Waking Up Sixty
This morning as I sit and let the rising sun warm my skin, content with the shimmering pink that plays on the inside of my closed eyelids, I contemplate aging and this number sixty. It has crept up and captured me whether I liked it or not. I am aging in an anti-aging world. But what about it? It’s just a number right? Well, yes and no.
A month before my actual birthday I met with a group of friends at a farewell dinner before flying to live in Greece for a year. There I was presented with a cake and my first birthday card with the big number on it. These friends span the next decade in ages so in that group; they are aging but I’m still the kid. Then I noticed a little emotional turbulence surface around that time. You know, like when the airplane is ascending through the cloud cover and there is a passage of shuddering. Nothing to be alarmed about – just the awareness of changing altitudes.
I tried not to create too much cranky disturbance through my sensitive days leading up to my birthday. I more or less rode out the duration, merely prodding the fact of aging with my toe. I didn’t want to look at turning sixty straight on but just obliquely to see how I really felt about it.
Aging with Awareness
It’s not the aging so much as the awareness that more steps are behind than forward. Fast on the heels of that is “was I efficient” in those years of trial and error? From that grows the consciousness that the next years really count. They are limited. Finite. Of course, they always were. From birth, my expiry date was an unknown but certain circle on a calendar somewhere. But now I own that truth. It doesn’t make me anxious, merely … focussed.
Rather than a milestone, the day became a gateway. If I picture it, it is like the gate into a secret garden or the filigree iron gate that opens from a busy rural road onto the quiet terrace of our little house on the island with surprise views of an ever changing sea.
I know one thing and that is I can walk through the gate easily, but it will not accommodate passage of any baggage. By that I mean, all that is required for the journey is all I can take comfortably through. All else must be dropped by the roadside; draining relationships, worries, anxieties, fears, the possessions that are in reality possessors. I also leave behind limiting beliefs, the judgment of others and the need to please. I leave also the grief and sadness of loss and bring forth only the flower of those emotions which is deep gratitude for loving.
I exercise my right to choose the people I work with and the people I play with. They, like me, are aging too and know that the greatest gifts are the ones we give away; love and kindness. And in the giving they grow in strength and expansiveness.
When I look in the mirror, I tilt my head up – better neck definition and I smile – better chin line. I meet my own gaze and say ‘you’re all right – just the way you are’. I resist the temptation to ask my sweetheart, “I don’t look sixty – do I?”. He will just reassure me in his dear way that no, I don’t look a day over fifty-nine. When I see un unflattering picture and lament that I look old, Athan reminds me that we are old. So we delete those photos and keep the good ones. Aging with grace is really all a matter of perspective – isn’t it? I don’t see myself in my bikini so I just walk tall and dive into the sea and float with all the bikinied bodies of the spectrum – young, old, big, little, buff, and not so much… The warm and clear sea holds me in tender buoyancy and that makes me feel good in my skin.
Aging with Vibrant Health and Vitality
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to look as young as I feel, but youthful has more subtle connotations for me now. And it really has become synonymous with vitality.
Shiny hair, bright eyes, toned body and physical stamina are ageless qualities of health. I enjoy life and laugh a great deal. When I am in repose reading or on the metro, I check myself and see if I’m frowning and remember to smile (better chin line). It is magical for my own sense of wellbeing within as well.
My simple daily regimen of yoga, and holistic practices are easy yet effective ways of being healthy from the inside out. This is not a matter of discipline, but the desire not to be creaky – which I am if I miss too many yoga days. The aging body wants attention and responds brilliantly when it is given with love.
When I feel tempted to react to something in annoyance, I think of my days and how I want to spend them. I don’t have time for anger, and my body feels lousy with the chemistry aftermath of surging negative emotions. When emotions like fear or anxiety flare up like shock waves in my belly, I try to follow them to source and always, always find they are connected to some past memory or untruth not relevant to the situation of my moment.
The simple pleasures now far outweigh the grand. Nutritious food, water from the mountains, clean air and peaceful surroundings support productive enterprise and creative pursuits in a healthy balance.
The things we thought we needed when we moved to our little house on the island of Aegina like a car and more furniture have somehow slipped off the priority list. Swimming and walking and jumping out of the way of speeding cars on roads without sidewalks have their benefits for exercise and agility. Solving a storage problem in a small space with IKEA is as giddy as the days when I awaited delivery of granite countertops. The foods we eat are very similar to what the ancients ate, fresh, nutritious and of simple variety.
Aging with Gratitude for the Simple Pleasures
My gifts of the birthday celebration were similarly simple yet rich; being wakened by an exuberant bouquet of bougainvillea and jasmine from our garden and fresh squeezed orange juice in champagne. Family, new ‘cousins’, flew down from the north of Greece for several days to be with me on my day – having their first vacation in thirty years. We visited the Church at Agios Nektarios in the mountains on the Island in the morning and had a mystical experience.
Others came later by ferry and we lazed on the beach and had an ipnaki (nap) before a special feast including a recipe from ancient times* and a wonderful cake made by our friend, Pantelis, owner and chef at our local taverna, Saronika Restaurant. Typical of Greek families, around the table were all ages, six to sixty – plus. My cell was ever by my side and sweet texts came frequently from my darling sons thousands of miles away. The sun set and the moon rose while the waves splashed on the rocks at our feet. The children fell asleep and our talk became more quiet and thoughtful as we sipped the last of the wine.
Aging with Enthusiasm and Contribution
Here in Greece we have found our own tribe of artists, natural therapists, cultural entrepreneurs and others who share our values of living in service to higher purposes, content with the gifts of friendship and meals shared over copper jugs of local wine. Caring for animals, revering the environment, painting, writing, philosophizing, sharing our interests with others.
Now we actually stop and actively watch and listen to the sights and sounds of Nature. Never tiring of the sunset or the ever changing colours of the sea. There is a pulse of enthusiasm in these lives.
Yes, we all need to make money and generate income, after all, while we are aging, we expect to live long and useful lives. But now the focus is on the wholeness of the pursuit. What can we create that adds to the excellence of life of others as well as ourselves? It really has become a matter of doing what we love. These are not wisdoms only for the aging. These are ways of living in freedom and vitality that makes every day a gift and pleasure. As I learn, I share with my sons and whoever will listen.
There is a way to happiness and it is not the avoidance of the inevitable like aging or loss, challenge or disappointment. It is the awareness that each day has a number and they are finite and doing what you love is the only reasonable pursuit. And caring for the body is the sensible thing to do to ensure that you fulfill your dreams with energy and gusto – from beginning to end.
Here in Greece, typical of most of the Mediterranean countries, families are more tightly knit and traditional, which can be binding in some ways, but the aging and elderly are held in esteem of rank and authority which is most admirable and I’m sure contributes to the longevity of life here. The elderly are important and are useful and share their simple inherited wisdoms and family traditions and their families listen. Those on their way up through the ranks of decades look forward to their turn in the light of respect for life lived. In a way it is an apprenticeship to the privilege of aging.
Aging with Wisdom
Many years ago I asked a very wise woman, Dr. Lois Plumb, head of Psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, if she meditated. Well into her eighties she still took patients and calmly guided them through the quagmire of dysfunctional families. Her answer was to smile and say, “No, I’m just old.” The waves on the ocean of life seem to space out and calm as we age. One night ‘Plumb’ died in her sleep. Her heart just stopped. Her body laid down for its final rest. White hair, tied in a knot, wrinkled skin, slow but sturdy steps, clear thoughts and sparkling eyes. She was beautiful, elegant and ageless.
I have had strong and formidable beacons to guide me and I am grateful for their light – their living example of strength, grace, and influence well into their eighties. Equally brilliant was lawyer Laura Legge, QC who passed the bar in the forties, was appointed first woman treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada. An inspired and inspiring no nonsense councillor and champion in family law, she was at her desk up until mere days before she died at age 87.
Dr. Patricia Kerr was a formidable guide for me in the early years. Into her late eighties she took clients while researching and developing theories and instruments to measure the effect of sound and colour on our physiology. She continued in the groundbreaking work of Dr. Royal Rife and the effect of frequencies on our health.
So, as one aging in this anti-aging world culture, I claim my right to age with grace and vitality. I will make my contribution with enthusiasm and float it out like a bottle with a message on the sea of consciousness. Who picks it up is not my concern. I don’t have time to wonder – the one who is waiting for my message will get it and pass it on.
I choose to be ageless; to die when my body is tired out; to be vital and useful until that moment; and to laugh and love with all my heart.
Waking up sixty got me to realize that conscious aging is really about inner youthfulness; awareness, vitality, gratitude, enthusiasm and wisdom and I’m good with that. Sixty? It’s just a number.
* Watch for Athan’s book “Recipes for the Revival of the Hellenic Soul” stories and recipes of ancient Hellenic wisdom for modern times. Dishes will be prepared and filmed with Pantelis in his kitchen.