Both of my grandmothers lived well into their 80’s, making an easy transition into old age. Neither one took mega doses of vitamins or exercised to stave off the Grim Reaper. Nor were they bombarded with advice on how to slow the aging process.
They each continued to dress up almost every day. My paternal grandmother was rarely without her pearls, or like Queen Elizabeth, her pocket book. Grandma ate what she wanted which included ice cream and pretzels before bed each night. Agatha Christie novels were often on her nightstand.
My maternal grandmother smoked into her 60’s, never gave up her daily three cups of coffee or her weekend martinis. Nana loved fashion. She was the queen of coordinated wardrobes, not holding back on costume jewelry sets or on ensembles with a matching purse, shoes and hat. She had a zest for life, enjoying a string of boyfriends after being widowed at 55.
As far as I can tell my grandmothers didn’t regard aging as something they could control. I think they would be amused at how aggressively their granddaughter’s generation does battle with aging.
How did our culture shift to a place where we are now obsessed with taking on Father Time?
Is our preoccupation with living as long as possible a function of the Baby Boomer’s self-involvement? Is it a function of living in a high tech society, which reduces the self to the body as a well-oiled machine?
I’m not opposed to self-care, but I think efforts to extend one’s life through a hyper-focus on mega vitamins, rigorous exercise, and a vegetarian diet often loose sight of the importance of tending to the soul in our later years.
What does it mean to age soulfully?
For me, a spiritual path is central. I belong to a progressive intercity church whose caring community has supported me in sorting out my spiritual values and whose feminist minister is a source of inspiration. I don’t think a spiritual path has to include attending a church, synagogue or mosque, but it should prioritize humanitarian values along with a willingness to share our elder wisdom in the interest of making the world a better place.
Tending to the soul can result in a greater acceptance of self with a diminished concern for outward appearances.
Adelaide, a 91 year-old woman I know described to me how she came to love her lined face by seeing beauty in the imperfect: “I now find the imperfect, like clumps of weeds, more acceptable. My body may be ugly in some ways, but I have never loved it more.”
Reflective time alone, meditation, and inspirational readings are part of a soulful approach to aging, which can enrich our later years and make it easier to accept death.
All the wise women and men I know place a high value on their contemplative periods. Alexandra, almost 80, stresses the importance of being gentle with herself, while being committed to her ongoing growth. Frequently her meditation focuses on the questions, “What can I pass on?” and “How can I be of service?”
In the wonderful anthology, Aging: An Apprenticeship, the writer, Mark Greene describes his joy in aging:
I can’t say for sure where life will go. What is emerging may work out or not. But I can tell you this. Life seems like a huge adventure now. What was once a struggle to create sense of the world, now feels like a single, long clear note of something peaceful and full of love.