Taking the fall and getting back up: Doing the work to age well


Aging is an ongoing experience of limitation if you sit back and let it be.

I’m sitting here waiting for a friend to get out of surgery. She is in her early 70’s, a vibrant human being who appears and acts much younger. But age has come to visit. She tripped over some wires and broke her hip. She is well aware that this can lead to permanent disability and a shortened life span. She feels totally unprepared. It’s truly scary.

She has just come out of surgery and has been wheeled to her room. What’s on her mind? Her regret about not taking care of business and missed opportunities for fulfillment. Luckily she has a good doctor who has advised her that, with rehab, she is likely to make a full recovery. She considers this a wake-up call to address a number of things in her life.

How do you remain optimistic when you see the walls of life closing in on you? Frailty, memory issues and the loss of family members and friends amplify the perceived diminishment of self.

But you can be happy and fulfilled as you get older. Let us count the ways…

  1. Give other people the benefit of your wisdom. There is something to be said for living a long time. You have been through a lot in life and have had many experiences that you have learned from. Mentor a younger person who can benefit from your advice and guidance.
  2. Come to terms with your relationships to your friends and family. If you have a good relationship with everyone, great, no problem. But if you have struggled in some relationships, attempt to open up the lines of communication and make amends if necessary. Let go of whether they own up to their part in things. You have no control over other people’s thoughts and actions. Be glad that you showed up and owned up.
  3. See your friends and family members regularly even if you have to schedule time with them on your calendar. Go to family functions and put up with your brother’s noisy kids and your hard-of-hearing aunt. Remember they are not around forever and you may be the odd uncle in the corner someday yourself. Make special time for those who bring out the best in you. You know who they are.
  4. Stay active. Use it or lose it. Get out and be physical however you can. Dance, go to the gym, walk, row, do yoga. Exercise can be fun if you find an activity that actually excites you. See this as an extension of going out to play as a kid. You didn’t need anything to motivate you then, did you? If you have a physical disability seek out a class that is tailored to your needs.
  5. Consider moving closer to those who will be there for you in a pinch. This may or may not be your family members; living near or with good friends may be a better choice for some people. Be there to celebrate the good times and support each other in the bad times.
  6. Take up a new mentally stimulating activity, something that excites you but you’ve been putting off doing for awhile. Learn to tango. Learn a new language. Take up playing an instrument. These activities have been shown to be more effective in maintaining cognitive functioning in older adults than crossword puzzles, sudoku or online brain training.
  7. Most importantly, cultivate a positive attitude. Spend time at the beginning and the end of the day being grateful. Write down what you are grateful for. Email it to yourself so that you can look at it throughout the day. Consider starting a meditation practice. Develop your own affirmations at the end of your practice. Read something that inspires you.

Aging well is about preparation, acting in ways that make us happy and preserving this happiness as long as possible. There’s work for us to do. Let’s get to it.

Vacation from and to self


During the summer most people take a vacation. It’s warm, the sun shines late into the evening, school is out and, let’s face it, most everyone is indulging in the reverie of green landscapes and blue green bodies of water. Come summer, although we visit cities, for the most part we are drawn to nature.

Vacation to self

I went on a road trip many years ago in the American southwest. I really had never imagined how incredible the landscape could be. Visiting the Native American ruins and being in the presence of the culture were incredibly transformative for me. Traveling allowed me to let go of my fears and anxieties and move in a more positive direction. I felt that I had left myself behind and entered a totally new phase of life. The canyons and rock formations starkly revealed how permanence is the illusion and constant change the reality. This permitted me to more readily accept that I had built a life that no longer suited me. To change I had to break down the barriers to my happiness which I, and only I, had erected and maintained. What a transformational experience! As a result I made major changes in my life when I returned.

Vacation from routine

I’ve written about contemplation, reflection, sanctuary and affirmation. I’ve found that all these things enable us to look inward and see how we might move forward on our path. A vacation can also provide us with a different perspective and lead to positive practical and attitudinal changes.

It’s funny how we use words all the time and don’t examine their meaning. To me, the word vacation really does mean vacating the usual daily routine to enter the spontaneous world. The days are unstructured. I decide what I want to do each day and may or may not get around to it. Whatever I thought was important to do suddenly isn’t. Things are unpredictable. I am able to discover things about myself that I can’t in everyday life. I take risks that I ordinarily wouldn’t. I find out how I am strong and weak. I build relationships with those I travel with, visit or meet. The constant chattering in my head is turned down from a roar to a whisper. There are so many benefits to taking time off.

Vacation as good fortune

I would be remiss if I assumed that everyone has the benefit of taking a vacation. Some people are working hard to make ends meet. Other people may have deadlines to meet or a project to complete that can’t wait. Many others are not working due to illness or prolonged unemployment. So, for those of us who have the privilege of taking time off, we might want to make good use of it. We can learn, stretch, give, relax, exercise, observe and socialize. We can vacate the old to bring in the new. Let’s not take this opportunity for granted.