Monday, August 24, 2015

Change - Part Deux

Change - Part deux

  1. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone
  2. to transform or convert

Recently, I wrote a blog on the power of change with my daughter in mind as she was in the throws of making changes to her business.  Subsequently, I ran across information about change, in particular with aging, while not appropriate for that setting, was too important not to be shared.

Years ago a friend of mine, who had elderly parents, shared with me something about aging that I have thought about on many occasions.  A group of octogenarians were interviewed and asked what was the single most important factor in aging well.  The consensus was the “ability to accept and adapt to change.”

While I am not personally opposed to change and even think sometimes that I welcome change, the reality is that I like comfortable change, predictable change; the kinds of change that stretches me ever so slightly but still falls within the parameters of my personal comfort zone.  The only thing I find lovely about change is its brevity.  

Whenever change pushes me off the proverbial ledge of safety, I repeat to myself the idea that being accepting will make me a better old person.  It somehow makes the landing feel softer and slightly more tolerable.  Let’s be honest, we can all be smug about our ability to adjust to changes that make us squirm, but how do you prepare for losing a spouse or a family member, losing your health, or your ability to work and function?  These incoming punches escape our periphery.  There is no warning or preparation.

The Serenity Prayer is familiar to most of us; things we CAN change and things that we CAN’T coupled with a plea for wisdom to distinguish between the two.  In a blog at the author outlines two major requirements for successful aging using guidance from this prayer.  Benefits from this idea are for young and old alike.  Just like most things, you don’t wake up and change a lifetime of thinking overnight.  The time to prepare is everybody’s present.  Our preparation comes through practice with smaller storms if we are to survive the tsunami. 

The first requirement we must accept is, like it or not, we are all aging.  Whether in our twenties or sixties, we are all headed in the same direction with no possibility of reversal.  Medical procedures, injections, plastic surgery are really nothing more than temporary fixes and illusions.  Death lurks in the undetectable shadows and recesses of mortality and often claims those unready to yield.  Death is indiscriminate and yet, can be as compassionate and kind as it is harsh.  This is our mortal reality and there are no guarantees for any of us. 

Just last week I witnessed a recovery team trying to locate the body of a twenty year old male who had jumped into a lake to retrieve a piece of clothing that had blown overboard and was overcome by the cold water and drowned.  One minute having a great time on a beautiful mountain lake with friends and the next gone.

It would be silly for us to approach each day focusing on our inevitable death.  However, we can decide now to focus on living and capitalizing on each new day letting go of things that we cannot change.  

Our society seems driven by middle aged people who are having a difficult time letting go of their youth.  Billions of dollars are spent on such endeavors.  Fighting effects of aging is such a personal battle for everyone and one that I wrestle with myself.  However, research shows that the more we fear aging, the more difficult it can be. 

Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D., a holistic physician directing the Omega Institute offers tremendous insight into the downfall of shunning our own mortality.  “In our denial of death and the aging of the body, we have rejected the wisdom of the aged, and in doing so have robbed old age of its meaning and youth of its direction.  We pretend that old age can be turned into a kind of endless middle age, thereby giving young people a false road map to the future one that does not show them how to plan for their whole life, gain insight into themselves, or to develop spiritually.”  

Another series of studies conducted by Ellen Langer, Ph.D. of Harvard and Judith Rodin Ph.D. of University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that it is our own dread of memory loss (one of the tell-tale signs of aging) that actually brings that fate upon us.  The powerful lesson to be learned from their research is that “Fear of aging is the single most powerful agent creating exactly what we fear.” 

The second requirement for aging well is to develop a sense of purpose and a conscientious approach to growing older.  

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and 
strength.” -  Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan who wrote the book, Fountain of Youth, suggests that as “long as we lock ourselves into an obsession with the youth culture, we can only develop age rage and dehumanize ourselves.  Those who give up their denial of age, who age consciously, grow and become aware of new capacities they develop while aging…They become more authentically themselves.”

“It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old.”  
- Jules Renard

Did you know that Laura Ingalls Wilder did not publish her first book until the age of 64? or that Nelson Mandella was elected at the age of 76 in the first election open to all races in his country?  Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 69.  Peter Mark Roget published the Roget Thesaurus at the age of 73 and oversaw every update until he was 90 years of age.

Ghandi led the Salt March walking 200 miles with a group of followers while weighing a mere 99 lbs. at the age of 61.  His march was a central tenant of the fight for Indian independence.  Doris Haddock walked 3,200 miles between Washington D.C. and Los Angeles  to raise awareness for campaign finance reform at the age of 89.  Five years later she successfully gained a seat in the U.S. Senate.

The blog goes on to suggest that success in life comes in accepting the paradox that when we embrace life “in the moment,” we open a new doorway towards positive change.  When truly accepting change we approach life with a sense of relaxation allowing us to avoid the “fight or flight” mode resulting in impulsive behavior.  Relaxation brings with it an ability to be reflective, thoughtful and deliberate.

In both the successful aging suggestions above and in the Serenity Prayer, there is a place for balance and wisdom.  Balance is making conscientious choices based on priorities and circumstances, wisdom in knowing the battles that are worth fighting in our health and happiness.

Regardless of the fact that in my own sense of denial, I shred my AARP card within minutes of it arriving in the mail, there is an excerpt from Dr. Bill Thomas printed in the 2012 edition of “The Journal” from AARP International that puts this all in perspective. 
“Although it can seem hard to believe at first, it is within our power to look into a mirror, study what we see there, and acknowledge, without reservation, that we are no longer young.  We can learn to read the story of our lives as it has been written around our eyes and mouth and cross our foreheads and cheeks.  We can begin to reinterpret the changes as signs of important signifiers of our unique journey through life.” 

“Persistently and deliberately misinterpreted as mere decline, elderhood is actually the rich reward that goes to those who manage to outgrow the frenzied jangle of adulthood and enter voluntarily into a new and much more soulful way of being.” - Bill Thomas

An attitude shift does not happen overnight.  One cannot merely decide tomorrow that they will trade in attitudes of fear and resistance for an immediate ability to embrace change with open arms.  Those course corrections take time and the earlier we decide to embrace change the better.  The time is NOW.

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