A commercial I saw yesterday had a guy saying “I know sixty is the new forty” then going on about how young he felt inside. What bothers me about this is the clear underlying assumption that younger is better. I found myself thinking back to a conversation with friends when I was a young adult where we speculated about the age we felt we were inside. Most were saying younger or a little older, but I found myself saying sixty. Maybe I’d always felt older inside but there was also the feeling that it would take me a long time to do what I wanted to do (not that I had any idea of what that was). I’d read that philosophers didn’t come of age until their sixties, so that seeded the belief that some aspirations took longer than others. My grandfather was my favorite person throughout my youth, and age seemed to be a part of the radiant equanimity I admired so much in him. Gaining in years led to the achievement of a state of mind and approach to living that couldn’t be rushed.
The claim to feeling young is a tacit agreement that young is better. I feel energetic, excited about life and more full of love than I ever was when young. Not only was young not better, young was being lost in the woods. It puts unfair pressure on young people who are supposed to be having the “best years of their lives” before they “waste their youth”. In such a complicated world, we might expect that the necessary skills for living would take time to acquire.
Our culture creates fear of age with terminology of loss as a marketing tool. When people are convinced that aging means losing something, their attention is focused on what will give it back. It’s a strategy that debilitates people’s attention to the actuality of their present life and the new experiences and meaning of the moment. Running after youth is a form of regression, not growth. The cultural view of aging focuses on what’s lost, as though the natural fading of some faculties is something to be fought rather than something that can be learned from and understood in an entirely new way. To me the losses are minor compared to the gains. I look at aging as a process of accumulation. Everything we’ve been is still there and available to us as past experience. Like the rings on a tree record the history of the tree, and the tree grows wider and stronger and taller, our memories and accumulated knowledge make us stronger, enable us to rise, to gain perspective through our increased experience. This helps me feels more comfortable and at ease in the world. I’ve increased my “clearing is the forest” in the words of Joseph Chilton Pierce and understand myself more as active patterns in the world than as material being.
So today I come of age. Maybe I’m a real late bloomer, but it’s taken me this long to begin to synthesize what I’ve learned into some coherent ideas, and twenty years of meditation to calm the tangle of anxiety that characterized my youth. I’m excited about the possibilities I’ve prepared for myself and rejoice to see my grandfather’s attitude toward life coming into reach. I’m happier and more engaged than I’ve ever been. What could be better than to be here now?