Are you aging unnecessarily? Answer these questions and find out:
Do you see gray hair as loss of youth (as opposed to loss of pigmentation)?
Do you describe how you feel as “young” or “old,” rather than “energetic” or “tired” for instance?
Do you see an “age spot” on your hand or face where you once saw a “freckle?”
If you answered “Yes,” take warning! You are aging unnecessarily. The culprit here isn’t passing years. It is thoughts that arise from deeply engrained concepts of “age” and “aging.”
Our “age” concept is a set of beliefs and expectations that dictate thoughts and actions. In a sense, we run an age program the way computers run programs. More than half of what we experience as aging is due to this concept. Let me explain the problem, then the solution.
“Gradual Deterioration:” Running The “Age” Program
I once heard a sixty-year old man describe his life as “gradual deterioration.” That was two decades ago. For twenty years he’s run a “gradual deterioration” program. That program is his concept of age.
Our concepts decide what we think and do, and even what we see and feel. To see how this works, consider another concept. “I need to lose weight” is the concept dominant in anorexia. This concept defines reality for the anorexic. Where others see thin and emaciated, she sees a body that needs to lose weight. The concept (not reality) is in charge here. In the same way, “age” has us under its spell.
The age concept sets us up for gradual deterioration. It determines our thoughts and actions and even what we see in the mirror (“aging” in grey hair; “age spots” in freckles).The concept exerts control unknowingly and automatically, deciding even sensations we feel. Aches and pains taken in stride at eighteen, meet with: “Just as I thought, old age!” Doctors tell us no one dies of old age. Our concept, however, dictates what’s real, and we see otherwise.
Some dentists suggest duller yellow teeth for elderly patients. Under the spell of the concept we accept them. “Own up” to age and age owns us, but the problem goes far beyond negative thinking. The program tells us what to do. It tells us: “act your age,” and we obey with grave consequences for health.
“Act Your Age!” Health Damage Caused By The Age Concept
Not long ago afinding that people in their nineties can build muscle made front page news. Why did the finding surprise us? It surprised us because it violates our concept of aging. “Gradual deterioration” sets up expectations of irreversible loss in muscle mass, bone density, lung capacity, balance, flexibility, etc. Obedient to the concept, we “act our age,”sitting sedentary, deteriorating according to plan.
Inactivity precipitates decline in a vicious circle, but no matter how limiting and self-destructive, we conform and age to the letter. We succumb more to the concept than to age itself, even though all the while, the concept is mistaken.
The Error In “Aging”
Age as gradual deterioration is a self-fulfilling prophesy. The concept itself however, is mistaken. Ancient wisdom offers a more realistic view. It maintains that disuse, not “age,” is the cause of deterioration. In this view: “that which is used thrives. That which is not used wastes away.”
This more enlightened view sets up different expectations. Attribute muscle loss to disuse (instead of age) and the news about building muscle at ninety isn’t news at all. “Gradual deterioration” becomes a matter of “letting yourself go” – something you need not necessarily do. You might trade workouts for sitting helplessly, acting your age.
Just knowing a concept is in error however, doesn’t free us from its grip. We can’t expect tosnap out of aging any more than the anorexic out of the need to lose weight. Getting free of age takes something more. It requires awareness – more awareness than we’re used to. Here’s how awareness sets you free.
How Awareness Frees You From “Aging”
Spiritual teacher Ram Dass helped an elderly Quaker woman who’d been terminally ill a long while. She told him she wasn’t afraid to die but was bothered by the boredom of slowly dying. He suggested: “Couldn’t you die, say, twenty minutes per hour?”
With these words she saw through the concept she was stuck in. In reality, she was living. All the “dying” she’d experienced was born of concept, an invention of the thinking mind. Dying was a program she’d been running. Getting free of the concept was like waking from delusion; coming out from under its spell.
In anorexia, aging, and dying we see problems caused by the thinking mind in the absence of awareness. Awareness – simple contact with reality sets us free. Contact with reality shuts programs down. Then thoughts and actions emerge, not from preset beliefs and expectations, but from awareness itself. How do you build awareness? The trusted tool is meditation.
Meditation And Liberation From Age
Meditation quiets thinking; concepts lose their solid grip. Present moment awareness replaces toxic thoughts like “I am old.” A burden lifts from shoulders bent by auto-suggestions of aging.
The more you quiet thinking the more awareness is restored. With enough awareness you clear your slate completely. Tibetan Buddhist tradition expresses what happens then. Coming to awareness “is like taking a hood off your head. What boundless spaciousness and relief! This is seeing what was not seen before… everything opens, expands, and becomes crisp, clear, brimming with life. All limitations dissolve and fall away.”
Go deep enough into awareness and you’ll be free of age limitations. You’ll discover your essence is timeless, ageless and eternal. Then for you, even death holds no threat.