The negative aging imagination is at play in the culture. When we develop “reflexive dread” of aging, a phrase from Ashton Applewhite, we dread and revile the thought of getting older in any way. This dread is a reaction to an aging meta messages our culture indulges in aplenty—“whatever you do, don’t start aging!! It’s all downhill.” As if we had a choice, in spite of what the ads say.
Granted we don’t want to age prematurely and fall into the decline aspects of aging too readily. We want to emphasize the positive… still, we do need to age. And we need to feel unashamed by our bodies changing and our brains too. We are different when we age but in some important and real ways, we are much better—like wisdom and inner contentment—and most of us are moving ahead spiritually, emotionally, and in other measures of the inner life.
This inner life you could not fully appreciate in your younger years—you were too busy meeting your mid-life career and family demands. The busy mid-lifers of today miss much of what is going on with us, under-valuing the improved inner-life measures because what they still live, like we did, the many facets of our externalized, “go for it”, success-saturated culture—marathons run, promotions gained, kids’ sports success, and you know the rest. These are all good things in themselves, and lousy as the primary scorecard for the later life years.
There are some negative games we later-in-life individuals can play in response to the aging-is-dreadful cultural meta message: DAPP is a useful acronym for how we go about the “negative processes”, capturing the ones I most observe.
Deny —see aging as for others maybe but not happening to me…ignoring the natural slow downs physically, the stamina decline, the wrinkles that appear and the things we forget more easily.
Avoid— don’t bring up the topic or entertain the thought of getting older. (I have had aging parents tell me they do not bring up the topic of aging with their kids for fear the kids will start to encourage them to move)
Pretend—even though the signs of aging are upon us–from gray hair, to relative tech clumsiness, to enjoying not always being busy–we look in the mirror and at out lives like people with eating disorders look at their bodies. We distort what we see, pretending it is what it isn’t.
Prolong— use every mechanism to maintain all the mid-life activities. The main aging successfully scorecard becomes carrying all the earlier life activities as far as you can. Any surgery to keep you going rather than change your exercise habits, take on more work when more naps might be better for you. It is a good strategy for a time, but eventually a new standard of aging successfully is needed. (And much empathy for the many over 65 who have to work, against their choice, to make ends meet—another topic for sure)
No one DAPP move is bad. They all come in handy as strategies to prolong the juicy parts of the middle years and to carry forth the youngster in us that we need in all our decades. When they come into play in full force negatively is when we succumb to the reflexive dread cultural meta message instead of fully enjoying/embracing the ride into the elder years. It is not all a fun ride for sure, but there is much to enjoy and savor about it, like just slowing down to appreciate the little things. But we won’t enjoy it unless we switch out the middle life external measure with the later life inner measures.
Let’s talk about this embracing aging in the next post, the underlying theme for the whole year of posts in my 70th year. We have been concentrating on the inner game. This is where the action is now. Trust me, I turned 70 last week, so I should know.