How Are We Supposed to Feel and Act As We Grow Older?
“I feel like I’m eight years old again, or maybe I feel 17, but technically I’m 35, so what does any of this mean?” – Me, the other day, while I was learning a song on the piano.
What does it mean to feel 17 again or eight or any age younger than your current age? Does it mean to feel like a child again and to look at the world with curious eyes? Or is it to approach the day with a wide-open mind that’s up for anything? Is it to be completely present, play around, or be in love with a carefree heart?
Of course, there’s not just the reference to feeling younger, but the less popular and all too common feeling of being older than you are. For instance, being 35 but feeling 90. Does feeling this mean that you hold a lot of wisdom, or that your body aches? Or do you have a soft loving lens through which you look at the world? Maybe it’s that you enjoy a slower pace of life, or perhaps your feet just hurt?
So often you hear, “You look good for your age” or “You don’t look _(fill in the blank with however many years old you are)” But what does it mean to look any certain age? Where are we developing these standards and points of reference? TV and film? From our own experiences and people we know?
There is also this question we have heard, “How does it feel to be 80 or 50 or 35?” directed at someone who has more years under their belt than the one asking the question. And many times, we hear answers filled with wisdom, and other times I hear responses that express a lot of dissatisfaction with the body, and the aches and pains that we hear can accompany aging.
When do the aches and pains begin according to our current societal norms? When do we start to think our body is turning against us? From where do we learn any of this disappointment?
When did so many of us grow bored and stale and stagnant? When did we decide that feeling good, light, and carefree means feeling like 17 or eight, but not 50?
The other day I played piano for the first time in many years. I was never a master of the instrument, not even close, but I tapped around a bit. When I hopped back on the keys after a hiatus, I was starting almost from scratch. I didn’t remember how to read music or play anything besides chopsticks, so I pulled out the beginner’s instructional book and got to learning. As I sat there struggling through a simple waltz, I felt joy and like a child again. Was it because I hadn’t played since I was a child? Or was it because the piano sound was most familiar to me when I was young(er)? Or was it because I was a beginner again, stepping into learning something new and being terrible at it before growing better?
But I’m not a child. I’m 35, and I’m nearly a beginner on the piano, tapping away, feeling the vibrations of the notes as if for the first time (in a long time. So doesn’t this sensation feel like being 35, at least according to my life?
So then, how does each age look?
And how does each age feel?
And According to whom?
Why can’t 35, 65, or 95 look like being wide open to the day, approaching each activity with an open mind, playing around, and feeling strong and healthy in the body?
It can. Of course, it can. You and I both know this.
But let me ask, When are you taking the stories you’re handed and making them your own rather than defining for yourself what you want life to look and feel like each year?
Why can’t you become a beginner again at 36 or 86? Why can’t you learn happy birthday on the piano even if it takes hours and you fail a lot along the way? Of course, you can, and I can, too, and I did. I was just taken aback by the simple joy of it all and how much it lit me up, and it did, in many ways, remind me of childhood. And, of course, it got me thinking.
So, what lights you up? What do you want to learn, explore, or make time for, even if you look silly?
And how do you want to feel? What are you willing to do to feel your desired feeling state?
How will you write the story of your years?
And how is growing older in the human body supposed to look? Who decides? We turn on the TV and see ads for pharmaceuticals that often indicate that it’s all downhill from here and that aging or even living in a body requires the aid of a pill or several. We see commercials with seniors falling and needing a button to call for help, and viewers can watch this commercial assuming this is a destiny of sorts as we see the fear in the actor’s eyes. But does it have to be this way? Can we write a much different story?
And, of course, there are the folks I meet at my age, too many to count, exclaiming, “My back hurts, and that’s just the way it is as I get older,” accepting that pain is part of adding years to one’s life.
But is it?
Is this pain, discomfort, or staleness inevitable?
I often think about the rare occasions I see someone older than me, and they are radiant, glowing, mobile, light on their toes, dancing, belly laughing, and I think, “Wow! Light of my life. Apple of my eye. How did you get to be such a ray of sunshine? How did you transcend the limitations placed on us about age?
Many of us have convinced ourselves that these unicorns are born by chance. They are the lucky ones, the chosen ones, who were born with good genes or had easy lives. But I know better than that, and you do too.
They choose to take care of their health and life, and they decide to wake up and find gratitude. They consciously choose to be kind, which can be challenging. We all have this choice, do we not?
It’s a decision to grow older and feel alive, radiant, and healthy. Are there obstacles along the way? Sure. But so is life. That’s part of the ride.
But I can’t get on board with growing older and losing vibrancy, strength, confidence, and connection.
The more time passes, the more I realize it’s a choice to get up and train the body, mind, and soul to live, take hold of life, and go for a ride. Or even to slow down enough to see beauty or to do the things that light me up.
Each of us gets to redefine age according to what we want it to look like and defy the standards set for us by the masses, the television, and whoever isn’t you.
So what is your age other than how long you have been here? What does it mean to be 35 or whatever age you are, according to YOU, the one living your life?
This right here is an opportunity it create something unique and knowing there is a choice in the matter feels pretty good.
How old are you and how does it feel? How do you want it to feel?
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On this note, one of my greatest teachers in feeling alive and curious about world and ways of seeing life is SARK. I grew up reading her books. My older sister would buy them and like any younger sister, I was snooping around her room. She hated this about our relationship (duh!) but I found a lot of treasures along the way, including SARK. My favorite has been Inspiration Sandwich but any of her books can open your mind, heart, and play. I highly recommend reading what she gifts to the world and allowing it to inspire you. 🙂