What if we are looking at aging the wrong way? Imagine how freeing it would be to see our journey through life as more than just time slipping away in the pursuit of youth and accumulation of possessions. Can you see yourself in a world where your beauty IS your age and experience? Where you have the energy and desire to enjoy and share what you have acquired along the way?
While exploring this idea, I came across an ancient but new to me perspective on aging. A perspective that provided a sense relief and a newfound hope that we can bring about a less doom and gloom mindset on aging. For this new way of thinking we need to look to the East.
In the Taoist tradition, according to Qigong expert, Michael Leone, it takes 58 years for a human to “grow up”. The problem is, very few of us grow up, we just grow old. Our current aging culture is based largely on a linear timeline. Each birthday, you get a number added to your age and a sense that you’ve lost something with the passing year. In fact, each year has the potential to be a complex and beautiful gift that leaves us richer in wisdom and peace.
Each season of our life offers us different gifts and challenges tailored to allow us to “grow up” and become more centered, beautiful and valuable to the world. Let’s take a look at how the Taoists view our life’s journey around the sun:
Spring (0-8 years) — Spring is about birth, beginnings – basics like crawling, walking and talking. It is during this time that we begin to bud as our own person.
Early Summer (9-33 years) — This season is about developing “self” and can be a time of selfishness. It is during this time that we celebrate our bodies and fiercely pursue our dreams.
Late Summer (34-58 years) — If Early Summer is selfish then Late Summer is where we shift to selflessness. Our time and energy is spent doing for others – our children, spouses, bosses and community. We are reaping the rewards of Early Summer’s frantic acquisition of possessions in the effort to providing for our family and loved ones.
Fall/Autumn (59-83 years) — It is here that we begin to take inventory of all the things we’ve accumulated over the years and boil them down to what really matters. During this season we become the alchemist of our own change. We are a shining example of what lies ahead for those going through the earlier seasons. They can see how wisdom and perspective enrich our lives. We are finally “grown up”!
Winter (84-108 years)– These are the years of true wisdom when we know what truly matters and have let go of the rest.
If we do not move fully into each new season we can bring the baggage of seasons past. We may hit the midpoint of life and realize we have acquired the “stuff” society views as success but we cannot see what our role is from here. We may suddenly feel burned out or unfulfilled in our lives. Some of us fall into the trap of “midlife crisis” in an attempt to either start anew or recreate happiness by using the methods that once worked in another season of life. But old diet and exercise plans don’t move the weight off. Shopping therapy just results in more stuff and less stress relief. That evening glass of wine has you waking up in the middle of the night. You find yourself fighting to fit into a youth obsessed culture.
We want to introduce the possibility of embracing the beauty and power of the Autumn of life. There is strength in allowing the things that do not nourish or no longer serve us to fall away. It is invigorating to reconnect with yourself and what matters to you. There is power in taking an honest look at yourself and your life. What’s working? What’s not? What do you still have a tight grip on that you could loosen?
Though you may continue to have demands on you leftover from your Late Summer days like adult children, grandkids, aging parents or work, you can still make subtle shifts in your perspective. There is room to set necessary boundaries with others and, when you do, you can begin to make changes that will affect the mind and body in an incredible way.
It requires courage, patience, and openness toward yourself to begin embracing the Autumn of life. However, with practice, some simple changes can create a whole new way of being. Here are a couple for you to practice:
The greatest tool in your arsenal is to just breathe with intention. With this simple action, you can tap into your innate ability to relax the body and mind. It can be used for little things like the anxiety you feel in the checkout line at the grocery store. Take a moment to breathe. Reflect on the old feelings that might be triggered from the Late Summer season when you never felt like you had enough time. This is a new season. The need to rush through your life is gone. If you can begin to let go, you can lighten the load and reap the benefits this season has to offer. Enjoy the moment. Let go.
Enjoy Your Time
Take breaks or build in free time in your day. Do the things that you’ve always wanted to do. Is there an instrument that you’ve always wanted to learn? Does drawing, painting, or coloring sound fun? Take a class or watch a how-to video online. Perhaps learning to meditate would be a nice break in the day. Don’t think of yourself as a “creative person”? Experiments conducted by the Harvard Business Review showed that 10-12 minutes of meditation can actually boost your creativity. Try both!
Moving from one season of life to the next gracefully requires mindfulness. And, when you embracing the season you are in, you can celebrate the gifts that your years have given you.