Many people are afraid of old age. They fear the loneliness of isolation, the unattractiveness of wrinkles and sagging skin, or the impairment of infirmity. But according to psychologist Marie de Hennezel, old age is an attitude of mind. She suggests it can be a period of contentment, and happiness that comes with letting go of old attachments and finding new roles. Here are some tips based on her book The Warmth Of The Heart Prevents Your Body From Rusting.
Be realistic about becoming old. Accept that biological aging is unstoppable. Do not be ashamed of losing your seductive shape in old age. Accept you cannot change the loss of former physical powers, and previous economic and social roles.
Look after yourself. Make room for bodily pleasure whilst eating moderately, keeping alcohol to a minimum and avoiding drugs and tobacco. Stay physically active, doing things at your own pace. One can get more out of life in old age with a body that is functioning to its maximum potential.
Take advantage of your new stage in life to look for things you can now do which you were not able to do when you were young – having more time for yourself with no responsibility of parenthood and earning a living and with greater freedom of speech to say what you think.
Accept the inevitable degree of solitude that comes with living alone in old age and not going out to work, not as isolation but as a freedom to meet ones own inner spirit and be oneself and to discover unsuspected resources and release latent energy.
Maintain a social life when you can, forgetting yourself a little and taking an interest in others, using a pleasant tone of voice, making yourself agreeable, cultivating your charm, giving and receiving and showing generosity. Then smiles and kindness, respect and affection will do you good. Friendship means a chance to share your worries.
Keep contact with the younger generation. This is still possible despite today no longer being an era of the extended family which had meant naturally occurring contact across the generations. The trick is to be young at heart, not expecting too much of others who have their own busy lives but simply being receptive, retaining a taste for life and a desire to pass on one’s experiences and lessons learned.
Make the best of your looks and find new ways of making love to your partner. Don’t bury your own sensuality and desire in old age. When we grow old we are not in love with the other person’s physique but with his or her presence. Think of beauty as something intimately tied to emotion. It is what we call charm: the depth of a look, an expression in the eyes, a dazzling smile. Charm does not grow old, nor does emotion. In fact, both can even gain in depth and intensity with age. Learn about the tradition of the Tao of Love a Chinese spiritual path. It recognises that it takes longer and is more difficult to attain orgasm if you are old. Although sexual relations may be slower and less active it can become more sensual. Sou-Nu the governess of Emperor Huang-Ti declared ‘A firm hard member which is thrust roughly in and out, is of less value than a weak soft member which moves gently and delicately.’
If you are widowed, and the loss of the partner was a great ordeal, it is possible to work through a bereavement by internalising the company of the deceased loved one and still feeling their protecting presence.
Live in the present moment by savouring the good times and forgetting the bad. Rediscover your ability to be enchanted and amazed, in old age allowing your curiosity to be stimulated by being open to new experiences. You can still learn from life for old age can bring new things.
Find peace with the past and with yourself by taking stock of your life. Ask yourself ‘What was it all about?’ Give expression to unshed tears, repressed anger, and self-delusions. Forgive yourself for your failures. Be prepared if necessary to pay for past mistakes and negligence and put your life in order before leaving the world’s stage. It’s never too late to change for example from being a bit of a grumpy, selfish depressive individual who spends life complaining and annoying others: but to do so will require an inner awakening and great effort and forbearance.
Accept help when it is needed. Make needed changes to where you live. Do not feel diminished by receiving personal care. It is possible to entrust your own body to the care of others without embarrassment or sense of humiliation.
With old age, one realises that everything of this transient world passes away. Why not try searching to find something that doesn’t pass away? This could mean listening to what is inside you; an inner part of yourself that is more important than your external side. If you have the courage to explore your own depths you can draw upon them. Allow the part of yourself that does not grow old to live.
Those who have explored this spiritual path have let go of worldly things they had been attached to and said they have found something eternal in which they felt they could put their hope and trust. Paul wrote in the Bible ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16). In other words one can leave one’s ‘little me’ and receive a higher consciousness: when one is in contact with the Spirit inside oneself, one never feels isolated or cut off.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems