Aging Well with Gump(tion)  

by evoker on December 13, 2017

in 70th Year

December holidays bring that incomparably palpable atmosphere of gratitude and sense of grace in the world. This month, in this blog, you will read about the upside and the joys of aging. Yes, there are many upsides. I say this to those who doubt it outright or are only partially convinced this is true.

I am talking about real and lasting gifts mainly in our inner life, our learning and attitudes, our hearts and souls. As fun and enriching as extending our physical vitality can be, and we will look at these later, I want to look at the inner life, the intangibles, the learning, the spiritual glow of being.

Let’s begin with one example—dealing with the ever present choices of managing time. Let’s listen in on what Frederic Hudson and Jack Murphy say about older adults’ altered view of time (something I notice a lot in this, my 70th year) and our potential to use if more gracefully:

To successful elders, time is a precious gift. Our response to this gift is appreciation and reverence for life. There is a paradox in elders’ view of time. Time is running out, yet there is no rush. Wrapped in the essence of life, and pursuing only values of highest priority, elders proceed with a sense of leisure. The midlifer is a begrudging engineer of passing time; the elder is a generous user of borrowed time. The midlifer faces deadlines and turns to work; the elder faces death and turns to life.  page 96The Joy of Old: A Guide to Successful Elderhood by John S. Murphy and Frederic M. Hudson, Geode Press, 1995, out of print)

Frederic was my mentor, the founder of two ongoing learning organizations targeted for midlifers and beyond (Hudson Institute of Coaching and the Fielding Institute), and I worked with him enough over almost 15 years that I came to understand some of these inner joys of getting old, the accompanying gratitude and grace, before I was 50. But I really understand them more now. My relationship to time for the past several years is to slow it down, even as I have less of it. I am not shutting down, I am slowing down—and this opens me up, making more room for the gratitude and reverence for all the little things.

The good news is that much of this happens naturally with our brains changing, so we don’t get to take much credit for it. We (the “successful elders” Hudson writes about) need to get out of our own way, set aside our mid-life busyness and fear of boredom, and let a slower pace provide new energies for appreciating life. I still like my busy work spurts to a point, and my deep client or classroom interactions. But I feed off the slow times, the soulful non-productive times, the joyful times of looking at a tree that evoke reverence for beauty, having a great conversation with a friend or my sister, taking a walk under the moon with my wife, or having a song carry me away to the realms that only music can.

Forrest Gump had this quality of childlike reverence and appreciation, since he was unencumbered with the usual mid-life adult career mandates. He had this slowed-down poetic/artistic side that he told Jenny about when she asked him if he had been afraid in Vietnam. Yes, well I don’t know. Sometimes it would stop raining enough for the stars to come out… then it was nice. It was just like before the sun would go to bed on the bayou, there was always a million sparkles on the water. Or like that mountain lake, Jenny, it was so clear, it looked like it was two skies one on top of the other. And then in the desert when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell when heaven stopped and the earth began. It was so beautiful.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrY6loEUl7Q)

We can choose gratitude as we age, and see the beauty, like Forrest did, in a jungle war or a shrimp boat sunset. It often takes some work, some gump-tion (like Forrest) to do that and stop our complaint about the aching knee, limited mobility, the losses. But it also takes some non-work, some relaxation and letting go, and letting our relationship to time shift as it can. We eventually can learn that aging is a pretty good deal when we do, because with gratitude and opening up, grace finds us more often. Not in any huge dramatic way, but in the felt experiences of a low-grade inner glow that hits us in the chest and then brings our mind along for the ride.

Even as we get older every day, with less time to live, fewer breaths to take, we turn to life.

Image: “Time” Engraved by Enea Vico (Italian, Parma 1523–1567 Ferrara) Licensed under CC0 1.0 Original source via Metropolitan Museum of Art

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