Midlife & Aging Gracefully

We’ve been growing older since the day we were born! So why does it turn into a problem all of a sudden? Midlife is experienced as the most powerful time of life by those who are curious enough to discover the unexpected…

Is that me? I resist my first impulse to delete the dreadful selfie. No, this is not just the unfavourable light... I sit down and risk a closer look.

Of course I always “knew” – but it’s an entirely different story to shift from knowledge to the actual experience. It’s just like waking up in a different movie – a horror movie to be precise, pitilessly revealing the laws of our fleeting nature. No, there is just no preparation for that…

Wasn't it just yesterday that I found myself shaking my head, laughing about the fuss some of my 45+ year old friends made over what to do or not to do in order to keep young, fit, and crisp?? Wow - it just took this one crucial instant that directed me to join their club - this one photograph I saw of myself that made it so very clear: no matter how young I may feel inside, physically I too had passed the peak.

The discrepancy between my timeless inner experiencing and a body that decides to age - this is the challenge midlife presents me with. I am transitioning from “crescent” to “descent” and as this metaphor strongly implies, there is an end to this journey. What a scary perspective! It's been so easy to distract myself from this fact as long as I was moving upwards. Besides, I didn’t even know how big the plateau up there might be.

Well, I do know now, as my 'crucial instant'-photo clearly marked the edge of my highland, directing my line of sight towards a less appealing reality.

No wonder people are dreading this time of life! In a culture that idealizes youth and beauty, the midlife experience is reduced to what we are loosing in terms of looks and physical fitness.

But this can't be it - right?

young = beautiful =valuable = happy

versus

old = ugly = useless = unhappy??

Clearly, these simplistic equations don’t do our rich human experience justice.

So, where is the source of life to be found past midlife?

Here is what I found:  the advantage of standing on top is that I have the chance to look down, to enjoy the view and to choose where I want to go. I have never seen so clearly, I’ve never been so well prepared to distinguish “mine” from “NOT mine”, and I’ve never been so determined to shed everything I’ve dragged along just to please others.  Midlife is a period of purification with the sole aim to get rid of imported contaminations and to get real. What a relief to allow myself to quit the shallow race of youthfulness and accept midlife’s call to become who I am supposed to be, “warts and all”.

This is it - this is MY time!

The realization that we just don't have all the time in the world anymore does something to us IF we allow it to sink in. We may choose to look away by manipulating our outer appearance (the beauty industry will love you for it!), but we better buckle up and integrate these intimidating realities that get more and more into our faces. Wrinkles, aches and pains here and there, sick friends, dying parents … all of these are persistent messages of our faithful companions, increasingly claiming their space in our lives: transience, pain, sickness, and death. There is just no way around.

Paradoxically it is in exactly these most feared of all confrontations that we can find an amazing source of life; as through their agonizing embrace our sham existence vanishes into thin air, and we remain with what’s essential: where is true love, where is real connection in our life?

This leads me to a new equation that feels so much closer to the truth:

Aged/mature = aware of who I am = authentic living = fullness of life

Once we are done mourning our youth, let’s wipe away our tears, take a deep breath and smile. Midlife invites us to claim our authentic core so that we can enjoy and share it wholeheartedly and live a life that really matters.

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