A year ago, I discovered my first grey hairs.
As a wearer of hearing aids since I was 23, I’m familiar with the feeling of the aging process being foisted upon me before I’m truly ready to greet it, and seeing my first grey hairs bright and glaring at the top of my head, something in me felt scared.
Years ago, at a Landmark Forumcourse, I watched a man drop a decade overnight. Whereas on the first day, he was both tormented, and tormenting, pointing out all risks of misery at anyone daring to embrace the possibility of change, he returned on the second morning, (having endured a challenging encounter with the course leader the previous afternoon), absolutely luminous.
His face, previously tight with tension and grey with age, was now soft. His gaze, which only a day before had been downcast and deadened, was now sparkling. It touched me to see this radical change in him. Realising that the purity of the young boy he’d once been, existed in him still, despite all that had happened in his life, some latent energy inside of him awoke. When he returned the next day, he didn’t just look younger, he felt it. He literally leapt from one end of the aging spectrum to the other. No cream could have done that, no work out either; it was the magic in his heart shining through, saying finally, finally you remember…
A Buddhist teacher most dear to me, once said, that our biggest error as humans is that we forget our basic nature, which is goodness. He wasn’t referring to this word in the way most of us probably use it: separating the behaviour we like, from the behaviour we don’t. But instead, was using it to refer to a potential within us that has much broader possibilities connected to it then we even dare dream.
The thing about trusting, or even accepting the reality of this goodness, is that it feels a whole lot like stepping into a void of unknowing, and one that has the power to stir all our most private fears as we do so. But by remembering this goodness, there is just this small potential that everything in our life changes.
But what does this have to do with aging?
Well, if it’s true that for many of us, our twenties passed in a haze of un-presence, then is some of the grief that we feel as we acknowledge signs of no longer being invincible, also an acknowledgement for all that’s passed that we were never even present for, and so never truly lived?
If we find ourselves here today with a feeling of having aged before we’re ready, having sacrificed aspects of ourselves as we sought to please the unpleasables, is now, in this frenzied time of overwork, and overstretching ourselves, not the time to redirect our energy away from the people and situations that endlessly drain and dominate our energies, towards all that we care so deeply about, in such a way that our spirit is enlivened so that we not only a drop a decade, but rediscover a life?
Recently on a weekend workshop in Edinburgh, with Charles Eisenstein, he entreated each of us to clarify what we’re in service to. Because when each of us can really define the thing that we want to serve, everything else falls away. Which means that if we really develop the courage to find out what this is to our own hearts, then should we have the luck to one day find ourselves in our seventies, or eighties, or beyond, no matter the grey hair, for if you look into our eyes you’ll see eyes that sparkle. And considering that there’re three year olds out there, whose eyes have already aged in ways that tear at your heart, to have transformed our relationship to ourselves, with the time we have left, is to retrieve a pulse that has the ability to transform our relationship to our life and the people in it.
Because it’s when we learn to build our capacity to prioritise the people, and the work that we care about passionately, that whatever signs of aging come our way, from the grey hairs, drooping breasts and furrowed brows, that we start being able to look at them with a deep love and sense of affinity, for instead of feeling ashamed by them, or frightened by these reminders of what we are no longer, or weren’t even present to appreciate in the first place, instead we see them as imprints for what we have deeply embraced and cared for. And only then can we really look back at those still to come our way, and say with all the love in our hearts: don’t worry…it’s alright, this aging thing: it’s actually awesome.