude of grace toward ourselves and others is key to healthy well-being as we grow older, and becoming more set in our ways.
We can extend that sentiment to the nature and quality of our thoughts, the things around us, the things we do, and the people we choose to be with. This doesn’t mean we become colourless, with no character or personality, no joking or being cross, cranky, or foolish – its more to just do it all, be it all, with grace.
Ageing gracefully means just that, as we move into different stages of life, let our behaviour match it – learning to be comfortable within the maturity of your age is.
Taking care of yourself.
We are all familiar with the general health advice of how to take care of ourselves as we get older: maintain a balanced diet, have regular medical check-ups, partake in social activities to keep the wider community connection, do physical and mental exercises to stay healthier and think sharper, and allow yourself more personal space and time to nourish your being and your soul.
So, what more can you do?
You can deepen relationship with you, using interoceptive awareness.
We are all familiar with external senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing, the senses of balance and timing etc but what about interoception? What about the conscious or unconscious sense of the internal state of our bodies?
There is an ongoing connection and communication between our brains and the viscera – the soft internal organs of the body such as heart, lungs etc and the digestive and reproductive systems – and nourishing this interoceptive awareness, can make an enormous and positive impact on our lives.
Many clinical studies have been undertaken in this arena, particularly in terms of diet and mental health, and as organic, holistic human beings, there is great benefit to be gained by encompassing the whole being – mind, body and spirit.
By becoming more consciously aware of these internal communications, we can come to recognise, understand and regulate our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Let’s take a simple example of how it works. We practice to become aware of clenched muscles in the body, we think about possible causes for this tension, we recognise it and begin the process of seeking to understand what’s at play. This process in turn engenders mental balance and emotional regulation, resulting in a relaxation of the clenched muscles in the body and overall increased well-being.
It’s quite amazing to consider that what we think about in the brain communicates to the body, and vice versa. Unless you are self aware, it’s probable that you wouldn’t consciously notice a concern or emotion until you were aware of the clenched muscles – so here’s a challenge then: why not try a practice of consciously relaxing your shoulders, by letting them droop whenever you think of it, over the next days? You will be amazed how much tension is carried in the body.
The good news is that the more you are aware of your inner body’s communications, and the more you come understand your ‘feeling response’ to what’s happening, the wiser the choices you can make, and increase general well-being.
The treasure from this practice gets richer as by getting to know the inner self, or deepening that relationship. Interoceptive awareness cultivates resilience, compassion, equanimity, and wisdom – all true jewels of the ageing gracefully process – and it all begins with gentle curiosity, you to you.
People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born. Albert Einstein
See more about well-being on our About page, and try our Awareness meditations HERE …