Ageing – to be feared or lived?
Ageing – to be feared or lived?
A woman in her early seventies recently complained to me that the specialist that she was seeing for a shoulder injury was treating her like ‘an old person’. From her conversation I understood that the doctor was dismissive and she felt like he didn’t care. Another friend noticed how he didn’t get served in shops according to his place in the queue; he felt invisible.
Are these common experiences for older people here in Australia, the so-called ‘Lucky Country?’
The Australian Human Rights Commission has published a study investigating attitudes and stereotypes that relate to age discrimination and ageism. The findings reveal:
negative stereotyping by the media
ageing is a loaded term for younger Australians who hold the most negative connotations about ageing
under-representation of older people in the media
negative employer attitudes
negative ways that older people view themselves
most Australians feel that age discrimination in Australia is common.
Does a negative view of older people affect their sense of self-worth, their ability to engage with life and to contribute from their wealth of experience? After all, perhaps we were once these younger people believing the negative connotations and holding onto them as we age. If we do buy into negative beliefs, we are setting ourselves up for withdrawing from life, convincing ourselves that we are worthless.
Are these stereotypes in our society true? What is the purpose of this stage of life?
For many of our older people, this is a time of life where they feel that they have been relegated to a kind of ‘waiting zone’ or ‘limbo’, filling in time before they pass over, rather than continuing to be actively participating in life, enjoying relationships and contributing to their communities.
If we value ourselves we can continue to live with vitality and appreciation for this stage of life.
Having recently turned seventy, I fit this category of the older person. I know I have asked myself, “Have I given in to these prevailing beliefs about being old?”
I look around at my family and friends who are over sixty, youthful and vital, be they in the workplace, volunteering or engaged with projects that are meaningful and rewarding. They are not living their lives for themselves as in ‘all about me’, but they live with an awareness and wisdom that there is a bigger picture.
This wisdom that we often set aside for the elderly is not solely their domain, as it is evident that it can be lived at any age, and young children can surprise and delight us with their insights and comments.
I look at my elderly friends who are ‘un-retiring’ – as in leaving retirement to recommit to life in another capacity. They are returning to the workplace, working part-time, volunteering, and even ‘up-sizing’ their homes – completely going against the trend and mystifying the real estate agents as they share their next larger homes with others, younger or the same age – the age doesn’t matter!
Many older people are engaging with technology, studying and learning new skills.
Researchers in a recent study show for the first time that healthy older men and women can generate just as many new brain cells as younger people.
It is common to hear that older people talk about not feeling any different on the inside, that they still feel youthful and playful. The body is ageing, no doubt about it, but the being inside the body is ageless and timeless.
Apple Chief Executive, Steve Job, has a famous quote “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me” reflecting his understanding that we are more than our money or our career.
Appreciating ourselves every day for who we are, not having to prove anything, is nourishing ourselves from the inside. As our bodies communicate to us very clearly how they are feeling, we can enjoy nurturing ourselves more deeply and build a wonderful relationship with ourselves.
This leads me to reincarnation. Many of us feel deep down that we have lived before, that we feel places are familiar, and that some of our old patterns and ways of behaving are eons old. Sometimes we meet people who feel so familiar. Have we known them in a past life?
Old age is part of the cycle of life, an opportunity for deeper reflection, of letting go of old hurts, regrets, patterns of behaviour, and beliefs which no longer serve us or which we know are not true.
With this discarding we create space for a deepening of our understanding about life and how we have lived.
Faced with less time to tick off the bucket list, we realise that in fact the biggest event ahead is our passing over.
We develop a sense of responsibility that we are preparing for our passing and our next life. This is elder wisdom, to be claimed and appreciated.
Our elders have much to share about life when we take the time to connect and listen . . . in fact, we all do.
This time of one’s life can be very expansive as we come into our fullness, developing the inner life as the body deteriorates. As we connect to the inner life of the soul with the qualities of stillness, love, harmony, truth and joy, available to us all and known deep within, we realise that who we are is so much more than what we have allowed ourselves to be.
“As we gradually lose our identification with the physical body and realise that we are so much more than our physicality – and so much more than this one life – we come to see the body as an outer-garb, like a coat that we put on at birth and discard at death.” [Anne McRitchie]
When more and more older people reclaim their authority and wisdom, the present paradigm around ageing will crumble, and each stage of life will be known to be as valuable and purposeful as another – one life. Invisibility and regret will be replaced by equality and respect and appreciation, and this will be a blessing for all in society.