Conscious Aging

A friend of mine sent me a site about conscious aging. It sounds like we’re on the same page, but thought I would take a minute to clarify what comes to mind when I hear that term. First of all, it is a term that to me seems to be synonymous with ‘conscious living’, since everyone is aging all the time. In this case, it is obvious that the term refers to ‘getting older consciously’ that further suggests that the alternative is to grow older ‘unconsciously’.

It makes we think about what it means to be ‘unconscious’. It means, for example, not being present. The term suggests being asleep or ‘out of it’ or perhaps just living life on automatic—going through the motions without thought or awareness that there is any other possibility to what one is already doing. Living consciously has been for most of our generation something close to ‘being enlightened’, being awake to the miracle of life in all its permutations and open to experiencing the full spectrum of spiritual and material possibilities.

I do think that as we age, there are lots of pressures to make us unconscious. We grow into a cultural story that we must slow down, that after a certain point, life is a process of loss and decline, that we’re ‘past our prime’ and that we need to be careful with our scarce resources and step aside for the next generation. You all know the story. My goodness, if this were true, wouldn’t we all want to be unconscious? How else would we tolerate the boredom, the loneliness, and the tedium of waiting to die?

I prefer to think that ‘conscious aging’ means growing older with an awareness that we have at every moment of our lives a choice in how we experience whatever is going on and that we can transform our experience of living at any time. It means being responsible in the sense of ‘owning’ our circumstances and choosing for reality to be what it is. Only then do we recover the ability to create alternatives and free ourselves of the past and a predictable future. I think that ‘conscious aging’ means being clear about the difference between our thinking, our feelings and our bodies and who we are as creators of possibilities and choosers of how we interpret and relate to our world. Further, I believe that each and every human being knows at some level that what we want most is to give back and contribute whatever we can from this brief journey.

Today, my family placed my mother’s ashes into the Columbarium at the National Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. It was a brief moment for us to say goodbye again. Afterwards, in thinking about her life, I would have to say that she was someone who, for the last 10 or 15 years of her life, lived with quiet dignity and stubborn acceptance of deteriorating health. She resisted new ideas and suggestions that might have allowed her to have more choices and possibilities than she allowed herself to consider. She was a good woman who did her best, loved her family and held firmly to what she believed and thought. She lived in her comfort zone and I am sure she died with confidence that her choices throughout her life were the best possible choices given the circumstances.
She was not, in my opinion an example of ‘conscious aging’. I don’t know what her later years would have been had she been 20 or 30 years younger, but I suspect she would have been healthier. She would have undoubtedly stopped smoking. She would probably have taken better care of herself and would have no doubt explored a number of different intellectual and spiritual lifestyle options. The bottom line is that I think she would have had more fun and been happier.

I am committed to the proposition that the whole point—and maybe the only point—to aging (other than as just a purely biological process) is in creating the possibility of continuously expanding our experience of love, health, happiness, being valued and creative self-expression. At the end of the day (or at the end of our lives), I believe this is what it means to have aged consciously.