"The real question before our death, then, is not, How much can I still accomplish, or How much influence can I still exert? but, How can I live so that I continue to be fruitful when I am no longer here among my family and friends? That question shifts our attention from doing to being. Our doing brings success, but our being bears fruit. The great paradox of our lives is that we are concerned about what we do or still can do, but we are most likely to be remembered for who we were. If the Spirit guides our lives, the Spirit of love, joy, peace, gentleness, forgiveness, courage, perseverance, hope, and faith - then that Spirit will not die but will continue to grow from generation to generation." - Henri J.M. Nouwen from Our Greatest Gift
On Monday, I returned from a retreat outside San Francisco for graduate school. After ten days of joyful tears and spectacular moments amidst the giant redwoods, I now feel ready to start another year of study. I am getting my degree in a spiritually-minded, soul-centered subject called Transpersonal Psychology. It has made my heart soar ever since my very first class in college about fifteen years ago. (Thank you, Michael Keenan!)
There were moments during the retreat where I would find myself marveling at the wisdom of fellow students in their early twenties as well as the youthfulness and vibrancy present in many of the older students. I felt a sense of both agelessness and ancientness at such times. It was as if age was irrelevant and only the soul of the individual was evident through the sparkle in their eyes. In a world obsessed with maintaining youth, this was a refreshing realization.
What I hope to take with me from this inspirational experience is a commitment to practice acceptance and gratitude as I age. While I am by no means old and don't consider myself of middle age quite yet, it's important for me to feel thankful for where I am right now; thankful for the young child and the wise elder which resides in me and in each one of us. I also do not wish to bemoan getting older because in reality, I feel lucky I get to do so.
Personally, I have noticed as I age everything seems to be getting bigger, on my body that is (and not in the places I wished to be bigger when I was 16.) This can be annoying. However, along with my muffin top, my heart is bigger too. Feeling the bittersweet tingle of tears, the nervousness of my pounding heart, the blush of embarrassment and the rush of chills under my skin isn't always easy but is a most amazing gift. It quite simply means, I am alive!
As I turn 37, the same age my grandfather was when he died, and three years older than an incredibly giving and brilliant friend who died of cancer, I think of the generous gift they gave in their parting. It is a reminder to live life to the fullest and to not take a single moment for granted.
Below is a working list of what I think (at this stage in the game anyway) may be the secret to keeping us youngish at heart and fruitful in our lives regardless of our age.
1) Step out of our comfort zones by being in situations that scare us while staying open and receptive to new ideas and adventures.
2) Continue to do what we LOVE and what "lights us up."
3) Express our love and gratitude to those around us.
4) Live Creatively...continue to "make" things whether we are "good" at it or not.
5) Offer our hands and hearts in service.
6) Have friends of all ages who we can connect with deeply and soulfully.
7) Do not take life too seriously...laugh a lot, be ridiculous, and wear costumes from time to time.
8) Seek help from a therapist, coach, or spiritual teacher when we feel depressed, scared, or hopeless.
9) Spend time outside and enjoy the outrageous beauty of nature.
10) Find meaning in our suffering and practice letting go...of control, regrets, perfection, and expectations.
The poet, Mary Oliver said, "Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one precious life?” I realize no matter what changes occur as I age, living vibrantly from my heart and soul with family and friends of all ages, is the icing on the birthday cake.