After the first few weeks of not going to the office, I started feeling restless and very alone. At the time I believed I was ready for these big changes; no more dealings with health insurance companies, no more “treatment plans” and no more biting my tongue about pharmaceuticals and diagnoses. After many hours alone with only my dogs and cats, I noticed a bubbling up coming from within. “Am I growing old? Did I just retire?” When I looked in the mirror at unguarded moments, I realized there were some changes in my face and in my body. “Is this the way I am going to look when I am an old person and does it matter? Is it really all downhill from here?” Facing these realities seemed more like an uphill steep climb.
Our culture tells us how we are supposed to act at a certain age. “You are not a spring chicken anymore, dress appropriately.” “You are going to march on Washington when you could be enjoying retirement? Are you nuts?” “You can’t make any big changes in your life; it is time for you to settle.” I hear things like this all around me and sometimes I even see people my age posting on Facebook quotes and discriminating pictures fulfilling ageist myths. They not only buy into these beliefs, but they are also promoting them and repeating them. As a therapist, I know the power of the mind to create what it believes. This kind of thinking is harmful to your health and longevity. These cultural biases are especially influential when they are out of our awareness. They sneak into the subconscious mind unchallenged and we know the subconscious mind doesn’t think about what is true; it does what it is told. So goes the belief that aging includes arthritis, knee and hip replacements, failing memory, no passion, and no joy. If this thinking is not challenged that is exactly what you get as the number on your driver’s license goes up another year. Unchallenged your life will reflect the beliefs of the culture. And suddenly you are getting a knee replacement, your memory is failing and you lost your passion for living.
Yes, I was once one of those idealistic very alive college students marching for peace in the world. But like the rest of my generation, I sold out. I too became a typical productive, compliant member of society. As Paulo Coelho describes, I was domesticated. I married a banker, had four children, and went to graduate school to be a psychotherapist. I was a stay home Mom and then for many years worked for a large medical center doing out-patient psychotherapy. I was on the Church Parish Council and taught Confirmation class. I trusted that my priest and physician knew what was best for my mind, body and spirit. I didn’t question them nor did I find my own truth. We were not encouraged by our culture to know and understand what’s best for our mind, body or spirit. We are encouraged to just do as they say. And sadly most of what they say is driven by profit, greed and/or the need to keep us in control.
I don’t remember exactly when I realized the games institutions play. I think it was a gradual process of increasing awareness and working for a large medical center that required jumping through corporate hoops replacing concern for what is best for clients. I also started what was called a centering prayer which is much like mindfulness meditation. I believe it is through silence we grow in awareness and begin to remember our true nature. It is in silence we can hear our own wisdom and truth.
Ending my career as a psychotherapist created a new silence giving me the space to figure out what is true for me and how I wanted to live the rest of my life or at least the next ten years. Since I no longer buy into being domesticated I started a journey into a confrontation of cultural beliefs about ageing. As I did research on ageing I found several researchers supporting a new way of thinking about ageing. There is fascinating research on Centenarians and how they live their lives. Dr. Mario Martinez describes Centenarians in his book, Lessons from Healthy Centenarians: “They’re all rebels! They don’t go to doctors because their doctors are dead; they’re future-oriented (‘My garden is beautiful right now but wait till you see it in three years!’); They have healthy boundaries (‘No, I can’t meet you on Saturday morning; that’s when I have my sailing lesson’); they have a positive outlook on life and focus on what’s great. If you have to have a marker, take this one: Middle age starts at 90".
So if Middle age starts at 90, I have a lot of years left to make a difference. Make a difference doing what? It turns out there are many Baby Boomers asking the same question. In the process of answering questions for myself I have become inspired to share my findings. I have a dream to teach a new way of ageing and together with others challenge the beliefs and institutions trying to keep us settled, tamed and compliant.
Let’s be rebels and warriors. Let’s make getting older, getting freer and more powerful. We can make going over the hill the push that helps us go faster down the hill to a life of passion and activism. Let’s harvest our experience and knowledge for the welfare of our planet and her animals, plants and people. All are in great need for our compassion, love and wisdom. Join me as elder warriors making a difference and finding our way to more Love, Joy, and Passion.