I have been blogging for some while in the Religion section of the Huffington Post, but my presence here in "Fifty" is new. My upcoming book Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser seems to straddle both areas, which I suppose is why the editors thought I should blog in both arenas. Both "Religion" and "Fifty" are subsections of Life & Style--which also includes Parents, Divorce, Weddings, Food, and Travel. "Life and Style" is a fairly all-encompassing category, embracing many aspects of ordinary life. But when we start to ask deeper questions about or life--especially what it might mean in the larger scheme of things--then we are in the domain of the spiritual. And when we are on the cusp of midlife--in the realm of "Fifty"--then these deeper questions can become more pressing and personal. I like this quote from the Dalai Lama about the connection between the age we are and spiritual questions:
When young . . . an individual might feel completely self-sufficient, completely in control, and thus conclude that no deeper faith or understanding is necessary. But with time, things inevitably change; people get sick, grow old, die. These inevitabilities, or perhaps some unexpected tragedy that money can't fix, may clearly point out the limitation of this worldly view. In those cases, a spiritual approach . . . may be more suitable.
I find this to be an excellent description of how things change as we age. Maybe we could paraphrase the Dalai Lama's words this way: when we are young, it's more about style, but as we age, it starts to be more about life--or "life and life only," as Bob Dylan sings. Once when I was about twelve my father came into my room with a book he had been reading. It was an autobiography of the poet Robert Graves, and on the front of the book was a photo of the author as a young man--full of vitality and hope--and on the back was a photo of the present-day Graves, hair gray, face deeply lined, his eyes looking out to some far distant horizon.
My father turned the book over and over, showing me first the young Graves, and then the old one--and then in a strangely agitated voice, he said, "You can't understand this." Then as suddenly as he had come into my room, he left it.
My father was in his forties at the time¬--back in the 1950s when forty was what is now fifty--and I think he was on the troubled cusp between "style" and "life." His youthful dreams were fading, and at that moment he felt compelled to try to convey what that meant to him as a lesson from father to son, from old to young. It was an awkward moment, one that I only now fully understand.
Just as my father held that book in his hands, trying to teach me something about youth and age, each of us holds our own book of life in our hands. With each passing year we examine it, as my father was doing, remembering the young person we once were, and contemplating the older person we have now become. Youthful style grows into mature life. We don't lose style; it continues in new form and fashion. I read the other posts in "Fifty" and appreciate how much verve and style my fellow bloggers are bringing to this adventure called aging. It's OK to look as good as we can, and to take as good care of ourselves as we can. Recently I have grown my hair out a bit. It makes my hair more silvery, and perhaps a bit more distinguished.
I'm 64, soon to be turning 65. I'm older, but I'm not old-- I keep telling myself that. I do believe that life and style includes the spiritual. That's what I am thinking and writing about these days.
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