11/16/2011 04:10 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2012

Vintage Rhythms -- Aging With Panache

Your mature years can bring you remarkably satisfying experiences if you know how to live them fully. As we grow older, we benefit significantly from more exquisite experiences to keep us vibrant and to counter unavoidable losses. We need to move in a new way from surviving to thriving. Aging with panache requires you to let go of the mundane and savor the extraordinary.

We have known rapturous experiences, and remember moments that rejuvenated our spirits and replenished our souls. They changed us in the moment from ordinary beings into creatures of magic. Time stood still, as we created the treasured memories to count on during difficult times.

If you're in the last third of your life, you are becoming an exquisite vintage being, like a fine wine or a classic car. To continue living fully, you must develop new rhythms that help you think and move differently. Stop-and-start, overdo-and-recover behaviors are time wasters, and must be replaced with a more purposeful equanimity that honors your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. Moving and thinking differently, you can learn to anticipate, enjoy, and relish current moments to keep you vibrant for the rest of your life.

How to Master Vintage Rhythms

Your Physical Body

Do you remember being in your 20s, partying hard on a Sunday night, but still being able to work productively on Monday? When you're older, your body needs more time to regenerate from excesses. Younger bodies can sprint from a dead stop to full speed quickly, but older bodies need more preparation. If you do any vigorous activity when you've been sedentary for a while, you're likely to be achy the next day, but, if you dance some every night, and warm up first, your body can still serve you well.

Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness really will help your body stay more alive. Those experiences automatically alter your physical rhythms in a regenerative way.

Your Mind

All of your life, your brain has been storing information. Your habitual mental rituals don't take a lot of effort, and you can comfortably rely on them, but, continuing to stretch and take in new information will keep your mind alive.

You can mold and transform your brain throughout your life, but you may not be able to with the speed and accuracy you once took for granted. Don't be discouraged if learning takes longer. If you approach new mental challenges more gently, and give yourself more time to integrate, you can learn almost anything you want to. Avoid repetitive thinking patterns that do not stimulate or excite you. The key to staying mentally young is to consciously seek knowledge that pushes your mind to stay open.

Your Emotions

As you age, you might allow cumulative disappointments to build rigid and reactive, protective emotional walls. Those bastions that once protected you from hurt can become a prison that no longer allows love as an option.

Consciously drop those walls, and use your cumulative wisdom to decide when and who you can trust. If you move more rhythmically into emotional connections, you will know whether to stay or back out gracefully. Losses are harder to endure when you're older, and take longer to recover. Isolation is never a good choice.

Your Soul

Spiritual or religious experiences can produce rapture at any age, and often offer hope and strength to face trials and increase joy.

Attend to your spiritual rituals now with deeper commitment, a more gentle and trusting connection, and a consistent practice. You need not be religious to be spiritual, nor lose your spirituality if you do not follow a formal religious process. Your goal is to feel part of something greater than self to provide the comfort and perspective that alleviates fears.

Try to spend time with older people who have not lost their twinkle, are in love with life, and seem unafraid to embrace new ideas. They model the vintage rhythms that will keep you living life to the fullest.

A Loving Example

On a Saturday evening many years ago, I was sitting alone at a psychological retreat on the California coast. I was a 43-year-old mother just finishing my doctoral dissertation. Looking up from my book, I noticed a tall, white-haired gentleman come in. He smiled broadly at me, and then sat down to play himself a game of chess. He appeared well into his 80s, but his step was light, and wondrously purposeful.

We began to talk. His eyes lit up when I told him about my research, and I, in turn, was fascinated to hear about his travel adventures. When it came time to part, I had been so captivated that I wondered if it was still the same year. We knew that we were unlikely to ever meet again, and hugged goodbye. I remember telling him, "If I could just be more like you, I would never fear aging."

He smiled. "That's the job of us older folk. We're supposed to keep you enthralled about the future."

Six months later, at my daughter's college graduation, the keynote speaker was Sir Gregory Bateson. Yes, it was my wonderful partner in that rapturous conversation. Twenty feet away, I waved shyly at him, and he smiled.

After attending to his after-lecture audience, he walked over to me with that same wonderful, dancing gait. He hugged me and asked me if I'd finished school, remembering everything I had told him that night. When I asked him why he didn't tell me who he was, he smiled. "Enjoying our conversation was more important."

I savor the joy of that memory. A man of international renown, he manifested a rhythm that bespoke of his ability to live exactly where he was in the moment. The past was another time and the future unknown. He lived fully and completely in the present, savoring what he was doing in the moment, moving effortlessly in a perfect, chosen rhythm that graced the dignity of his age.