“There is an anti-aging possibility, but it has to come from within.” – Susan Anton
Have you ever been in the presence of an elderly person who naturally radiates poise and grace, has a twinkle in their eyes, and a smile that warms your heart?
My maternal grandmother is a person like that. She grew up in a rural village and spent most of her life tending to the fields on her land. Her hands are rough as sandpaper, and her face is framed by wisps of silver hair against her dark, leathery skin, a result of hours of voluntary labor in the harsh tropical sun. To me, she is the epitome of kindness, wisdom, and courage.
As a city girl, I used to find her modest appearance and rural home to be primitive. But as I grew older, I was able to look beyond the surface and connect with the compassionate soul that she is. My grandmother is the first person that inspired me to examine my beliefs about aging.
The topic has taken center stage over the past decades as the population ages. With all the advances in healthcare and lifestyle improvements, almost every country in the world is experiencing an escalation in the percentage of elderly in their populations. The number of people aged 60 and over is expected to more than double by 2050, and to more than triple by 2100, according to data from World Population Prospects 2017.
This implies that more and more of us will have to grapple with the realities of getting older, and learn the art of aging gracefully. When I did a Google search on “aging gracefully”, I was astonished to find that most articles focused on the latest beauty treatment trends that can help us look younger. While maintaining a healthy appearance should be a priority as we age, I believe that achieving a more youthful look is essentially acquired by cultivating our character and attitude.
This is challenging if you live in a society that favors youth, and marginalizes senior citizens. Nowhere are the pressures of maintaining a youthful appearance more prevalent than in the entertainment and fashion industries, known for setting unrealistic, and often unattainable, beauty standards.
CNN journalist Lisa Ling says, “There is absolutely enormous pressure to look as youthful for the camera as possible. I am in journalism and I still have the same insecurities as any actor in Hollywood does. There is a lot of scrutiny; we are constantly reminded of how we should look. The entertainment industry is one that is geared more toward youth.”
However, there are some women who refuse to succumb to the pressures of looking younger. Actress Cate Blanchett says, “The obsession on one’s looks can make you a bit crazy, and I thought, I don’t want to go crazy. It’s about looking the best you can at whatever age…my philosophy is to work with what you got. It’s about feeling comfortable in your own skin.”
Aging gracefully begins by having a healthy personal philosophy, a ‘la Cate Blanchett, and blocking social conditioning that may fan the flames of our fear. Fear that we will lose our youthful looks and become less attractive. Fear that our energy levels will plummet and we’ll become more susceptible to physical complications and illnesses. And the biggest one of all – that we’re getting closer to the end of our Earthly journey.
While some of these are all genuine and valid concerns, and we should modify our lifestyle and expectations accordingly, the key to enjoying your later years is to see it as a time of strength, a time to become more confident, self-assured, and wise about the ways of the world. Many cultures, such as Chinese, Indian and Greek, revere their elders and hold them in high regard. Native Americans and Ancient Romans would consult their elders for sage advice and inspiration.
Aging follows the archetypal cycle of transformation where beauty emerges at each stage, the external superficiality fading away. It’s replaced with a grace that’s defined by substance, understanding, and peace. No one is spared from the ravages of time. Every entity, even the stars themselves, goes through it. The wheel of time will always propel us forward along the journey of life.
Instead of fighting age with age-defying arsenals such as Botox, lip plumpers, eyelifts and other cosmetic treatments and products, we should wear our wrinkles with pride and be grateful for the wonderful life experiences that they represent. We need to stop worrying, release control, and go with the flow while trusting the direction that life is taking us.
Here are four steps that will facilitate your efforts to age gracefully:
1. Grow from your experiences and share your wisdom: Through the span of your life, you’ll be faced with all kinds of experiences, some challenging and some joyful. No matter how it impacts you, each one will play a critical role in your personal growth and evolution. By discerning the deeper meaning behind the events in our lives, from a symbolic and big-picture perspective, we can extract the wisdom that lies within. Even though aging brings its share of hardships, the old are survivors who have developed a sturdy backbone by facing both physical and psychological pressures. Whether you’re 30, 50 or 90, you’ve accumulated knowledge that can be shared with those who could use your expertise to bypass or handle potential challenges.
2. Accept and work with the physical changes of aging: Whether you like it or not, your body is going to change as you grow older. It’s a natural process of atrophy that we all go through. We need to accept this inevitability and focus on staying active and vital at every stage. Follow the basic tenets of healthy living – eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, avoid addictive and toxic substances, eliminate stress and things that may take an emotional toll. If you’re inclined to it, develop spiritual practices that tend to the care of your soul such as meditation, prayer, qigong, yoga, nature walks, and journaling. We may not have control over our chronological age, but we have full jurisdiction over what age we look and feel based on how we live.
3. Let your values and purpose guide you: Cultivate a feeling of rootedness and balance by living a life that’s attuned to your values. Fleeting fancies, desires, and wants will quench your thirst for excitement temporarily, but it won’t fulfill you in the long run. Our personal values and vision represent our North Star, guiding us to our destiny. Walt Disney spoke with excitement about his vision for EPCOT Center right up until the day he passed! Connect with deeper aspects of your persona by committing to a lifelong process of self-discovery, immersing yourself in things you love such as spiritual pursuits, hobbies, socializing, learning, and spending time with friends and family. When you do things that you’re passionate about, you’ll feel driven and alive, no matter how old you are.
4. Keep your inner child alive: There’s a tendency to grow increasingly negative and cynical as we age because of all the emotional baggage that we may have accumulated. We can overcome this by first addressing these neglected issues, and then developing a positive attitude and a sense of fun, and play. We also need to laugh more, and avoid taking life too seriously. George Bernard Shaw said it best: “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” Keep an open mind, and always be on the lookout for new ways of thinking, living, and being in the world. Learn more about how to bring out your inner child in this previous post that I’ve written.
No matter what we do, the clock is ticking. Don’t allow yourself to give in to the hype about achieving a youthful look. Take comfort in knowing that, no matter how old you appear physically, your soul never ages. It is the timeless aspect of you that will live beyond your brief years on Earth. By living from the seat of your soul, and giving it a voice, you’ll emanate rays of youth that are evergreen and oh-so-charming!
All my best on your journey,
Question: What are your main fears when it comes to getting older? What are some of the ways that you can overcome those fears?