Age Is Just A Number
There are two kinds of people: those who have more time behind them than ahead of them, and those who have more time ahead of them than behind them. The supposedly traditional view of the former is that they keep looking at where they’ve been as “better than now” and certainly superior to what’s ahead; the latter delight in today but get even more excited about tomorrow.
Traditional for the older folks, however, is not best in this case. It’s not even as valuable as the younger view. Those who live happiest (regardless of where they are on the more-or-less scale) are far and away the ones who revel in the moment and look forward to what’s ahead. Life is a constant state of Spiritual Awakening to them. In other words, age is just a number, and has less to do with time passages and more to do with attitude. Those who dispense with the traditional view may not know what the future holds, but they’re open to possibilities.
There’s a story of two petty thieves who were condemned to death by King Louis XIV. One of the men convinced the King that in a year they could teach his favorite horse, Monsieur, to talk. The King, fascinated, set them up with food, housing, and servants, and told them they had one year to produce their miracle, or they’d be hanged, drawn and quartered (a particularly grisly sentence).
When they were settled in their new apartments, the more timid fellow of the two cried, “Jacques! Are you crazy? What you promised is impossible — that horse will do nothing but neigh. We’ll die horribly!” And he started to sob in the corner.
Jacques, his mouth full of bread and cheese, ambled over and slapped Philippe on the back. “Don’t be downcast, my old friend. Who knows? A year is a long time. In a year, you may die. Or I may die. Or King Louis may die.
“Or the horse may talk.”
Too many of us are like poor Jacques. We look ahead to the future full of apprehension. Perhaps we’re young and healthy now, but how will we be when we’re old? Will we be ill? Poor? Abandoned? Will our children want to take care of us – and if we have no children, then will anybody care at all what happens to us?
Yes, we have a job today – but will it last? What if we’re laid off? Are we too old to hire? Too young? Too much education – the wrong kind – or not enough? And when we retire, will there be Social Security and Medicare or will they both be bankrupt?
We turn on the news. Every story is more foreboding than the last. Will we live to see our children grow up? What kind of a world will they inherit? Will there be a civilization left, or will we all die from terrorist attacks and global warming before our truly appointed time? And what about 2012 in the bargain? Isn’t —
Right there. Right now.
This is not the “Be Here Now” mantra that Eckhart Tolle has made so popular. Nor are we going to get into the idea of “time is an illusion.”
This is about not just Being, but Reveling in the present moment.
Age is just a number. No matter how young or old you are, if you are reading this blog, you have a life history. In the years past, you have learned much about yourself. You’ve gathered what works for you and what doesn’t. You’ve probably been through some tough events and discovered what you’re made of. You’ve observed the world and you know what you like and what you don’t. You’ve built and packed an incredible toolbox that is uniquely yours.
Who says you can’t adore what you’ve got while wanting to fill it with more?
When we revel in this moment, when we fully appreciate all we’ve been through, we honor our experiences and use them to make this moment better. If the past has been difficult, we’ve found out how in this moment we can handle stress, crisis, instant decision-making and self-preservation. If the past has been tranquil, we’ve had the chance to build on our talents and graces to use in this moment in a different but no less useful way.
In this moment lies the golden road. The moment in which you stand now, if you will examine it, is brimming with possibilities, direction, lessons and advantages. And if you want your future to be a good one, you start here and now.
Let’s take an example: losing a job. Whether it’s through a layoff, a change in personnel, or just plain getting fired, it can raise all kinds of “what will the future bring?” feelings, some of which can be downright intimidating. Try looking in this moment in your toolbox for another take. How about: you have just been handed a ticket to Opportunity? It may entail simplifying your life, deciding to move, retraining in a whole new field. But you now have that choice, because you’re thinking in this moment, not panicking about future ones. The more you bring your “life vision” into the present place in which you stand, the faster the opportunities will appear. Honestly examine what it is you want to do with your life. Has there been a home business you have wanted to try? Were you truly unhappy in that job, but afraid to look for something else because of your “comfort zone”? Is there any kind of exciting potential that you were passing up because this position precluded it in some way?
You can apply this in any situation. Whether you must end a friendship, endure a fender-bender and the ensuing nuisance-details, permanently change your diet because of illness or allergy, even lose your possessions in a fire – if you look carefully and stand fully in this moment, something positive is able to come into your life because of the change in your perspective.
This week make it a point to find out how people deal in the moment with the future. Who believes that age is just a number? How do they perceive their future? Do they own it? Think they can’t change it? When you ask them to envision it, what kinds of words (especially adjectives) do they use? Ask them for examples where the future specifically worked for them –or didn’t – based on how they viewed what was coming.
Find writings about the future from the past. It can be the golden age of science fiction in the 1940s and 1950s, it can be articles from Scientific American, it can be books on early aviation or the 1939 World’s Fair. You might even want to go to the other end of the spectrum for a balanced view, and read some of the apocalyptic, end-of-days information on the web as well. Remember that we are not judging good or bad here – we’re being Martians: objective, detached observers.
Do a little websurfing. Does the future look different according to what country’s news and views you find? How does the futureview change as notions on religion, politics, economics or philosophy change? Do the elders of a particular culture consistently have a particular viewpoint on how to live, regardless of the times? And in all of these writings, study the portraits. How do people’s faces reflect their world views?
Lastly, examine your own futureview, with a direct line observation to your own physical wellbeing. Which thoughts bring you a feeling of ease? Of power? Of hopelessness? Of excitement? Of anger? How have you viewed and moved forward to your own future in the past? Did things work out as you expected, better or worse?
Age is just a number.
The point of this exercise – indeed, this essay – is to remind you, in the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Conversely, we have met our saviors as well – and they, too, are in the mirror. Whether or not we choose to envision a happy and positive future or one with nothing but chaos and survivalist epics, we’re more than likely to get what we think we’ll get. When we believe that we are powerless to control the future, whether ours or anyone else’s, we can give up, feed into our fears, and paralyze ourselves. When, instead, we realize that we are our own future – that in this moment we can choose to react, to believe, and to move in the direction we want, rather than what we don’t want – then who needs a time machine? We build our own futures one thread, one delight, one hope, one self-belief, one change at a time. And when we choose to take this precious moment – which is unique, delicious, and will never come again – and revel in it, using it to the advantage of our present and future selves, then we maintain the exuberance of the eternally young, who always believe that something’s around the corner worth discovering.
I may age – but I will never, ever “get old.” I intend to celebrate my wisdom, experience and all the good things that come from being around for decades, and still make them work with having a young soul. And that’s a future to look forward to.