By Dr. Toni LaMotta
Our world is obsessed with youth and beauty. We are bombarded daily with ANTI-aging techniques and products. No wonder so many people fear growing older. Frankly, I’d rather not be ANTI anything but be FOR Aging…in a healthy and conscious fashion.
How would our world change if all of us began to see the aging process as a means of spiritual growth?
A few years ago I spent about three months in a hospital and nursing home. I noticed that I wasn’t asking, “Why is this happening to me?” I wasn’t feeling like a victim. I wasn’t even asking, “What did I do to cause this?” as I might have several years previously. But, I found myself asking the question, “What does my soul want here? What can I learn from this experience? What GIFT can I find here?” I noticed that I began to see the aging process in a whole new way. Deep awakening was happening as I let myself just “accept what is.”
The lesson was reinforced while visiting a dear friend 104 years young. She told me that she decided a while ago that it made no sense to complain because her life had gotten smaller (She had two rooms, which she seldom left, in an assisted living facility.) because if she were to be filled with complaints, she wouldn’t be happy. She said boldly, “I’d rather be happy.”
“Perhaps there are things I should be doing,” she said. “Sometimes I find myself wishing I could go back to Sweden where I was born…but I know I will not be traveling anymore…so rather than wish I was doing what I can no longer do, I have learned to be SATISFIED with the fact that I HAVE done so much.” (She and her husband were both pilots, so they traveled a great deal.)
I truly believe that the secret to her long life and happiness—besides having a bourbon and water each night!—is the fact that she is CONTENT WITH WHAT IS.
I’m not saying not to have wonderful memories. However, I have noticed that the unhappiest older people I know are those who long to be as they once were, rather than as they are now. Those who compare themselves with the way they were 20 years ago are engaging in an exercise certain to keep them in an unhappy state. One of the spiritual tasks of aging is learning to live without regret and striving to be happy with who and what we are right now.
I have noticed that whenever I am anxious it is because I am living in the future. When I let myself feel sad or depressed, it is because I am living in the past.
One of the things I teach as part of a program on conscious aging is how to do a life review. The purpose of this is both to see what we need to let go and also to find the seeds of possibility still waiting to be sown. Sometimes, when there are things we love but can no longer do, it’s important to take time to recognize that it probably wasn’t the particular THING that we want to do or have again, but the FEELING that came along with it that we yearn to experience. An exercise I teach people is to think about what they used to love about what they can no longer do; then find the feeling that they think is missing and ask HOW ELSE can I begin to experience that feeling NOW. It’s a powerful spiritual practice!
The columnist Jan Glidewell once said, “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” Accepting what is probably is the MOST important of all spiritual practices. And certainly as we age, we get a lot of opportunity to practice that.
Every spiritual teaching emphasizes the importance of LIVING in the NOW. Letting go of the past can get very practical, and for me, spirituality is nothing if it is not practical.
I sold my home and moved into a smaller apartment not long ago. When I was moving, I found myself following the advice that was given to me years ago when I left California for Florida. The person helping me sort and pack would hold up everything before we packed it and say, “Is this who you are today?” I even let go of my doctoral dissertation because I realized that the learning is now inside of me and someone else could benefit from all those books and research materials. They are no longer serving me and are not part of my NOW. It also helped to clear up space on my bookshelves!
Most people, as they get older, begin to de-clutter and learn to live more simply. When we accumulate things, we are really telling the Universe that we don’t trust that we’ll have what we need when we need it. Or that we never think we have enough. The very search and need for more is often a denial of the depth and beauty of what is present at the moment.
A guru once asked his disciples what they would choose if they were offered $10 million or 10 children. Of course, most people shouted out, “$10 million,” to which he replied, “You would be better off having 10 children, because then you wouldn’t always be wanting more.”
EVERYTHING in our lives can be an opportunity to complain, or an opportunity for spiritual growth. I know a woman, for example, who was recently diagnosed with macular degeneration… she calls it macular re-generation! She told me that the less she is able to physically see, the greater has been her spiritual knowing. As her eyesight has diminished, her INSIGHT is increasing.
Another friend, who is having trouble hearing, tells me that she is truly learning to LISTEN more carefully and to stay fully present to others as they speak.
The aging process offers each of us the exact experiences for our own growth and transformation. What are yours?
Dr. Toni LaMotta is a keynote speaker, best-selling author of What You REALLY Want, Wants You and spiritual teacher supporting people in growing spiritually through the process of aging consciously. She also helps coaches and speakers create, publish and market their books. Dr. Toni is also an expert in supporting people and organizations in reinventing themselves in midlife and beyond. Her experience? From Catholic nun, to computer programmer and dinner theater actress, to professional speaker, entrepreneur, and ordained New Thought Minister. You can read her blog at www.midlifemessages.com and find out more about her conscious aging programs at www.tonilamotta.com.