Having read about a bzillion books and articles on the correct way to approach aging and realizing the subject has been run into the ground except for the breakthroughs in real science, my choice has been made. No, not denial. No, not using the latest fads in vitamins and minerals. No, not plastic surgery.
Of the three paths that are mentioned the most in my reading: mindfulness, consciousness and spirituality, a combination of mindfulness with a nod to the basics of spirit are the path my intitution tells me to take. Consciousness appears to me to be a bit more to the spiritual side, but if I am wrong hopefully some of you extraordinary elders can set me straight.
So, how did this become my “way” over the past two years of lazy research? And, why choose one?
In the years of teaching “my criminals”, or better known as first offenders in the court system of Denver, the classes and books that I spent time on were to better understand cognitive behavioral therapy. This was also a period of rapid progress in learning theories, how different parts of the brain helped control us and all institutions looking for ways to convince the species that we had the ability to control our emotions, our time and our decisions. If not totally, we could at least move from pure reaction to a different cognitive commitment with understanding and practice. For example, when I feel (amygdala in the brain working) a flash of anger, my training (mindfulness to adjust cognition) allows me to recognize the feeling, take a couple of breaths and let the anger subside. If my hands have clenched at my side, or my face flushed, the physical symptoms will lessen also.
That is such a 10 cent explanation that this blog may explode from embarrassment. But, telling yourself, using the correct self talk and knowing you can change your state of mind by making your cognitive committment more specific, gives everyone an ability to move from unhealthy cognition (thoughts) to the mindful awareness of different options.
In a teaching situation a cognitively aware person might correct you when you say, “Being old sucks” and tell you to say “Being old is a mixed bag”. It is a less fixed thought and allows you to have a less rigid view. If you are in the beginning process of moving from denial about your age and on the way to embracing yourself as a new elder, an openness to more than one perspective on information will serve you well on the uneven road ahead. (the word could have been bumpy road, but that has a negative connotation for me).
One more trick about cognition. Fear is based, in part, on the interpretation of what is happening. Today I had a medical procedure that seems scary if you just give the initials and how long it will take and what the outcome can portend. When you are in the midst of the procedure, one way to avoid fear (besides meditative breathing) is to focus on the people doing the procedure, the color of the walls, the rain on the window panes, the breath coming out of your lips and why in the hell BONES from Star Trek isn’t in the room. If you think about your interpretation of what the test might mean, you will suffer much more than necessary. How many times over the years have you said to yourself, “why did I waste so much time and energy worrying?” Because you could not change your self talk.
Thus the long story about why I choose to be mindful about the aging process and to construct a mindset that is full of creativity and openness and confidence. Knowing that making positive cognitive commitments and focusing on the present moment to avoid losing energy to toxic thoughts of past and future, my mind will have room for unconditional kindness, gratitude and greater friendliness. And maybe, calm.