Recently a friend sent me a photo that was taken in 2013. It was one I hadn’t seen before so it was so lovely to see it after all these years as it was a reminder of a very beautiful evening spent with equally beautiful friends, and it naturally got me to pondering about all that has unfolded in my life since that night.
For a start, I could look on the surface, at my face and the obvious changes that have taken place since then, the extra wrinkles and the occasional sags, the colour of my hair, obvious things that those around me can see but as someone shared with me on seeing the photo, what has not changed is the light shining from my eyes. Then after a moment’s pause they added that that light is actually shining much brighter today than it was at the moment the photo was taken. And that was so very beautiful and confirming to hear.
Yes, I look a little older – eight years older to be precise – but what has not aged is my essence – that innermost part of us that does not change as all around us ebbs and flows – the wise, caring and life-loving woman that I am and always have been. In fact, I feel even more vital and alive today at 71 than I did then at 63, and definitely way more vital than I did when I was 53. This may sound rather remarkable, but in truth, I feel like I am growing younger. But if I share this with others they often look at me rather strangely, maybe curious as to whether dementia is starting to set in. However, I’m not surprised they do as this statement would probably test their incredulity as to this actually being possible. There would have been a time in my life that it would have tested mine as I would have not believed that this was possible, but here I am breaking down that well-worn belief – that when you’re old, you’re old and life is all downhill from there.
Writing this, a memory has surfaced of my mother who was in her mid 80’s at the time, saying – ‘I don’t feel any different on the inside, it’s just the ‘packaging’ that has changed. My hair is a little greyer and my body a little more wrinkly in some places and saggier in others than it used to be. I may not be able to do all the things I used to and yes, I am moving a little slower, but in spite of these changes, I don’t feel any older.’ And to me she never seemed to be old, but ageless, something I eventually realised comes from within.
The surprise at my age is often confirmed by those I connect with during my day, like the nurse during a hospital visit last year, who was convinced that my age was written incorrectly. She kept looking at the age written on my chart – then 70 – and then back up at me, and saying – ‘no, this can’t be right, you look like you’re in your 50’s!’ (Back in my 50’s as I result of the disregarding way I was living I probably looked 70!) Now, that was even more surprising as this was said after I had waited for a very long eight hours in the emergency department of this hospital and as a result I was very tired and just wanted to go to sleep.
The same surprise was repeated a couple of weeks later when I gave my date of birth to a young woman who was taking my details. Her mouth dropped open and did not shut for a while, and then when it opened again it was to ask me what my secret was…and so I shared what really isn’t a secret but a very simple way of living that supports and honours my body, which in turn supports me in my day-to-day life. I shared that at 50 my body was not in great shape in any way or form. I was struggling physically, mentally, and emotionally, and then one life-changing day I realised that it was time to change the way I was living, or become a very sick, old woman. And from that realisation, the most amazing support began to appear in the form of people and resources. Self-loving choices started to be made and slowly but surely my life and my well-being began to improve. It was not always easy, often one step forward and two steps back, but the strength of the inner knowing that this was, without question, the time to change the way I had been living so I would be able to enjoy the latter years of my life, held me steady through some challenging times.
But – and it is a big but – not everyone I come in contact with sees me through the eyes of these two women. Instead, they appear to see me through the number 71, and I am sure that many of us who are older can relate to this. It is like we are branded with our age, with the branding changing every year when the number increases with another birthday. I know that their view of me is most likely influenced by my obvious outer appearance, by the grey hair and the wrinkles, and I am sure that many of my age, or thereabouts, can also relate to this perception from others younger than them.
Understandably, to those who adhere to, without question, the ingrained societal beliefs around age, that number is old. But who determines at what age we begin to see the person in front of us as being old? And at what age do we consider ourselves to be old? I have come to see that if we only take the time to see the outer façade of the woman or the man standing in front of us and judging them by a number, we may be missing out on the priceless gift of connecting to the sparkling and ageless essence within, the same way I probably looked at older people when I was young. A case in point, was the boy who I wrote about in a previous blog called Children’s Perspective on Ageing who called me a fossil!
So as my ‘number,’ the one that denotes how many years I have been in this life increases, those around me expect me to be a little slower, be able to do less – which at times is absolutely true – and perhaps even to be less sharp than I used to be. And then there are the condescending jokes at my expense if I forget a name or two – they always come with a sting but one I have learnt not to react to. Some wonder why I am not retired. “Why do you want to keep working they ask – after all you’re getting old,” – totally surprised that I still love working and in truth still have so much to offer. And of course, there is the belief that because of my age I am in the vulnerable bracket when viruses are floating around the planet. I chuckle at this one as it is obvious that I care for myself much more deeply than many others much younger than me.
I have also realised that the quality of my relationships plays a huge part in the quality of my livingness as I age. They enrich my days, and in turn enrich me, with the ripple effects flowing out to so many more, even in the times when our physical connections and travel are restricted. This realisation floated in the other day as I was casting my eyes over the wonderful friends and family I have in my life, some of whom I meet up with in person when I can, and many from different corners of the country and the world who I regularly connect with via the internet. Over the last few years, I have met these men, and women of various ages, who come from different countries and from all different walks of life, through the online projects I work on, and even though I have met very few in person, I have built such beautiful relationships with them. We have such open and intimate connections and conversations that I know if they walked through my door for the first time today that it would feel like they had been here only yesterday.
There are those who are around my age, but most are younger and there are a few who are older, but what I recently realised is that there is not one of them who I judge by their age; in fact, they feel ageless. And conversely I never feel that my age is a consideration in our relationships; there is definitely no judgment as far as age is concerned. Many are at an age where they could be my children and I have one very dear friend who is old enough to be my mother, but when we are together age is nowhere to be seen but what is, is the combined essence of two gorgeous women, who laugh, giggle and cry just as we would have done if we had known each other when we were much younger. We come together in an agelessness that is absolutely confirming of the truth that it is who we are on the inside that connects us, and the depth of that connection is not based on our wrinkles, our sags, our grey hair, and the number that denotes how many cycles around the sun we have made so far in this life.
So where to from here for this seemingly ‘old lady’ who in no way feels old, but at the same time honours and respects a body that is going through a natural ageing process? The biggest lesson I am having, is that this process, one that we all go through in our own unique way, is not one to be fought and feared but one to simply be embraced and enjoyed? Yes there are days when that feels a little hard to do and the reflection in the mirror has me sighing in resignation that I’m getting older, but it is at that moment I know that I have disconnected from my true self and that I now have a choice which will determine what comes next, to stay disconnected and allow those negative pictures around age to sneak in or to come back to my true and ageless essence. These days, for me, there is only once choice and that is to reconnect to me through a couple of very gentle breaths until once again I can see that light shining from my eyes.
After living a life drenched in complication for so long I have finally discovered that life can actually be very simple, and it is in that simplicity that I now choose to live. And what I have found that supports this simple way of living is to have a purpose from the moment I get out of bed, a purpose that will be my anchor throughout my day especially in those moments when I begin to drift aimlessly or check out from life. I also continue to offer my body the deepest care and love, to remember to rest when I am tired, to say no when that is the most self-loving option, to laugh a lot and to cry when the tears begin to arise, to allow myself the immense joy of being alive and to finally accept that there can be such a richness at this phase of life, a life I will not be ‘retiring’ from until my Soul lets me know that it’s time to do so.
And if I am still living this life in eight years’ time I am going to enjoy looking back on the photo and all those taken since and to deeply appreciate the richness of my life and all those in it, and to know that there is always so much more to come…and that in truth I am not old, I am ageless.