It actually gets better as you get older. You get better. Life gets better. The merry-go-round slows down and you can finally enjoy the ride. I'm not going to tell you it's easy; especially in this economy or that it happens automatically like your invitation to join AARP. But it is possible as long as you're willing to do the work; the inner work. It's necessary to make peace with yourself, your past, and the whole process of aging. That naturally involves forgiveness, compassion, and patience; for yourself first of all and for others. In fact, aging is the ultimate 12-step program; Aging Anonymous! Instead of giving up drugs or drinking, you have to give up all the things you're still holding onto; the material things as well as the emotional baggage; the grudges, resentment, and regrets. It doesn't happen overnight; it's an ongoing process and like any recovery work it's tough, humbling but ultimately life changing.
As we get into our late fifties and sixties it's more about being than doing; less about succeeding in the world and more about finding meaning within. Don't get me wrong; that doesn't mean we can't continue to be active, ambitious and successful but hopefully the ego is no longer calling the shots; the motivation comes from a deeper place. When we're young we're forging ahead, intent on constructing an identity and changing the world. As we age there is a greater need for wisdom, self-knowledge and transcendence. The projects we pursue and the life we lead need to reflect that and be aligned with who we are now and not who we once were. If we're able to make that transition then getting older can be a rich and fulfilling experience.
1. Finding a purpose for this phase of life is essential: It doesn't have to be professional but we all need something that brings us joy and gives us a way to be in the world as an elder person. For many it's the time to teach or consult in their field. For others it means spending time with grandchildren, traveling, volunteering, or finally writing that book that has been calling them. Still others are reinventing themselves and finding new energy in the process. The beauty of these late-in-life pursuits is that they are based less on achievement and recognition and more on passion which is why they are so often succeed. Finding something to devote our lives to is part of the great adventure as we age.
2. If you don't have a purpose then take some time to discover it: Ask yourself, if you died at this moment what would you regret not having done? A life review is a valuable process; one that is highly respected among psychologists, social workers and gerontologists. It involves writing down (or sharing in a group) past life events as a way to bring to consciousness the different stages of our life and integrate any unresolved conflicts. The result can bring a fresh perspective, greater self-acceptance and empower us in moving forward. Jane Fonda writes about this in her book, Prime Time, in which she shares her personal experience of doing a life review and the healing that resulted.
3. Develop your inner life: Carl Jung believed what healed patients in the second half of life was to cultivate a spiritual outlook. He recommended tools such as dream analysis and creativity. Journaling, prayer, or spending time in nature are also ways to awaken those parts of the self that were not developed while we were building a career and constructing our social persona. Meditation is one of the best ways to not only deepen our inner life but become more present and live more fully. Meditation enhances and strengthens every area; spiritual, physical and emotional and there's absolutely no downside. Pema Chodron's book, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind is a wonderful introduction to this ancient practice.
4. Simplify, simplify, simplify: As we age the desire to acquire is less and the need to scale down becomes stronger. Our focus is shifting and we don't have the time or physical energy to deal with a lot of stuff. That includes relationships, activities and feelings that are holding us back. This can be challenging which is why the inner work is so crucial; by paying attention to the inner messages and feelings we receive guidance for the journey ahead.
Getting older doesn't mean you have to give up your shiny red high heels or highlights -- hell no! On the other hand, you don't have to suffer in those towering heels and you have the freedom to let your hair go grey if you choose. Ultimately, aging well it's about being authentic; discovering your own rhythm, making your own rules, going at your own speed. It's being flexible enough to change and grow but not feeling pressured to stay relevant and look youthful. So lean back, lean in, reach up, lie down and most of all love yourself where you are.