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At Home in My Life 

I just turned 60. When I was 18 I used to reflect on those who were thirty and wonder what on earth they could possibly live for. The same partner, children, responsibilities, work etc? How utterly boring! Then I turned 30 and saw life in a different way.

We often say that we feel the same as we did when we were twenty. But that is not true. And that is a good thing! We are constantly changing; new dimensions and realisations pop up while other dimensions of us fade. We just don’t notice the fading. For me, if nothing had faded I would still be wanting to go disco dancing most nights and flirt, and I would still have an eating disorder, meaning a primary focus was on what I could and should eat and how little I had eaten. I would still fall into dark holes of depression, I would feel disconnected from myself and anxious. I am glad to say that is no longer part of my inner life. What part of your inner twenty year old is gone?

Gentler life experience

Life, particularly the past ten years, has become so much easier due to a gentler and kinder self-relationship. We live in a self-relationship that can be kind, collaborative and gentle or harsh, abusive or critical. My younger self would whack itself internally for not being kind enough, not working hard enough, having forgotten something, not being social enough, not being efficient enough, and so on. The older I get, the kinder and gentler that relationship has become.

Earlier in my life I was much more other dependent. I would get lost in what others were doing and how they were living, or worry about having said the wrong thing, or feel anxious about the risk of letting someone down.

Part of this is that the younger me was so busy conforming, or considering how I was perceived. Now the inner relationship takes up much more of my attention, as if I have turned to myself in loyal friendship, being at home within. And through this, I have become more available to others.

Another way that this shows is I no longer push myself to avoid feeling lazy, or missing out. I listen to what the system (body and feelings) is at and what it needs and I allow that to rule. That means I sometimes work till 11, and go for a long walk early and then take a snooze at 3, or do gardening and then computer work. So rather than the day’s activities being ruled by ‘ought to’ and ‘shoulds’ I allow the system to guide me. It feels organic and saves me sitting trying to do something that is not happening. Instead it is fluid and non violent.

Possibly some of my overwork has stood me in good stead from a business perspective but it was hard on the body and did not serve mental health well, nor relationships.

When we really listen to our bodies it becomes clear that the way the corporate world functions is really not meant for human consumption. It does not serve our humanity.

The ever lasting life

What is it that you plan to do with your wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver

When I was younger I had the feeling that life would go on forever. In my early fifties I became acutely aware that I had spent far too much time as a ‘handbag’ at official engagements, being a witness to other people’s lives. I had also spent far too much time doing things out of duty.

An aphrodisiac for life is facing our death. It is the core of Buddhist practice as a means to make us not live in autopilot but to become awake.

You can actually work out your likely (based on averages) death date through actuary tables.

I am likely to die in 2044. That means 22 years left. Today I saw this: ‘Did you realise that 1970 and 2022 are as far apart as 1970 and 1918?’ And it makes me think where I was at 22 years ago. From then to now is what I am likely to have left. That is not forever! And that means less time to waste which means we have to think about what is quality time and what is not. We all have something to offer the world, a little way that we make the world a little better. The risk is we miss the opportunity because life is just happening. So as I have aged I have become a little more deliberate about how I spend my time.

Youth versus ageing

In researching ageing a little it becomes clear that ageing is defined through the lens of youth. From that perspective ageing is just loss. The topics are about staying youthful instead of what ageing and getting older might offer.

Many years ago I met a man in his eighties who was writing a blog. He was not quite sure of the point of his writing, yet he had many who enjoyed his political satire and sharp wit. I said to him that we actually do not hear much from old men, we don’t hear much of their perspective. He replied: I am not old. It was interesting to me that ‘old’ is such a negatively loaded word, just as negatively loaded as ‘young’ is positively loaded. Why? If we adore youth to the detriment of age does that mean it is easier for us to be immature rather than mature? Does it explain why our culture in general functions at a teenage level?

Menopause, a part of getting older, is feared by many women as a time of becoming irrelevant and invisible and also a time when many health challenges occur. Yet for many that is not the case. Like puberty, it is a time of transition, of more intense shedding, fading and newness. Menopause is potentially a time for intense shedding, for transformation, but not if we choose to be frozen in an addiction to youth.

I envision a welcome committee of older women ready to share the insights and richness of what the older woman has to offer and a similar thing for men.

Our society is poorer without a strong clear voice from older Australians who are proud of what they offer rather than seeking approval through being youthful.

Age enhances our capacity for audacity, ingenuity, discerning wisdom, and for savoring life and riding its ups and downs with equanimity and humor. Growing older a blessing (not a curse), a home-coming, a humbling triumph, and a culmination worthy of celebration.

Susan Avery Stewart, retired psychologist.

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