What if you are six go­ing on sixty-four?

Business Bhutan - - Editoria - LEWIS RICH­MOND Lewis Rich­mond is a colum­nist for Times of In­dia. [Cour­tesy: ToI]

We need to find a way for us, both men and women, to move be­neath the sur­face of think­ing about age­ing to the “sub­ter­ranean river” of emo­tion and in­tu­ition where the deeper changes and trans­for­ma­tions of grow­ing older ac­tu­ally hap­pen. The name of the in­quiry which I call, ‘Ev­ery Breath, New Chances’ points out that while we may imag­ine that our wak­ing self is a fixed, static en­tity, in re­al­ity we are chang­ing all the time. Ev­ery breath is a chance to rein­vent our­selves anew. This re­newal is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when we con­sider our own age­ing process, which seems to be a fixed, ir­rev­o­ca­ble fact about our­selves that we can­not fun­da­men­tally change. With each new birth­day we think, ‘OK, I’m 64 now, next year I’ll be 65. That’s just how it is.’

But the thought ‘I am 64’ (or what­ever age you are) is just a con­struct, a me­chan­i­cal count­ing of birth­days. In truth there are many ‘ages’ si­mul­ta­ne­ously alive within you. There is some as­pect of you that is six years old, for ex­am­ple, when­ever a mem­ory from that time sur­faces with all of its as­so­ci­ated im­ages and feel­ings. There is a deeply un­con­scious as­pect of you that hov­ers over the mo­ment of your death, in the sense that we all have, all the time, some level of aware­ness that one day we will die. Then there is your present-day age, which can fluc­tu­ate hour by hour, day by day, de­pend­ing on how you feel, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally.

For ex­am­ple, when you fall ill with the cold or flu, you are bedrid­den and have no en­ergy. You lan­guish in bed, bored, prob­a­bly de­pressed, and maybe a lit­tle anx­ious. There is the ir­ra­tional thought, ‘Sup­pose I never get bet­ter?’ When I was 52, I was struck down by a life-threat­en­ing brain in­fec­tion and af­ter emerg­ing from coma spent two months bedrid­den in a re­hab hos­pi­tal. I some­times re­fer to that time as the time I ‘felt like I was 90 years old’.

‘Ev­ery Breath, New Chances’ is a method to dive be­neath these sur­face in­ti­ma­tions of age­ing. It be­gins by sit­ting qui­etly some­where where you can be undis­tracted. It helps not to visit any ‘screens’ – your lap­top, iPad, smart­phone, or sim­i­lar de­vice – for an hour be­fore. Once you have cleared your mind of all dis­trac­tions, bring a sin­gle word to mind – for ex­am­ple, the word ‘age­ing’. Let that word float lightly in con­scious­ness, like a buoy on wa­ter. You can re­peat the word silently ever so of­ten. It may help to add an image to the word. It could be an image that is fa­mil­iar to you, like see­ing your gray­ing hair in the mir­ror – any image that con­veys ‘age­ing’ to you. Let the word ‘age­ing’ and the image fade in and out of your at­ten­tion as other thoughts come and go. Note what other words or im­ages come into your mind.

Age­ing is partly per­sonal, and partly ar­che­typal or transper­sonal. What this means, sim­ply put, is that ev­ery crea­ture, ev­ery form of life, ev­ery hu­man be­ing ages; it is a uni­ver­sal process. But each of us has our own way of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that process. The ‘Ev­ery Breath, New Chances’ con­tem­pla­tive in­quiry in­vokes in­tu­ition as a way to con­nect di­rectly with both the per­sonal and transper­sonal as­pects of age­ing.

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