“I’m afraid of aging,” someone said to me the other day. “I don’t want a wrinkly face or a stooped body. I am paranoid about slipping and falling in washrooms or losing consciousness as I age. In fact, I don’t want any of my loved ones to ever get old.” Gerascophobia, some call it.

It happens.

When we are young, we are busy chasing our dreams, embroiled in our plans and making a living out of what we know — usually our education. We are engrossed in our families. In youth, age is no bar, aging is no consideration and the fear of death is a non-issue. There are no limits, and even if there are, we don’t accept any.

But as the threshold of old age meets the periphery of our vision, we hear the occasional creaking sound in our bones, that pain in the back, those issues with blood pressure, sugar levels and what not. Every now and then, we may check our savings and investments to ensure that we have enough to see us through our old age.

Somewhere, the heart is young and dreams alive, but those days when you could pull off an all-nighter and still have plenty of energy to work the next day, seem like a distant memory. Every now and then the reality of a waning body unsettles the calm mind.

But, you know what, aging is not only inevitable, it’s alright. Really, it’s okay. It’s fine. It’s beautiful. For, there’s no substitute for the grace, wisdom and stability that comes with aging.

Your definition of what’s desirable and beautiful changes with time. You realize that a connection of the heart is more important than being dazzled by external beauty. You slow down and you enjoy the process. Dreams become more real and life more bearable. When the desires stop pushing and pulling you in all directions, you experience this inexplicable peace. What’s the rush, you say to yourself? For what, for whom, why?

Is it important to achieve our never-ending goals, or should we take a moment and analyze where we are heading? What is more important, being fast or being steady?

The other (and more crucial) question was whether a faster car takes you somewhere that a slower car does not, or does it simply take you there quicker? A faster car that doesn’t take you somewhere different is, well, just a faster car. 1

Today, I bring to you three principles of aging gracefully with purpose.

Sprinkled throughout my words in this post is the wisdom of a great mind: former World Chess Champion — Viswanathan Anand — from his latest book, Mind Master. 2

Accept

Look around in magazines, TV ads, newspapers and you’ll discover how absurdly rampant and impractical is the idea of staying young. What are we hoping to achieve by artificially defying the natural process of aging, anyway? False praise, fans and following? Is it worth it? I don’t deny that you’ve got to do what’s reasonable to stay in top shape but eating frugally and regular exercise will accomplish that far more effectively than a $100 face cream.

The greatest secret to staying youthful is to gracefully accept the truth of aging. 

Occasionally, I find myself keeping an eye out for the signs that will tell me that my time to step away has come, and I try to slip into the feel of what life will be like for me as a former player. 3

When you listen to your body and treat it with respect, you no longer push it like you used to. Instead, you re-evaluate your goals and re-prioritize your life. This realignment brings you the freshness of being born again.

Personally, at forty, I would not trade the peace in my heart and mind for anything at all. Those waves of restlessness I had when I was in my teens and twenties have all but gone. I know they say that forty is the new thirty and all, but I am happy it being the forty it’s always been. Though this post is not about me or being forty, yet I got reminded of what felt good and important to me twenty years ago has no relevance or meaning today. Age is an edge on many fronts. Just smoothen it. (Smile).

Keep learning

I have mentioned it repeatedly that as long as you have the desire to learn, you will have the will to live. Life is always bubbling in a curious heart. This curiosity can give you the much-needed purpose.

I quote Viktor Frankl again, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” 4

In life, as in chess, learning must be constant — both new things and fresh ways of learning them. The process will invariably involve a certain degree of unlearning, and possessing the readiness to do that is utterly important.

If your way of doing things isn’t working, clinging to your conclusions is only going to hold you back. You have to get to the root of a snag in order to make breakthrough, because it’s possible that what you thought you knew isn’t actually the way it is. Unlearning is perhaps the hardest thing to do, but it is a necessity if growth and success are your goals. 

There comes a point when you realize that passion, not perfection, will carry you through. You need to have something that moves you, that you are passionate about and wouldn’t mind engaging with all your life. 5

I think one of the greatest rewards of aging is the maturity of the mind. Not everyone evolves with age, some remain stuck in their past, but those who do grow will tell you that as you get old, you develop a sort of indifference towards the world.

It’s utterly liberating when you are doing the best you can but you couldn’t care less how or whether the world is valuing it. You figure that you are not appearing for some exam where someone or the other must score and rank you, but that you are doing something because you care about it. The cause assumes greater importance than the effect, the journey becomes more important than any destination.

Travel Light

It may not feel that way but the truth is there’s nothing to be gained by holding on to resentment against anyone. Anyone at all. However justified your grudge may be, keeping it inside you will only make you heavier. Sometimes, the desire to prove someone else wrong can be a motivating factor but when it comes to personal growth, any negative feelings towards others will only pull you back.

When you have been wronged, not letting go is punishing yourself twice. First, the offender hurt you and now you are hurting yourself by holding on to that wrong. It’s the lesson we need to retain and not the memories and grief.

Bottling up emotions, even if done bit by bit, one tiny instance after another, can cumulatively turn into a giant, unwieldy heap of rocks you can no longer tow.

You just keep pushing down the angst, pretending nothing has happened, but the truth is it’s going nowhere. If you bury it for too long, the collection of repressed emotions will simmer and eventually boil over in a fiercer form, often at the most ill-timed moments when you can barely afford it. 6

Certainly at work, when you experience conflict and friction, don’t take it personally. Just focus on what you ought to do and the rest works itself out. Besides, give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

We all are the way we are. We find it hard to change ourselves and our habits, and yet often we expect others to work according to us. Each mind is unique. We don’t have to take everything personally. Above all, we don’t have to keep everything inside. Be light if you want to take off. Focus on what’s important.

On a beautiful winter morning, a ninety-year-old man was sitting on a bench in a public park. The gentle rays of the sun were shimmering through the leaves and trees and falling on his face.

A young boy, barely twenty, was sitting next to him, furiously typing away at his phone.
“We have given so much to this world,” he said to the old man, sliding his phone in the pocket of his loose sweatshirt.
“Excuse me?”
“Yes, that’s right,” the boy said. “I don’t mean to be rude but just look around, mobile phones, internet, bullet trains, computers, satellite TV and whatnot, we have created all these. Your generation practically did nothing other than fight wars.”
The old man chuckled and said, “Son, we created electricity.” He closed his eyes and looked to the sun again.

Each one of us has a contribution to make to this world. It’s not big or small, it just is, whatever “it” may be. Young or old, doesn’t matter. Each one of us has the right to our dreams as much as anyone else.

And remember, no one take away your dreams from you. The blows from the hammer of time can crack your skin, it can make your bones fragile, but it can’t dent your soul, your heart. The brain may slow down but the wisdom and peace you carry within are ageless.

As long as the desire to live is alive, so long as there’s something you aspire to learn, you are not old. Besides, the joy to just sit under a tree and read your favorite book without the stress to please some boss at work the next day, the time to step out at night and watch the stars than having your eyes droop from binge-watching Netflix, these little but profound joys are best experienced when we have aged a little. As in vintage cheese or wine, some tastes only evolve with time, in time.

Life is one such elixir of bliss and beauty. For the one who knows how to live, it only gets better with each passing moment. All you have to do is to keep your dream alive. Care about something.

As Steve Jobs famously said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” 7

Or, in other words: stay curious, stay true. 

Peace.
Swami

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