Watching other people grow older often isn’t pretty but it can always be instructive.I say other people, because it is extremely difficult to see ourselves. I notice, for example, that when I’m in an audience at a classical concert and look around, I’m likely to think, “Hmm, everybody here is older. Too bad more younger people don’t come.” Younger people like me is what I’m thinking. Talk about delusions!
Who hasn’t said, at one time or another, “I don’t want to be like my mother (or father) when I get old”? We usually mean, “I don’t want to get set in my ways,” or “I don’t want to become boring,” or “I don’t want to look like that.” But once in a while we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror, and wince, because we see signs that we haven’t escaped our deepest fears. Most of us look away immediately. Denial has its uses, after all.
So here is the Big Question.
As we age, how, exactly, do we avoid becoming what we don’t want to become?
The simple answer is that we have to cultivate Mindfulness. For people of my generation the term was Awareness. I recently read The Secret (yes, it is one of my guilty pleasures) and was bemused to find this was an essential message of the book. The new brain research I’m reading, books like Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, come to the same conclusion. Other names for this are The Perennial Philosophy and The Tao (The Way).
So Mindfulness is clearly not a new idea. But if it has been described as The Way in so many different sources, why don’t we all live in this Way? Maybe you do. If you don’t, what is your reason?
I know mine: The Way isn’t easy; it takes training and effort, and I can be a very scattered person. I have moments and pockets of time when I am disciplined and focused. But there are lots of other hours when I fritter away Time as if it were not the most precious commodity I have. I avoid knowing–being mindful–that the time I before me is much less than the time behind me. That is probably the most foolish thing I do with my life.
Too much reality can paralyze us; that’s why denial exists. But too much denial can impoverish us if we close our eyes and pretend the future stretches infinitely, so we can afford to wait to do the things that would truly enrich our lives with meaning and allow us to leave a legacy for coming generations that will enrich them as well.
I do believe that Mindfulness is worth fighting for. I fight for it every day, in every way I can think of. I’ve taken the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire (it’s free; try it by clicking here) and try using my top strengths regularly to expand my ability to stay Aware, so that my time and energy are used more and more for things of real value.
These can be large and small.
Whatever you or I choose to spend time on has to be our own choice, but I urge you to reflect on your choices and learn to discriminate among choices that are truly life-enhancing and those that are simply habits of mind. So much is being learned about what contributes best to human well-being. Read, listen, observe, and talk with friends and family about what you’re discovering.
Share this wealth with others. It’s too important to keep to yourself.