Here are some thoughts I had:
REFLECTING ON MY LIFE
As I turned 50 years old I thought a lot on my life. I seem to do this ever time I go into a new decade. I did this when I turned 30 and 40 as well, for example. Basically, what I do is reflect on my past life and what I feel about it. I think of what I’ve done, if I have lived the way I want, if I am on the correct path in life, and so forth. Typically, my general conclusion seems to be: “I played the cards that were dealt me”. To put it another way, “I made do with what I had.” What this is more or less is saying is that I played along with the conditions that life has given me. In addition, I tried to play the conditions to my favor the best I could at the time, or at least as much as I was able to, or to the best of my understanding at the time. Naturally, looking back on things, I can see that there were times I should of done this or that or that I may of done things stupidly. I feel, though, that this is the normal condition of life. Everyone plays that part whether they think they do or not. My life has shown that all we can do is play the conditions that life give us . . . we don’t really have that much control and we never have as much as we think we do. Life deals the cards and we play it.
As with most people, the conditions of life did not give me anything dramatic. There wasn’t anything particularly bad and there wasn’t anything particularly good. It is like an even mixture of everything and nothing was particularly extreme. In this way, life was an “even temper”, perhaps even monotonous. Again, I think that this is typical for most people.
In this way, I experienced what most people experience and reacted similarly to how other people reacted. In other words, my life was not a whole lot of different than other peoples . . . my life has been rather “normal”.
But the age “50” has this particular image or quality to me. When I turned 50 I thought I would be different than I am now. I guess I thought I’d be “older” (actually, I feel about 30). I thought I would be gray haired with a lot of physical impairments, but I’m not that way (though some has appeared but not that much). All this made me think a lot on what “50” means.
One thing that I said is that “50” means a new phase of my life has begun: I am approaching old age. That is to say, youth is waning . . . it is passing by. Because of this, there is now a sense of something new, a new phase, a new season, and a new world. It seems, to me, that I am on the threshold of a new condition of life. I feel, in a way, as if I am walking into a foreign country for the first time not knowing what to expect. In this way, there is a sense of a change in who and what I am. “50” means more than a change in ones physical state (that is, getting old) but a change in ones self.
I seem to think that a big part of “getting old” is a realizing, whether conscious or not, of a number of things, such as:
- The failure of “thought-created conceptions”. This refers to the awareness that our ideas, opinions, beliefs, etc. (the “thought-created conceptions”) are really not as important as they seem. In fact, in many ways, they are an illusion. We begin to discover, from experience, that what we think is great is not the great thing we thought it was. In addition, what we thought was “right” is not as right as we thought. In addition, what we think is going on isn’t as important as it seems. Because of this, we often lose an interest in the “affairs of the world”. We find that “having an opinion” isn’t that big of a deal either. All in all, all these conceptions we have of the world, how it works, what’s right, and such, actually slowly fade in importance.
- The failure of experiences. We find that things, such as having fun and seeking experiences, is not as important as we thought. There is generally a lessening of a desire to seek experiences and doing things. In this way, there is a tendency to just “want to sit” or do simple things, like walking or gardening. All the fun, experiences, and “doing stuff” we craved in our youth isn’t that important anymore.
What these reflect, in my opinion, is a growing sense of a “constant” in life that appears in “old age”. Because of this, something like a new awareness appears, what I jokingly called “the great truth of life”. This is the awareness of the fact that life is actually “mundane” and “everyday”, with a great “sameness”, and that this is the base and foundation of life. Everything else is actually minor or insignificant or “just another thing”. In fact, one could say that it becomes apparent as one gets older that a lot of life is actually nothing but”fluff” and, because of this, it is often illusionary to the point of being empty and meaningless. In some respects, one could say that in youth we are deceived by all this “fluff” and that the discovery of this deception is, in a way, a trait of “old age”.
“THE GREAT TRUTH OF LIFE”
“The great truth of life” creates a sense of a “continuous everydayness” in life. This sense, naturally, is not all that glamorous and is full of “sameness”, which makes “old age” seem “draby” and “dull” to many people, especially the young. It also makes it hard for older people to accept old age. In fact, “the great truth of life” is seldom overtly recognized, it seems to me. For most people it remains an unconscious sense that remains unconscious. Many people, though, will refer to it from time to time. They’ll say things like “I’ve found it really doesn’t matter what you think is going on”, or “Its best to not get too involved in things”, or “You go out and play soccer, I’ll just sit and watch”, and so on. It reveals a “movement to sameness”, deep down, but its not overtly acknowledged.
Another common form of the awareness of “continuous everydayness” is in the statement that they are “tired”. In many ways, this feeling of being “tired” is more like saying “all those things I took so much stock in during my youth aren’t that interesting to me anymore . . . but I won’t admit that to myself”. In this way, a part of them wants to believe in the qualities of youth but another part of them has moved away from it. This creates something like a tug-of-war in their mind and eventually a sense of being “tired”. Another way to express this, perhaps, is that they are “tired of trying to be young”.
The awareness of “the great truth of life” also causes a great reorientation of ones perspective, stance, attitude, motives, and such toward life. As a result, a person tends to look at life more differently. This makes a person interpret things differently, see things differently, remember things differently, and have different priorities. This can make people in “old age” seem weird, bizarre, out-of-touch, and so on. To the young, this may make the older people seem to not be “with it”, unreliable, or even stupid. My own experience is that many older people are usually “with it” but just in a different way, looking at things from a totally different angle. In fact, I’ve learned, from experience, that you listen to older people and what they have to say . . . they generally reveal more insightful things than the young could ever even imagine.
One effect of this great reorientation to life is that there is a tendency for certain things to take place, such as:
- Things are remembered differently. When one gets older a person has seen and experience many things. As a result, there develops a “monotony” in things and experiences . . . they almost blur together. Because of this, its not uncommon for things to be “overlooked” more easily. For example, a person may see something and then forget what they saw just moments before!
- As I said above, ideas and thoughts tend to lose their value. Because of this, a person is less “thought motivated” than in youth which causes a devaluation in the importance of thought and its effects. For example, a person may think “I need to go into the other room and get a pencil” but when they go into the room they can’t remember why they went in the room!
Things, such as these, tend to cause what appears as a “memory loss”. Both of these I have experienced quite a few times even to the point that I wondered if I was suffering memory loss. I don’t believe I am. I felt it was a change in reorientation in life as a result of getting older which is common with older people. I see it all the time in older people who have excellent memories.
THE ILLUSION OF YOUTH
As I said above, one could say that “the great truth of life” refers to the discovery of the illusion of youth. This is not to say that youth is all an illusion or deception. Initially, it has great value and worth, such as these things:
- Youth takes us above life and transcends life.
- Youth gives us value and meaning in things.
- Youth places us in the world.
It is through these things that youth as if “sucks us in”. This is because “youth is what implants us in the world”. This is because youth is something that must be “discovered”. In this way, youth often has a great exciting quality to it. It becomes an avenue of the discovery of our selves and the discovery of the world. This is a great event in our life and often tends to have great impact on us as people. In fact, its often so impactful that people won’t let it go.
But, as time goes on, these qualities of youth fade and lose their importance. This is because, once we become “implanted in the world”, the qualities of youth lose their value and importance in life. As a result, youth ends and a new phase begins, which is “old age”.
But there seems a transition phase from youth to “old age”. This is an age where the youthful qualities are fading but their remembrance still has an impact on us. As a result, we tend to maintain it and want to keep it going. Deep down, though, their value is ending. This “maintaining the qualities of youth when the youthful qualities are fading” is the phase when youth becomes and illusion and a deception. In this way, we could say that there are three phases from youth to “old age”:
- Youth as having meaning to us – it is valuable and necessary, it “implants us in the world”.
- Youth as losing importance but its maintained – youth slowly becomes a deception and illusion.
- “Old age”, when we start to let go the illusions of youth – we begin to discover “the great truth of life” and that life actually rests on “everydayness”.
What all this shows is that youth and “the great truth of life” of “old age” are in opposition and contradict one another. In this way, they are actually incompatible. Its really no wonder that there is often great conflict between youth and “old age” and why it is often hard for some people to get old.
REACTING TO “THE GREAT TRUTH OF LIFE”
This sense of “the great truth of life” seems to naturally appear in people but it gets many different reactions such as:
- They deny it, which generally is a denial of aging, and they often have great problems as a result.
- They fight it, generally by trying to stay young or by being “active”.
- They ignore it, and will often refer to it, but they don’t get to the point that they are really aware of it.
- They become aware of it and follow its lead.
It seem to me that the awareness, acknowledgement, and acceptance of “the great truth of life” is critical in healthy aging and in growing old. To not accept it makes a person “stuck in the illusion of youth”, unable to move on in life as a person. This, from my observation, actually puts great stress on a person, makes them age quicker, and turns them into “grumpy old people”.
THE IMPORTANCE OF “THE GREAT TRUTH OF LIFE”
“The great truth of life” is an awareness of the “everydayness” of life. This is critical in life as “everydayness” is the base of life, the foundation. Everything is built upon this truth. All that one does, think, believe, and do is based on “everydayness”. One could compare it to the earth which is a continuous constant. Everything else, such as youth, experiences, the “thought-created conceptions”, and such, are all built upon it . . . they are like the tree’s and animals that come and go. Its almost as if, when we’re young we as if “live” in the area above the earth in the sky with the birds. As we age we as if slowly “sink” closer to the earth. We first move away from the birds and become closer to the squirrels and the animals. And then, in “old age”, we become close to the earth which is the “great constant”. Another way to look at it is that “the great truth of life” refers to the constant of life. The youthful qualities refers to the transitory qualities of life. In this way, life is actually a movement from transitory to constant.
Interestingly, much of the comparison of old age and youth display this contrary quality. This is reflected in a saying I have often said:
“In youth one learns . . . in old age one unlearns.”
This shows how youth is primarily a learning of things, about the world and about ones self. We are as if “absorbing” everything in youth. But, in “old age”, the opposite happens . . . we unlearn things. In this way, its as if we are abandoning all the unneeded things we’ve learned in our youth. We forget things, don’t care about things, and so on. In this way, “old age” is like an “about face” from youth.
THE DREAM ON MY 50TH BIRTHDAY AND ITS INTERPRETATION
The night after I turned 50 I had an interesting dream:
“I went to an old neglected house. I was with several other people. We went in and found it abandoned, a mess, and in shambles. I went downstairs and saw a mess. I noticed some thing, a creature of some sort, that seemed to be crawling along the floor. It scared me. I noticed that it walked on four legs and that it had huge cloth bandages around its snout and behind its eyes, around its head. It seemed to be a rhinoceros. It was as if the horns and ears had been cut off. I was very frightened and asked one of the person upstairs, who I was with, to hand me my rifle. As I did this someone’s dog came down and started to sniff the creature. I felt that if this dog doesn’t do anything it can’t be a dangerous animal. Eventually, the dog didn’t do anything, so I assumed the creature is not dangerous and went about looking around the basement. I found myself starting to clean up the place but thought it was weird that I was the only one doing it.”
The next day I reflected on this dream. I said that the basement is an aspect of myself that is neglected and forgotten. It refers to “old age” that one neglects and forgets in ones youth (one could say its neglected because “old age” isn’t considered in ones youth). The rhinoceros seems to come from the “rhino” character which is seen in the comics of Spider Man. I do not anything about the character but a relative of mine said that the way it was portrayed in one of the superhero movies was incorrect . . . they showed the “rhino” as a mechanical suit worn by a man which, he said, is not the case. Actually, I do not know if this is true or not and it is this, really, that is the meaning of the rhinoceros: it refers to something in which I do not know its origins and don’t know anything about it. In this way, the rhinoceros is really a reference to an “old self” which I know nothing about. This “old self” was “damaged” and neglected by the ideas of youth (much like the neglected house). It has been so neglected that it has had significant parts of it removed, such as its horn which, in a way, is what makes the rhinoceros what it is and gives it its frightening quality. In this way, I said that the rhinoceros, with its horn especially, is a reference to a power that resides in the “old self”. In other words, there’s a power in old age that is only found in a self that old age creates, the “old self”. My starting to clean up the basement shows that I have begun to search for my “old self” and its power. My finding that I’m the only one doing it shows that this is going to be a solitary endeavor. My initial fear of the creature shows that there is a fear of old age and what it is . . . it scares me, which it does. The dog sniffing the creature suggests a need to “search” for this “old self”. In this way, the dream is as if saying: “There is an aspect of ones self that has been neglected but in which one needs to seek. It is another self that old ages creates. It may be frightening at first but have patience and search and seek it out . . . it must be discovered in order to find its power. If one does not find this power one will suffer a ‘death’ in old age.” This ‘death’, it seems to me, is a hindering of ones growth and self by perpetually trying to remain in the youthful self. In many respects, this ‘death’ is “getting old”.
After I said all this I began to speak that a new quest has begun . . . the hunt for the rhinoceros, the “old self”. I can feel this as something that needs to be search for and found. In other words, “old age” requires a discovery of a new self that one has within: the “old self“. This need to discover a new self, associated with age, isn’t new. After all, isn’t this what we did when we were young? When we reach adolescence, in particular, we are seeking to find who we are and what we are. What we found, at that time, is the “young self”. Much of our youth is spent in finding this “young self” . . . it takes decades. It is the success of this hunt in our youth that makes one “live” and find “fulfillment” which is what makes youth so wonderful. I felt that this is true of old age as well, that there is a time when the “young self” needs to be replaced by a new self. The problem is that most people tend to think that there is only one self, the “young self”, and that this persists through ones whole life. As a result, there is no seeking of the “old self”.
I felt that there are some things associated with this question of the “old self”. This includes thins such as:
- That “old age” is not a continuation of the “young self”.
- That “old age” is a discovering of a different self, an “old self”.
- That the “young self” must die in order for the “old self” to be discovered and live.
- That the “old self” goes in a different direction, often opposite, of the “young self”.
In other words, it seems to suggest that, in older age, our “youthfulness” is as if shed like an old skin so that a new skin can appear. If one does not do this then one remains in a “wore out young self”.
And so, on the eve of moving into old age, I can feel that a new quest has begun for me, like the quest for the holy grail, a seeking of life, a new life, and in a new way. Interestingly, the way in which youth and “old age” is opposed to each other may be why its so important to discover the “old self”. Its like a “new way” or “new person” that is oriented to a new condition and reality of life. Its like a new phase, a new direction, which requires an abandoning of the way one was.
I seem to feel that if I do not find the rhinoceros, or the “old self”, I will slowly become an old bent over man who feels alienated and detached from life, as if life has left me by. I will age and my body will not work as well. I will become grumpier and angrier as I get old. In other words, I seem to think that the discovery of the “old self” is critical for a persons health, both physically and mentally.
INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE QUALITIES OF THE “OLD SELF”
I do not know what the “old self” is yet (as I’m not that old) but I seem to see some qualities, such as:
An awareness of ones limitations
In youth one is discovering and finding what they can do, and we always find that we can do things we didn’t know we can do. In this way, youth often has a quality of a “surprise” of our abilities. In old age, this is often not the case. Instead, we have a growing awareness (or should be) of our limitations and must modify our lives to fit it. For example, we become aware of our physical endurance, what type of stress we can endure, what we are not good at, etc. As a result, in old age we change our lives around our limitations. The more we do this, the better our life will be. In this way, we could say that “in youth we discover our capabilities . . . in old age we live around our limitations”.
I seem to think that an older person should not seek “youth”, which is commonly done. Instead, a person should try to become more childlike. This makes a point that there is a difference between youth and being childlike.
“Youth”, to me, is associated with things like:
- Sexuality. To me, there is a close association between “youth” and sexuality.
- A strong sense of being-in-the-world. A big part of the power of “youth” is in this placement of ones self in the world, actively participating in the affairs of the world, and being a part of it.
These qualities give “youth” its “oomph” and power, making it very influential in our lives.
Childlike qualities, though, do not reflect these. One could say that it predates them. In this way, “youth” is definitely not the same as being childlike. To be childlike is really a reference to the “spirit of innocence” a person had when they were a child of 7 or thereabouts. It does not mean becoming like a child or acting like a child.
The power of being childlike is that it has a “spirit of innocence” which has, within it, an “inner life”. This “inner life” hits deep into ones self, and in ones past. Its a source of life that lives with us all our life and is always there. It seems that, as the power of youth fades in old age, its life fades. If a person relies on the life found in youth, which is dying in old age, one also dies within . . . and one really grows old. The “spirit of innocence”, on the other hand, has been within us all our life, even though we may of forgotten it, and hits deep within us. As a result, one of the best sources of life, in old age, originates from this “spirit of innocence” that is found in being childlike.
I would say that most of the happier older people I see have this childlike “spirit of innocence” quality. Many even have a quality of being “children” though they do not act like it. It seems to have an invigorating, enlivening, and stimulating quality. Because of this, it seems that it would be good to develop this quality.
Finding joy in “sameness”
It seems, to me, that a lot of “old age” is associated with “sameness”, as I said above. Because of this, finding a joy in this “sameness” is critical for a joy in old age. Many older people “find themselves in sameness” and remain as if disoriented in it. Other people will try to continue the activity of youth (Interestingly, many people have this image of retirement as a continuation of the years of youth . . . they will fish, golf, travel, etc. In short, they think they will be active like in youth). But finding a joy in “sameness” is much harder, perhaps one of the harder aspects of old age. My observation, though, is that people who are more content in “sameness” and “don’t need to do this or that” tend to be happier and more fulfilled in old age.
As I was reflecting on the themes of this article I was surprised that I had referred to some of these themes before, in previous articles, such as:
Copyright by Mike Michelsen