The Art of Aging Gratefully
21Mar 2017

Written By Jessi Kohlhagen

It’s amazing how every memory — every experience we’ve ever had — is sewn into the very fabric of who we are.

Marks and moles, wrinkles and dimples, stiffness and softness, pounds gained and elasticity lost…

Every part of our physical being carries a unique memory on our timeline of moments gone by. We are living legends, and our bodies are our autobiographies.

When you really stop and think about it, aging is an extraordinary process; one that has been honored and celebrated throughout human history.

Nearly every indigenous culture in the world reveres and celebrates the process of aging. Old age has long been identified with wisdom and a closeness to God, and Native communities view the journey into elderhood as a sacred time when an individual has the most to offer their community, and the world.

Not surprisingly, these are the same communities that honor their intrinsic connection with the Earth, and seek to move in flow with the inevitable and beautiful cycles of Nature — of Life, Death and everything in between.

Different cultures have different attitudes and practices surrounding aging and death, and these collective perspectives have an enormous impact on our experience of getting older.

The truth is, aging isn’t just a biological process — it’s also a cultural one.

“While many cultures celebrate the aging process and venerate their elders, in Western cultures — where youth is fetishized and the elderly are commonly removed from the community and relegated to hospitals and nursing homes – aging can become a shameful experience. Physical signs of human aging tend to be regarded with distaste, and aging is often depicted in a negative light in popular culture, if it is even depicted at all.”
– The Huffington Post

With the advance of the media and technology, this becomes less of a “Western” phenomenon, and more of a “Modern” one. And much of humanity is suffering as a result.

Aesthetics are at the root of our anti-aging obsession.

We strive for and cling to our “ideal” physical appearance to the point of deceit. We airbrush, photoshop and even go under the knife to achieve an “image” of perfection, believing that we are somehow incomplete or flawed the way we are.

These beliefs are rooted in a culture that is totally fixated on youth… A culture that sees the aging process as an obstacle to overcome, rather than a stage of life to be embraced and enjoyed.

And there is a deep irony to our societal obsessions. The same culture which pressures us to remain young and beautiful forever is simultaneously addicted to the habits that greatly accelerate the process of premature aging – alcohol, sugar, coffee, chronic stress, processed food, and a sedentary lifestyle.

We seem to be doubly neglecting our bodies.

The truth is, with a conscious, deliberate, healthy lifestyle, a strong, lean body can be yours at every stage of life, NATURALLY…

As can a radiant, glowing complexion, clear, sparkling eyes and many other attractive attributes generally associated with youth.

It is absolutely possible to look fabulous at 50 (and 60, 70, and beyond for that matter).

BUT… if you think you’re going to look like a wrinkle-free 30-year old, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

The simple reality is that once we reach a certain age — regardless of any rejuvenating diet or lifestyle we choose to employ — wrinkles, cellulite, baldness and other signs of aging are natural and inevitable in the human body.

Our single greatest opportunity is to make peace with this, and give our bodies the natural support they need to carry us through life. To shift our primary focus from appearance to functionality and vitality.

Of course, this isn’t to say that anti-aging procedures are wrong or bad (though there are certainly some safer than others).

This is an invitation — for us as a collective society, and individuals, to explore our beliefs and motives – to discover what lies underneath our need to “prevent” aging.

What is desired? Why?

What is feared? Why?

What is deeper?

And most importantly… how can we heal our collective wounds surrounding the human body, and rediscover the balance, peace and wisdom inherent within our ever-changing physical being?

Exploring the deeper relationship we have to our bodies and our identities should be the primary aging practice of every human being.

The more the body is lived in, the more we must respect its needs. When you accept its strengths and imperfections in wholeness, you open up entirely new worlds of pleasure, freedom and joy.

And conveniently enough, this is what people find most attractive… not youth, but people who are confident, comfortable in their own skin, totally open to their sensuality, and in love with all aspects of life.

“What makes any-and everyone beautiful in old age
is acceptance of their years, of themselves as they are.”
– Ronni Bennett

The learned art of acceptance, and realization of wholeness, is an elder’s greatest gift to the world.

This radiates naturally from a being who has lived a long life of ever-evolving consciousness, engagement, and gratitude…

A being who possesses the unique wisdom that only a lifetime of experiences can bestow…

A being who loosens their grip of control and attachment, and surrenders to the glorious processes of Nature.

From this perspective, it seems that our fascination with anti-aging is indeed missing the point, and ultimately distracting us from the greater work.

We must fully accept ourselves (wrinkles, cellulite, baldness and all) if we are to unlock our deeper gift of Wholeness, and our sacred potential as human beings.

“Rather than become something other-than-human or superhuman,
we are summoned to become fully human.”
-Bill Plotkin

“It’s only by opening ourselves up to change that we really feel alive.
And that’s only possible if we accept the ageing process.
Rather than fighting a losing battle to stop the passage of time,
or becoming bitter, we need to find a balance. This balance
is made up of a new awareness of ourselves — an active acceptance.”
– Catherine Bergeret-Amselek, psychoanalyst

The truth is, every experience we face in life is an invitation for us to continually create new ways of relating to ourselves and our world — and aging is no exception.

The evolved (or perhaps more accurately, the evolving) person understands that, as we build our various identities throughout life, the greatest value we derive from them comes from the process of building them — not living in them.

As soon as one is complete, we’re asked to move out, move on, and begin building the next phase. This is the way of evolution — constant adaptation and growth.

Rather than attaching ourselves to one phase — one way of being, or looking, or living — life offers us a multitude of opportunities to reinvent ourselves, and discover what the next chapter has in store for us.

In this way, we get to live many lives in one.

But we cannot possibly hold all of the treasures that are trying to make their way into our arms if we refuse to release our strangled grip on what once was.

“From personal experience I can tell you that yes, life does begin at 40.
It begins anew at 50 and 60 and it opens out again, differently, at 70.
I’ll let you know about 80 when I get there.”
-Elaine Bruce, The UK Centre for Living Foods

How can we accept the process of aging in our own bodies?

By melting our resistances and surrendering to the natural flow — to unlock greater vitality, peace and beauty than a lifetime of procedures could ever bring.

By realizing that no matter what we feel is “wrong” with our body, there is an overwhelming amount that is perfectly right with our body at all times.

By allowing our body to soften wherever it is, exactly as it is, and allowing it to feel everything a little more gently.

The next time you find yourself stuck in fear or judgment about your body, find a physical gesture of tenderness — such as closing your eyes, taking a slow deep breath, or placing your hand on your heart.

Let this be an embodied, healing reminder that you are here. You are whole. You are grateful.

1 comment “The Art of Aging Gratefully”

  • Terri Murphy
    March 21, 2017
    12:10 pm

    Excellent article for reference!

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