AGEING WITHOUT FEAR
For a New Lease of Life
Retirement and later life can be tough, but it can also be the start of a great, personal adventure. It’s how we respond to the challenges of growing older that determines whether we age with joy and wonderment or with fear and dread. There will inevitably be loss and sadness in later life but with some simple techniques we can continue to develop a ‘greater self’ no matter what our age.
A excerpt from a draft manuscript
The common perception of later life is that it is populated with sad and lonely people. Paul McCartney’s song, Eleanor Rigby, was written in 1966 and it captures one of our deepest fears. “Father McKenzie darning his socks in the night, when there’s nobody there” conjures up the isolation and hopelessness that is often associated with later life.
Many of the baby-boomers who sang along to that chorus all those decades ago are now approaching later life themselves. Most of us dread the thought of such a tragic ending to life. We see older people struggling and wonder what it must be like to be them. What will it be like for me? In the face of old age, many people feel that there is nothing they can do. They feel helpless, so avoid thinking about it.
If you believe that ageing is about diminishment and suffering, then there is a strong chance that you will not age well. But what if there was another story? What if you could change the belief? Of course, it’s natural to have concerns about growing older especially in our 50s, 60s and 70s. But we are not powerless. Far from it. Some people come into their own as they age, others become depressed. Take the story of Ann and Charlotte, for example;
CHARLOTTE & ANN'S EXPERIENCE
The two sisters met at restaurant on the South Bank overlooking the Thames. They were celebrating Ann’s 60th. birthday. Just the two of them. There were kisses, hugs and a bottle of bubbly. Ann said she couldn’t believe she was sixty. It seemed like only yesterday they were still at school. Ann was a year younger than Charlotte, though the sisters could have been twins. They lived in different towns, but they phoned each other regularly. They would meet for lunch every month or so, but that sixtieth birthday celebration overlooking the sunlit Thames was special for both of them.
Ten years later Charlotte was keen to celebrate Ann’s 70th. birthday at the restaurant again, but Ann didn’t want to travel to London. Since her retirement, Ann had become less communicative. Eventually, Charlotte managed to drag her sister out for a meal. Even before they ordered, Ann started complaining. She didn’t like eating out. She hated getting old and she certainly didn’t want to celebrate her age. After a few glasses of wine, Ann admitted that she resented the way her sister’s life was flourishing since her retirement and she hated how her own life seemed to be diminishing.
Some people like Ann are overwhelmed by the emotional turmoil that change in later life can create. A few, like Charlotte, experience an inner freedom as they grow older. Within the same family there can be a stark contrast between how people respond to the challenges of growing older. This book is about how you can flourish as you grow older.
Retirement from work is just one of many changes that can affect us deeply in the second half of life. The loss of family or friends, the loss of physical or mental capacity, the menopause or living in an ‘empty nest’ can all cause emotional distress. They can be deeply challenging to your sense of self and what you have to offer to the world. Many lose their self-confidence as they age. Others find a new way forward.
This book is designed to help you make a conscious choice about how you want to be now and in later life. The chapters take you through three stages of life development – from the dependent child, to the limited world of the independent adult and then, towards the freedom of the inter-dependent, mature adult. It’s a re-framing of the ageing journey and an invitation for you to create clarity about what you want now and in the future.
Ageing (Not So) Well
In a society that prioritises wealth, fitness and appearances, we struggle with ageing. Despite millions spent on research and the best efforts of numerous charities, the ageing problem looms larger than ever. The health and care services are overwhelmed. There’s an epidemic of loneliness and for many the future looks increasingly bleak. So, how is it possible to age without fear?
When people are asked what they want in later life, they often responded with a negative. I don’t want to feel any pain. I don’t want to be incapacitated. I don’t want to be lonely. Such responses are based on fear which is understandable but if ageing well is about minimising the emotional and physical pain of growing older, you might say that someone in a coma is ageing very well indeed!!
Some people say you need to be wealthy to age well. But money and power often breed a hunger for more of the same. Rich people often dread the thought of having to part with their money and power. King Lear, for example, had everything … accept the wisdom to come to terms with his ageing. Shakespeare’s tragedy is as relevant today as it was four hundred years ago. In the face of death, money, power and social standing mean nothing.
Other people said that in retirement they wanted ‘more’ of something. More holidays. More comfort. More security. To acquire more. To achieve more. Many people around retirement age just wanted more time to stay looking and feeling young for as long as possible. While looking gorgeous and drinking cocktails on the beach might be the dream for some, it is not really a sustainable reality for most of us in later life!
Several academic research papers point to a sense of purpose as being a key to wellbeing in later life. A sense of purpose implies that there is stuff to be done - learn new skills, plan a trip, decorate the house. Any of these activities might be said to give us a sense of purpose. Doctors, gerontologists, physiotherapists all encourage us to keep active. Use it or lose it they say. Whatever it is you can do, do it. Just keep busy for as long as you can. While purpose has a role to play in ageing well, it is not the secret to ageing without fear. In the second half of life, we are especially prone to the loss of purpose as Debbie’s story shows.
Debbie made a big decision to retire from a job that she enjoyed at the age of 59. She lost out financially, but she decided it was a sacrifice worth making for the sake of Rosie, her granddaughter.
When Rosie was twelve, her parents had an acrimonious divorce. Debbie was determined to do all in her power to make sure that Rosie got the support that she needed. As their relationship grew closer, it gave Debbie a sense of joy that she never quite felt while bringing up her own daughter.
By the time Rosie went to drama school at 19, they saw less of each other but the bond between the two was still strong. When Rosie bought a young Australian actor to have lunch, Debbie felt anxious, and the meeting did not go well. In the summer holidays, Rosie and her fella went to Australia to meet his people and they did not return in the Autumn to complete their training.
Now and again, Rosie and her grandmother had a Zoom call, but it often ended in tears. Debbie still had a small social life, but she felt she had lost her sense of purpose in life. There seemed little to get her out of bed in the morning other than to feed her faithful cat. But, on the eve of her 70th birthday, she was inspired by a friend to look at what was going on in her life and to see a bigger picture.
A sense of purpose gives us energy and motivation. It can give us a sense of pride in what we do. But beware! It can be fickle. For example, a famous player set his sights on winning the Rugby World Cup. It was what gave his life purpose and meaning during all the years of training and commitment. After he achieved his aim and had received abundant praise and glory, the player became depressed. His motivation was gone and so had his life force. Everything in the wake of winning the World Cup, seemed small and insignificant.
A sense of purpose is generally context bound. It is limited to a certain set of circumstances. While results-orientated thinking might have powered us through our time as a younger adult, in the second half of life, having a sense of purpose may not always be so effective. In later life we need to be aware of what’s behind the purpose. What are the characteristics that drive the purpose? What is our intention?
As we get older it is easy to adopt patterns of habitual behaviour. We may start to live most of life unintentionally. We know what works for us and what doesn’t. We know what we like and what we don’t like. We don’t need to be aware all the time. We don’t need to think too much. But if you were confronted with a terminal diagnosis and were asked how you wanted your remaining days to be, you would probably question some of your behaviour patterns. It is a horrible cliché but we’re all on a terminal diagnosis, though the end of life maybe years or decades away.
So how do you want to be at the end of your life? What if you had an inner power to draw on in the final moments? What if you could access great courage and wisdom from the depths of your being as you face a certain ending? What if you could look back at your life without regret and with a sense of appreciation for your life. If you’ve got to go (and you do), wouldn’t you want access to this inner power?
Of course, you can’t buy this inner power on Amazon or anywhere else. You already have it. Whether you’ve have lived a life of reckless debauchery or stoic discipline, we all carry this inner power within us. It’s not in a sacred building, in a shaman or a guru. We won’t find it on the mountain top or in a retreat centre. There is an inner power within each of us, no matter what our religious beliefs. The atheist, the agnostic and the worshipper all have it. It is a natural resource we human beings are fortunate to possess. And it is awesome! It may lie buried deep within us, or it may be close to the surface. It may be operational on a regular basis, or your true inner power may never have seen active service. No matter how great our triumphs and achievements, no matter our status or character, we come to a point in the second half of life where we would do well to look deeply at our vulnerability and mortality in order to find this treasure within.
In many of the best fairy tales the hero or heroine needs to go on an arduous and dangerous journey to gain their reward and discover the treasure. After much hardship and travelling, they come to a place where they are severely tested. In the Russian fairy tales, it is often the witch Baba Yaga who challenges the protagonist. There, in the middle of the vast forest is the grotesque old woman who represents a powerful force of nature. It is only by a heroine confronting her deepest fears that she finds her way to true happiness.
In the stories and myths, it is in the darkest place that the protagonist discovers inner qualities that they didn’t know they possessed. It seems a universal law of nature that if we accept the challenge of the quest, then the latent forces of the universe will challenge us but ultimately support us on our journey. Without undergoing the journey, our inner power will remain latent because it is not needed.
It is not the amount of time we have left on this earth, but what we do with it, that gives us power. To agonise over what steps we should take as we grow older and worry excessively about our demise makes us impotent. Health, money, fitness, diet; these things are important, but they are nothing compared to discovering our full life potential. Everyone has vast resources of courage, wisdom and compassion inside, but these qualities cannot be accessed with the handbrake on. It is only when we take action and stop living in fear that our highest qualities can be manifest. To age well we need the courage to face the unknown challenges of growing older. We need the wisdom to see the true nature of things and we need the compassion to take us out of the small self and to see the bigger picture. There are bound to be problems as we age, but each challenge can enable us to deepen confidence in our own power, so that we enjoy our journey without fear.
The Time is Now
The most commonly used noun in the English language is ‘time’. The word can be used in hundreds of different ways. We can make time; we can be on-time; we can spare time. We can be in the nick of time. We can kill time. Most of us wish we had more of it. Time is precious especially as we get older and yet it is time that will eventually kill us.
Time is at the centre of a great universal mystery. If you ask a scientist about time, the chances are you will get a long and complicated answer that mentions relativity, different dimensions and black holes.
We might think of this present moment in time as something small, but as many Buddhist teachers have said the present moment contains the past and the future. So, if we want to age without fear, we need to expand moments of our life to include both our past as well as our future to gain clarity of intent and access our inner power. As we grow older there is a possibility that we can see that the reality of eternity is now - in the present moment.
ss, here is some important information about how to use this book and get the most from it.
for a free link to AGEING WITHOUT FEAR book launch 11.00 - 12.30 BST Friday 17th. November with Adam Duncan and colleagues from Life-Stage Community QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
The first part of the book opens with the story of transition through your key life-stages before looking at how loss and fear can erode life-force. The second part is about how to transform anxiety into renewed vitality for life. In each section there are engaging experiences as well as ten personal questions that you’re invited to contemplate .
Ageing without Fear is specifically written for people in the second half of life (45-70+). The book is a guide for those who want to access their innate courage and wisdom so that they can fulfil their potential and have no regrets as they grow older.
The material is appropriate for people regardless of physical capability and is open to people of all faiths or of no faith.