By Mike Milstein
How do we reach the point where we are able to consciously shape our ageing experience? Recently this question was explored on Fresh FM by a panel that included Andrea Campbell, Jim McGuire, David Philips, and Jay Shapiro, and which was facilitated by Annie Henry. Panel members clearly understood the importance of thinking consciously about ageing if we expect to make this part of life meaningful and positive.
They also realized that living in our youth obsessed culture restrains our ability to be conscious about our ageing. As Jim notes, the message in our society is that "you'll never get old." In fact, many adults over thirty look at their younger years as the best time of their lives and younger people hardly ever think about ageing, let alone talk about it.
David concurs, noting that "we're overprotected in our culture." He wonders if it would be different in cultures that are less protected than ours.
Still, most of us eventually see through these cultural constraints. In fact, we progress towards consciousness about our ageing in fairly predictable stages. The initial stage is when we first begin to recognize our own mortality. Jay woke up crying when he was three years old. Trying to comfort him, his mother asked why he was crying. He distinctly remembers telling her that "he didn't want to die." When Andrea was twelve she told her mother that she "didn't want to get any older because she was enjoying her life and freedom so much." Most all of us share similar early life remembrances.
In the next stage, if we live long enough, we find ourselves coping with the loss of people we are close to and love, usually starting with our grandparents, then our parents, and later some of our own friends. When David's father died he began to think about his own mortality. As he puts it, such a loss makes you realize that "this won't go on forever so let's make some decisions; let's not waste our time."
In the third stage as we move into our fifties and beyond and slow down a bit we soon become more aware of our ageing. In response, we have to adapt to a changing reality. As Jim notes, "we may have to learn to be a bit more cunning and work smarter. We also need to begin to look for things that make life easier." He suggests that the invention of remote controls for our television viewing and battery driven watches are examples of devices that are intended to help us cope better as we age.
Ultimately we have little choice but to become more aware of our ageing. We look in the mirror and see a reflection of an older self that is hard to believe. We also begin to experience chronic health issues such as arthritis and hearing loss. If awareness doesn't lead to action we can get stuck and become overly-cautious, fearful, and concerned about our limitations.
However, if we pay attention, awareness can be a stimulus to make choices about how we want to age. Rather than accept our apparent limitations we can respond to them as challenges that can make us stronger and more capable. Conscious ageing is all about: realizing that we may face chronic challenges or other age-related issues, but they don't have to keep us from getting on with life. As Jim says, it is about "realizing that we don't have a heck of a lot more time left. It's important to think about how much we can pack into the rest of our days." Conscious ageing means being fully present, alive, and engaged during our post-retirement years.
Note: This article was published in The Leader, Nelson, NZ. It summarizes an interview aired on Nelson’s Fresh FM that was conducted by Annie Henry for the Conscious Ageing Network (CAN), which is sponsored by Age Concern, Nelson. If you want to share your thoughts with CAN or wish to know when interviews will be aired, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.