The quest for eternal youthfulness has captivated humanity for centuries. World mythologies, the arts, not to speak of actual historical events, provide more than glimpses into our preoccupation with this problem. Recently this quest has taken an altogether new direction with ever-increasing numbers of people seeking salvation in the now burgeoning industry of pharmaceutical and surgical anti-aging interventions. Shocking as this may be, especially given the surreal and at times lethal consequences of these interventions, I do not regard them as uniquely condemnable, since throughout history those looking to enhance their physical beauty have subjected themselves to comparable, if not more severe ordeals. What I would say about them, however, is that even when optimal aesthetic effects are achieved, such results in no way correlate with what I have in mind in speaking of youthfulness. If the "Fountain of Youth" were to mean anything, I could only imagine that it would have to offer us more than a mere physical upgrade.
In spite of all collective assumptions and wishes to the contrary, youthfulness has nothing whatsoever to do with looking younger than one's actual age. Youthfulness, I will go further still to say, does not necessarily have anything to do with being young, for people can most certainly grow old at a relatively young age. So what then does it mean to be truly youthful?
Youthfulness has everything to do with how we engage life. It has everything to do with the consciousness through which we engage life. Youthfulness has everything to do with our ability consciously to engage and move with life, as it exists in process. In the Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching, it is thus written: "The stiff and unbending is the disciple of death. The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life."
Clinical experience has shown that people age exponentially to the extent they become, through the shutting down of their internal process, separated from self-organizing nature's healing and transformative flow. Such a shutting down may be triggered, for example, when an individual's natural being inadvertently becomes assimilated by the collective role with which he or she is identified, say that of a police officer. When this happens, an individual who was previously creative and engaging with others while still a student, becomes incapable of engaging in open and freethinking discourse, even in familiar social circles. It is as if an inanimate professional persona that now is never left at work has taken full possession of the individual, much to the detriment of his or her natural being. Under such circumstances, an individual will age rapidly, perhaps even during the first years of work.
Of course an internal shutting down and disconnection from life in process will also occur as a consequence of the unhealing wounds of traumatic life experiences, such as catastrophic loss, victimization, separation and bereavement. Indeed it is not uncommon to witness an almost instant aging in an individual who is unable to adapt by way of nature to such a life crisis. In such situations, the ego, as a result of its traumatization, is unable to recognize and ultimately yield to the support offered it by way of self-organizing nature.
Not through the fixed forms of collective ideals or ideologies, not through allowing our social or professional roles to take possession of our natural beings, not through the manipulation of our bodies for aesthetic purposes, not through the illusions of control to which we cling, even as self-organizing nature reaches out to heal us, but rather, only by way of our conscious and direct encounter with life in process do we arrive at the much sought-after point of eternal healing and renewal, do we arrive at a true Fountain of Youth.
Previously published in The Times of India, Speaking Tree.
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