I reconnected with a wonderful elderly woman the other day when I drove her across town to visit some friends. I had met her once before and, on that occasion, I was immediately blown away as to how amazing she looked, and this time was no exception. Her silver hair was beautifully styled, and the gorgeous, flowing pantsuit she was wearing was in one of my favourite colours – a pale lavender – although she shared that she preferred to call it hyacinth. She spoke very clearly and held herself straight, but not in a forced way, as we walked to my waiting car. It was obvious that I was in the company of someone who had managed to stay ‘young and vital’ as she was growing older.
As we began the journey she began to talk about her upcoming birthday and was I ever so surprised when she announced she was soon to turn 95! I commented on how wonderful she looked and asked what her recipe was for being this vibrant at an age where most are living in bodies that are not looking or functioning like hers obviously was. Her answer was very simple and, in that simplicity, oozing with wisdom. She said: “My mother always told me to look after myself; to care for my body and to care about how I look”. She went on to share how she had listened to her mother, not something we all do all the time; well maybe not at the time but perhaps later as we finally acknowledge the wise words that were often shared with us.
But she did not only look amazing, she was ‘sharp as a tack’ as the saying goes. As we drove away from her home, she suggested a way to get to her friend’s house but as I knew the short cut, I drove that way instead. As we pulled up outside her friend’s house, she turned to me and said: “We would have got here much quicker if you had taken my way!” I smiled and got out of the car to open her door, still smiling.
As I drove away I got to consider her words, wondering if my mother – or even my father – had shared the same wisdom with me if my life would have been any different, and I am pretty sure that it would have been.
And then I also began to pondering on how life would be for all of us as we are ageing, if from very young we were encouraged and supported to care for our body, with the knowing that it is our ‘vehicle’ for life, which like any vehicle requires regular maintenance if it is to continue to work in the way it is designed to. When I look around me, I see so many who appear to give their vehicles – their motorised ones – way more attention and love than they give to themselves, and then wonder why their body is often ‘breaking down’.
One thing is inevitable and that is, we are never not ageing and that reality we cannot stop, but we do have a choice as to how we age and the quality of our life as we make our way through this most natural of processes. And I have come to see, from observing the way those around me are ageing, that the first and foremost choice is to take the time to deeply care for ourselves; for both our body and our being.
We cannot for a moment treat our body with disrespect, feeding it or ingesting substances that are harmful to it, pushing it further than it can deal with physically, mentally and emotionally, depriving it of quality sleep on a regular basis, staying in relationships that are very dysfunctional, ignoring health issues until they stop us in our tracks …and expect it to keep on going without complaint.
It has taken me a while and a lot of introspection and honesty as to the way I lived for the first 50 years of my life, to realise that I was not giving my body the care and support that it was asking for, not just for my daily living but for building a strong foundation of well-being for the years ahead. At 50 a health issue woke me up to the fact that this body was going to be the ‘vehicle’ for the rest of my life and if I continued down the disregarding path I was on, the latter years of my life were going to be way less enjoyable than I knew they could be.
I realised that the quality of the rest of my life was going to be determined by my current and future daily choices. I could also see that by making more self-caring choices I would be breaking down the deeply ingrained belief that it is selfish to look after yourself first; that you ‘should’ look after everyone else before you – another guilt-fuelled should. I have finally come to see that putting the caring for ourselves before that of others is not selfish but the most loving act of all, for when we are feeling well and vital our lives flow more easily and then it naturally follows that we have so much more energy to support those around us, if they need it.
So how different would our lives be if we were raised from very young to lovingly care for ourselves and making this the most natural way to live? I have finally come to understand, without a skerrick of doubt, that to do so is actually the true way to live and that it can be a very simple way of living and not at all complicated.
How amazing it would be if from when we were young, we are raised to know that:
- the body we have, is our body for life and therefore it is our responsibility to care for it, and not just expect someone else to fix it.
- it is precious, breakable and incredibly intricate in its makeup and most of the time it gets on with the job of looking after itself – and us – without us even knowing what is happening within.
- if we take our body for granted and just expect it to do whatever we want the chances are it may respond in a way that brings us a whole lot of pain and stress and then we blame it for not working properly
- the food we eat and what we drink are absolutely essential to our ongoing health and that eating some foods and drinking some drinks, like so-called energy drinks and alcohol, can cause our bodies all sorts of internal discomfort and harm, sometimes leading to illness and disease; e.g. a constant excess of sugar can lead to Diabetes 2
- it is important to have regular exercise but at the same time not to push our body beyond what it can tolerate. On the surface, it seems to be able to tolerate a lot but underneath, the wear and the tear inevitably begins to build. Have you ever spoken to an older person who was an avid sportsperson in their youth and is now suffering all sorts of aches and pains as a result, and maybe have had to have a knee or a hip, or maybe even two, replaced?
- it is important to have a regular and supportive sleep pattern, not to put off going to bed when we are tired and making sure that our sleep is of a deeply healing quality. And what I have discovered is that it is the way we live during the day that will determine this quality.
- everybody’s body is different and that what suits one body may not always suit another, so to compare can be very damaging. But even with these differences, caring for our body is an absolute must, it is the foundation of our life.
Looking over this list one thing is clear. I wasn’t raised with this wisdom, but what I have found to be true from my own lived experience, and being inspired by others, is that it is never too late to change. I made some huge life-saving changes at 50 and I have continued to make them ever since, especially when I feel that something is not quite working in my life, and as a result the quality of my well-being, my vitality and the joy I live with have all increased immeasurably.
I am so looking forward to meeting up again with the wonderful lady in lavender (hyacinth) who inspired this blog and to ask her some more questions about how she has been able to stay so young and vital, so much so that at almost 95 years of age she has totally re-written how life can actually be as we age. And I’m sure that in the course of her everyday life, even though she might be a little slower than she used to be, she inspires many others, as she has inspired me, to take care of ourselves so as we age perhaps we too can live with the same youthfulness, vitality, joy and grace.