Spiritual Networks

Am I Aging Well?

Allan Schnarr, M.Div., PhD.
Submitted for publication to Whole Living Magazine 5/11

            Am I Aging Well?

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature,
but beautiful old people are works of art.
                                                                                                Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m feeling a little weary today. My easy chair is calling me back. Getting started on something new is always such a challenge! I don’t know if I have it in me this time. It’s so tempting to stop being creative. I can easily tell myself I’ve done more than enough. I’m in my seventh decade! I could just go back to my chair and close my eyes. And yet, here I am with words flowing through me. I’m not done yet. My story is still being written. What is yet to happen? Time will tell.

I am determined to be aging well! It’s a deep commitment I’ve made to myself, and to those I love. I am living life fully – even as the emptying continues. I am holding on to love – even as I let go what I’ve loved and lost. I’m rising to new challenges – even as I accept what I can no longer do.

Through the years I’ve tracked what I can do. These are my guidelines for aging well. They continue to bring value to my life. As I live by them, I know there is more to come. What is yet to be added to the fullness of my life? Time will tell

Live in love.

Love is the secret to a life well lived. At the end of any day, if I am looking back with satisfaction, it is because I have been engaged with love. The value in my life comes from being true to what I love. When what I love is happening, I feel joy. I engage with what I love so that the joy lasts. When what I love is ending, I feel pain. I engage with the pain so that it passes. Love turns the cycle of life, carrying me through the loss of what needs to die, and awakening me to the new life coming to be.

Love makes all well. I choose love – and all is well!

Those who love deeply never grow old;
they may die of old age, but they die young.
                                                                                                Ben Franklin

Embrace what is.

The past and the future are simply thoughts I have now. The present moment is all that is ever real. Now is all. If I’m rehashing what has already happened, if I’m dreading what may eventually go wrong, I am missing this moment. My life is passing me by. I live in the present by staying grounded in my body. I tune in to my senses. I see. I hear. I smell. I touch. I taste. I keep my thoughts responsive to what my body is experiencing. I notice how my body is connecting and communicating with the other bodies around me. I participate in what is happening.

My body keeps me grounded. I stay present – and all is well.


Feel the meaning.

My feelings tell me the meaning of my experiences. If I listen well, they inform my choices. I continue to learn. Pleasure tells me that what is happening is lifegiving for me. I choose to stay with it, to let it last. Pain tells me what is harmful to me. I choose to feel the pain, to stay with it and learn from it, so that it may pass. As my choices come and go, I grow in emotional wisdom. I make better and better choices about what makes pleasure last and pain pass for myself – and for those I love.

My feelings guide my choices. I feel each moment – and all is well.

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
                                                                                                            Chili Davis


Let go.

The Buddha’s second noble truth is that clinging is the root of all suffering. When I refuse to let go, I lock myself into the past. I hold onto what was as if it still is. I will not allow the pain that comes with endings. I find a way to numb it. I will not be without the pleasure I must have. I find a way to make it a sure thing. I grip the illusion of control even as it slips through my fingers. I set myself up for increasing anxiety and depression. I rely on my addictive escapes. I am trapped – until I learn to let go. The cycle of life turns on its own. A time of fullness becomes a time of emptiness. I can make myself miserable fighting against the losses – or I can learn to let go. As Yoda said to the young Darth Vader: “You must practice letting go everything you fear losing. The fear of loss is the path to the Dark Side.”

Letting go sets me free. I breathe out fully – and all is well.


Befriend limits.

Some days my knees ache a little when I’m coming up the stairs. Some days it’s my hips. My stomach can’t handle what it once could, especially since I’m on the medication for my heart. I’ve had to go on medication for acid reflux, and even with it, if I have pizza for supper, my stomach needs help. The list grows as I age. My body is wearing down. It’s such a challenge not to shame myself. In youth I lived with the fear that there was something wrong with me that made me unlovable. As I age, this shame has a growing list of evidence as to what’s wrong. If I allow it, every limit that comes along makes me more unworthy of love. Shame comes from a judgment that I choose to make. I can stop shaming myself. I can choose to love myself just as I am, imperfections and all.

Love heals shame. I accept my limits – and all is well.


Find comfort

As I age, the losses mount. My physical and mental abilities are in decline. Everything I do takes longer. I tire ever more quickly. Aches and pains haunt me. The older I get, the more people I know who die. There is so much to grieve! Every new loss, if I let myself feel it, stirs up all the unresolved feelings from earlier losses. There is so much sadness to be felt. The more I tighten up against it, the more I’m stuck with it, the more my losses overwhelm me. Sadness is the feeling that brings me to acceptance of each and every loss. The simple challenge is to stay soft, to breathe gently, aware of the loss, to focus particularly on the exhale. I can let myself be held, or simply imagine myself be held. Letting the sadness flow through is comforting.

Sadness seeks comfort. I am tenderly held – and all is well.

Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment
of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone.
Jim Fiebig


Confront fear

Things could fall apart at any moment. My investments could crumble. My health could fail. A loved one could die. My car could break down. My computer could crash. I could have another heart attack. The worrying part of my mind can always identify something terrible that could happen. Bad things have happened to me. I gathered what power I could to stop them. And now my power is waning. How can I not be afraid all the time? I can confront fears, one at a time. I identify what it is that I fear. I consider how reasonable or likely is the fear. If it’s not, I learn to breathe and relax, to let it go. If it’s a reasonable fear, I carefully consider what I can do to be prepared if it happens. I imagine myself coping with it, surviving it. Then, I once again breathe and relax, letting it go.

Fear must be settled. I face my fear – and all is well.

Old age is no place for sissies.
                                                                                                Bette Davis


Resolve anger

Anger is a powerful energy that stirs inside me when someone or something I care about is threatened. If I act the anger out in ways that harm others, I make myself less safe. If I harbor the anger within, I may consider it a kind of shield that keeps me safe, but I pay a great price. The bitterness eats away at me, souring my inner world, and threatening my own health. If I turn the anger against myself, I lock myself into a powerless, depressed position. I need to listen to my anger, identify what it is that I love and how it is threatened. I can then consider options for using the energy in my anger to effectively resolve the threat. Healthy anger helps me to change what I can. When I am angry about what I can’t change, I need to let the anger go.

Responsible anger improves life. I resolve my anger – and all is well.


Come back to life!

Sometimes I’m barely living. It’s as if I’m already dead and buried. I’ve become convinced that I’m at the mercy of the powers outside me. Things just happen to me. There’s nothing I can do to make life better. I am powerless, a victim of the circumstances, whatever they be. I have given in to depression. I eke out an existence. Pleasure is fleeting. Pain is frequent and lasting. I don’t let myself feel much anymore. I may even idealize death. There has to be a way out of this emptiness. “Lazarus, come forth!” I listen for the wake up call that comes. I respond to whatever presents a lifegiving opportunity. I seek help. I choose life!

Life finds a way to renew. I reach for new life – and all is well.


Take a risk.

Familiarity is reassuring. I know what to expect. I can settle into a groove that carries me right along. I have collected a lot of music over the years. There was a time when I was entranced by new sounds. I sought them out, gathered them. Eventually I stopped seeking the new. I just settled in to have those good old familiar tunes there in the background. The same old same old can become lackluster. I need to balance reassurance with risk. When is the last time I tried something new? What is something I could choose without knowing what to expect?

Uncertainty is lifegiving. I try new things – and all is well.


Get excited!

I have less energy than I once did. As I age I tend to be drawn to activities that are more low key. Mellowing gracefully may come naturally – and may lead to missing some of the joy that life has to offer! There is a way to engage with others that stirs a surprising abundance of energy. I can sing. I can dance. I can laugh. I can play a game. I can engage in passionate conversations. I can seek out energizing activities. There’s still a lot of fun to be had!

Excitement generates energy. I’m joining in the fun – and all is well.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old.
We grow old because we stop playing.
                                                                                                George Bernard Shaw


Complete yourself.

I am the author of my life. No one else gets to tell me who I am. Every choice I make gives a little more definition to my self. I say what I want – and what I don’t, what I like – and what I don’t, what I believe – and what I don’t. I choose who I spend time with – and, have my influence upon what we do and how we interact. I reflect on the storyline, on the meaning and purpose of my life. My story is not yet finished. I decide what I need to complete. I still have time.

Dignity means self-definition. I am who I say I am – and all is well.


Share vulnerability.

I have been hurt many times throughout the course of my life. I have been abandoned. I have been betrayed. I have counted on others and been disappointed. I have loved and lost. At some of these times, somewhere deep inside, I decided never to be so vulnerable again. I put up walls to keep my tender places well protected. Unfortunately, I often end up walling out those who care and are trustworthy. Then I am stuck longing for the intimacy that shared vulnerability brings. I will look closely at my relationships with those who care about me. I will invite someone trustworthy to join me in my tender places.

Intimacy relieves isolation. I share my vulnerability – and all is well.


Transcend yourself.

As my later years approach, my life can seem to be shrinking. Where do I turn when my world seems too small? How much have I learned to see beyond myself? How have I known myself as a vital part of something larger than myself? Friendships? Family? Church? Spirituality? Relationship with a “higher power”? Every life needs meaning and purpose for its value to be felt. I can continue to invest in what has allowed me to transcend myself. I can deepen those investments. I can find new ways to be part of something larger than myself.

Something greater calls to me. I become lifegiving – and all is well.

Nothing is inherently and invincibly young except spirit.
And spirit can enter a human being better in the quiet of old age
and dwell there more undisturbed than in the turmoil of adventure.
                                                                                                            George Santayana


Accept mortality

Now is the favorable time! Eventual finality gives value to this moment. I still have time, and, the less time I have, the more precious it is! As long as I draw breath it’s never too late to value my life. I can grieve and accept what I can’t change. I can be free of regrets. I can identify options that mean changing what I can. I can learn from pleasure and pain, and make ever more lifegiving choices. I can love what is given every time I breathe in. I can practice letting go with every exhale. Death on the horizon is a beautiful sunset setting my current life aglow.

Death calls forth life. I embrace life in the face of death – and all is well.


And this is what it is to be God’s elect:
It is to be denied in youth the whishes of youth,
so as with great pains
to have them fulfilled in old age.
                                                                                                Soren Kierkegaard

All Rights Reserved
For Permission to Reprint:
Contact author at 773-564-9172

[ back to top ]