It seems that our culture, by and large, doesn’t have a lot of faith in its elderly people. Whereas older tribal cultures revered their wise old men and women, listening their stories in the hopes of absorbing the lessons learned from lives fully lived, we relegate ours to old folks homes and hospitals. People will likely argue this point: Wait a minute – the elderly are in those kinds of places because they have to be! They can’t care for themselves. That is the reality that we’re dealing with in our society, but that doesn’t mean that the aging process inevitably has to be like this. Perhaps our old people so often become frail, deaf, senile, and any number of other things because this is exactly what we expect them to do.
When we believe that aging equals a deterioration of body and mind, we condition our bodies and minds to reflect this. We set the stage a head of time to feel our faculties declining and our memory fading. Yet…there are a great number of people who continue to be active late in life, who’re able to hear and see just as well as they did in youth, who don’t ever lose that sharp edge to their minds. Why is nature, or the hands of Fate, treating them differently? Could it be they’re treating themselves differently – that instead of dwelling on thoughts of the body falling apart like an old car they’re focusing on the joys of life?
The body reflects the expectations of the mind faithfully. If we tell ourselves that we’ve reached an age when our bones are going to start becoming brittle and our eyes are going to weaken, it won’t be long before we’re moving slower – and possibly, with more pain – and straining to see things that we had no problems seeing before. We’re creating our own experience in line with our beliefs about what aging means.
There are certain natural processes that every person goes through as they get older. But we in Western societies seem to have exaggerated these changes to the point where we equate age with uselessness. Ours is a youth worshipping culture. Isn’t it ironic that one’s life is supposed to flower during its early stages, and all those (vastly greater) years remaining are just devoted to degeneration? If this is the case, it seems that nature didn’t know what she was doing when she designed the human species.
Perhaps the key to aging gracefully is to accept it as a natural process, not something to fear or resist. Obviously, if this is a process that our race has undergone from time immemorial, our minds and bodies must be equipped to flow with it. Why make the task more difficult by saddling it with negative expectations? Is it at all reasonable to consider everything after 30 or 40 to be the twilight years, when most of us are probably only halfway through the journey by then?