For some reason, people reach 40 or 50 and pretty much think ‘that’s it’. There is this generally accepted idea that, now they are a certain age, it’s all downhill (thanks but no thanks black birthday cards!). I see it almost every day: That many our age simply STOP. They stop exercising, or lessen their physical activity; they stop eating healthy food, or reduce the amount they eat; and/or they stop thinking of their self as ‘young’ or ‘vibrant’. Simply put, they settle into what society seemingly expects them to do: step to the side, get old, and die.
Why is that?
Well .. look around you. Magazine covers are filled with young faces, and where the occasional older starlet is featured, it’s usually the most un-flattering picture (and more than likely photoshopped), with a caption that reads something like, “So-n-So Near Death!” Or how about clothing? Hey, I think sparkles on jeans are fun, but not for everyday wear! Nor am I comfortable with boring prints and generically cut dresses.
Flashback: Remember Helen Reddy .. the “Queen of ’70s Pop.” .. the woman who sang every woman’s song of celebration .. reminding us that we are Strong, that we are Invincible, that we are Woman? Well, if your living in the Next 50, then you are the first generation of women to be told that. To be encouraged to take part in Second Wave Feminism. And if you were too busy living and struggling through that era to notice the social and cultural inequalities, don’t worry, you are still part of that generation – of that mindset – that is now re-defining the definition and image of ‘age’.
But .. it’s not just about the ladies. For all of us: What does 50 look like? And what can we expect in the Next 50?
Well .. when I reached the fifth decade .. it was a revelation! I was standing at the peak .. I had arrived at the summit. Behind me, I could see all I had said and done. All the people I had known, all the jobs or careers I had, all the books I had read .. and life suddenly became clear, my confidence seemed to blossom overnight, it was as if I was suddenly born anew and original and wholly embracing ‘that’. Truly .. on the 50th anniversary of my birth, I remembered a quote from Henry David Thoreau:
To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts,
nor even to found a school,
but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates,
a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.
And here I was, seeing all my world in perspective – in hindsight – and desiring only to live simply and think highly. I genuinely felt unburdened of doubt and uncertainty. So it was then, in that perfect moment, that the inner voice asked, “What now?” There I was, standing at the apex of 50 years – upon a mountain that rose behind me .. its heights disappearing into the clouds. So I replied back, “The Next 50!”
When I was a kid I picked up a yoga book; 45 years later, I’m a diksha yogini. That book changed my life because it changed the way I thought – on many levels. One of those ways was the idea that our human life span was 120 years. As a young child, I never questioned that. Over the years, like us all, I saw relatives and friends die, but I also knew people who lived well past 100.
Now, with that in mind – that our life span is supposed to be 120 years – 60 then becomes middle-age. As such, Im not even half-way in my life!
You know, age truly is only a number. It’s a measure of time we have collectively agreed upon; just as we have agreed that each decade in that span comes with its own assumed symptoms, conditions and ailments. But those things are mostly physical; what of our thoughts, specifically our thoughts on aging?
If you think you are anything, you tend to become that thing. Well, I don’t think about aging, or what aging means. It simply is not part of my waking world, and it does not cross my mind as I go about my day.
But not everyone thinks that way.
Did you know that the Yale School of Public Health has measured the power of positive thinking .. determining that it works. Think about that; and think about this:
“The challenge we had in this study was to enable the participants to overcome the negative age stereotypes which they acquire from society, as in everyday conversations and television comedies.”
-Becca Levy, PhD
Yes, we are bombarded with negative images of aging. It’s as if we are under attack to conform, to accept that our metabolism will slow down, that we won’t heal as quickly, that we will forget things more often, that our reaction time will slow, that ‘everything breaks down’. Even so, there are plenty of Next 50’s who are thriving .. who are clearly Aging Successfully.
What next? Well .. the Next 50 is what’s next! Don’t look at your life as ‘almost over’ or ‘over the hill’, but ‘ready to begin’!
To be positive we need to stay positive .. and supportive.
Because I’m all about simple living and high thinking, lets touch lightly on both. Lets talk about meditation. No .. not pseudo-science .. but actual science, done at Harvard University. Simply put: mindfulness-based training (aka: meditation) can literally change the physiology of your brain, and this can result in a decrease in anxiety and depression.
So .. about 2 hours of meditation a week – like sitting or walking meditation, or mindful stretching with coordinated breathing (hatha yoga) – resulted in “an increase of cortical thickness in the right insular lobe and somatosensory cortex”. Which means, those who meditated for 8-weeks, the parts of their brain that handles emotion and perception, grew thicker. Which means there was “a significant after-training reduction of several psychological indices related to worry, state anxiety, depression and alexithymia.”
We are bombarded by stress in our daily life. Couple that with aging and it can lead to a growing tension that hinders our overall physical and mental health. Now .. toss-in daily meditation / quiet reflection .. and you can take charge of your inner landscape by decreasing your stress levels, and increasing your ability to emotionally connect to yourself and others.
Well .. if you’ve read this far, and lived this long, you know the adage: “There’s no time like the present ..”. So:
Sit Down ..
Inhale Deeply and Exhale Completely ..
Be Still .. and Live Deliberately!