K got hit by a car 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until last week that he needed a chiropractor. He’ll be seeing him for the next few months.
D got the results of his MRI this week: he’ll probably need surgery.
W visited his sister-in-law in North Carolina, who’s dying of a rare disease that causes the skin and tissues to harden. "Of course," said W, "the truth is we’re all dying, anyway."
B said his body aches after working in the yard and wonders, "If it’s this bad at 50, what’s it gonna be like in 10 years?"
This was not a meeting of convalescents, it was the weekly gathering of my men’s group. The topic arose, as it so often does, out of the the check-ins that begin the meetings. We’ve discussed everything at these sessions from mothers and fathers to death and taxes (money, actually), but aging hasn’t come up that often. Yet it is of surpassing interest to everyone.
In the "Redefining Aging" (LINK) section of this website, I quote Picasso, who said, "I think you are however old you think you are, and I decided to be 28 all my life."
Picasso died at the age of 91, and I probably should have made that point the other night. But I’d been pretty windy about a related issue, and the conventional wisdom around aging was, for some reason, not something I felt like taking on.
My punishment was to awaken later that night with all kinds of thoughts clattering about in my mind. Chief among them was how even a group as progressive as ours is prone to the occasional lapse. We meet at a Unity church. The Unity movement was created by people whose foundational dictum was "Thoughts held in mind repeat after their kind."
Even those of us (your servant included) who don’t often attend the services agree that our thoughts create our reality. And yet when it comes to aches and pains, we blame them on an outside agency.
In fact, D said that he’d read that up to the age of 40, the body’s cells follow a particular process of regeneration, but thereafter they begin to scatter, and the body begins an inevitable decline.
That may very well be true about the mechanics and chemistry of this remarkable instrument we call the body. (My older daughter, a gifted chiropractor and healer, says, "Once you’ve studied the human body, you have to believe in God.")
But D’s explanation does not account for the input of the owner/operator. My own study leads me to conclude that my ailments and how I age depend on what’s going on between my ears. If I think, "Well, I’m getting older, I’ve got to expect stiffness and soreness," then so it will be. But I consider such symptoms as indications of a unease in my mind, and try to discover what it is.
Thomas Hanna is of the same opinion. In his book "Somatics," he writes, "Fear of aging is a product of ignorance, and this ignorance is no longer defensible, any more than the myth of aging is defensible." What’s needed, he says, are "new ‘soft’ technologies … that teach us internal control of our physiological and psychological selves." That, he says, will result in "a new myth of aging…that life is a continuous process of growth and expansion."
Jesus of Nazareth put it this way: "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."
This is not to dismiss or diminish my friends’ pain. These are my spiritual brothers. In some ways they know me better than my family does. But that conversation brought something to the surface I think we can improve on.
Yes, we’re getting older. And, barring epiphany or spontaneous transmission (transcendence is greatly underrated, I think), we are all dying. The operative question, then, is something we’ll have to answer on our deathbed: "How was the trip?"
The most encouraging words I heard that night came from the oldest man there. S is retired from a Fortune 500 company and so busy he wonders how he ever had time for work.
After listening to the others, he said, "I’m, what 65, 66?" he stopped, genuinely puzzled. "Whatever, I don’t even think about how old I am. I’m just really excited about being alive and about the possibilities, about the things I want to do."
That’s the kind of thinking Hanna is talking about, and it’s where I want to be. It’s thinking that turns aging from a death sentence into a lifelong adventure.
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