Betty White ~ "I'm a teenager trapped in an old [90-yr] body."
What if eternal youth had essentially nothing to do with looks? Or vigor, stamina, endurance? Or, for that matter, ignorance or naivete—which, after all, we "outgrow" by maturity?
What if, at bottom, age—or aging—was primarily a state of mind? Fundamentally, an attitude about self, or life in general? For if this were the case, then one's youthfulness—being young not so much in body as in mind and heart—could, even after being displaced, be exultantly reclaimed. Retrieved or rescued, as it were, from the depths of consciousness, where it lay not so much buried as dormant.
So what does an anti-aging attitude consist of? What's the psychology of perpetual youth that exists independent of chronological age? What's growing evermore youthful all about? In short, how do you become ageless?
Well, let me count the ways (12 to be exact—and doubtless there are more I've yet to identify):
(1) Maintain an Outlook of Innocence, Wonder, and Awe. Which means start to view things as though you've never seen them before—at least not quite in this way. Look at, or take in, the objects of your perception in a manner that enables you to appreciate them anew.
How might you view things if you were an Alien visiting planet Earth for the first time—look at them, that is, in an unprecedented way? The sight might be a flower, tree, house, garden, landscape, pet, person, even a computer image . . . ANYTHING. And while you're at it, employ as many of your other senses (sound, smell, taste, touch) as you can to experience previously mundane things from a fresh perspective.
Children do this naturally. After all, so many things are new to them. You, however, will need to search for ever-new vantage points to return—again and again—to the "routine novelty" of youth.
(2) Give Rein to Your Feelings of Curiosity.
How fascinating is it that what (at least metaphorically) killed the cat also brought him back?! And—given, of course, that cats have nine lives (talk about perpetual youth!)—returned him to one life of satisfying curiosity after another. Those who indulge their curiosity are able to recognize things anew and anew. If you only take the time to indulge your inquisitiveness, to look—unconventionally—for new things to focus upon, things can remain indefinitely fresh.
Look into the mirror right now. Try out different expressions—authentic or make-believe—till you can hardly distinguish between what's you and what isn't. Discover what's unknown and unexplored about yourself; what's more strange than familiar. This is something like what children do instinctively to entertain themselves. Why not imitate them and discover what's "exotic" about yourself?
(3) Foster a Carefree Sense of Adventure. Doubtless, as an adult you can't be easy-going in quite the same way as a child. But grownup doesn't have to mean grave and grim, solemn and severe, either. Since everything I'm discussing is mostly a matter of attitude, can you bring a sense of lightheartedness and play to each of your endeavors? Can you see your life itself as an adventure?—something recurrently to be explored in all its richly varied dimensions?
Much of our life may seem banal and commonplace. But consciously choosing to cultivate enthusiasm about the ordinary can actually rescue it from the humdrum and reinvigorate it. Determine to make every undertaking (however matter-of-course) a challenging enterprise, every risk (even minor ones) fertile material for a memoir. So when you near your mortal end you can look back and smile at all in life you dared to do. Consider that the greatest risk you may ever experience may be to experience no risk at all.
Consider also the words of Maya Angelou: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths [you] take, but by the moments that take [your] breath away." And it's mainly your sense of adventure that serves to create such moments in the first place. Remember that whatever turns you on right now, whatever absorbs your attention and inspires your interest and excitement, derives less from external events than from your inner attitude.
(4) Take Your Responsibilities Lightly. Yes, of course, with age come all sorts of duties and obligations. But might you be willing to see the constraints under which you operate as the "game" you've willingly appointed yourself to play? True, it's not exactly Monopoly. But it's still a pursuit with options and choices, educated guesses and bets on the unknown, and outcomes and surprises that can't be anticipated. Oscar Wilde once said that life was far too important to be taken seriously. Can you adopt that same paradoxical vantage point? Can you spiritedly "play out" your various responsibilities in a game-like manner? make them somehow "diversionary"?!
At first blush, none of this is likely to sound very practical. It might not even seem do-able. In fact, it may impress you as downright nonsensical or foolish—in blithe denial of the many difficult things you have on a daily basis to deal with. But with some imagination, optimism, and the willingness to perceive that what's "heavy" in your life is simply the current hand you've been dealt, it should be possible to see how everything
in your life is potentially transformable into something gamelike. Once more, it's all about attitude. And attitude is ultimately a choice you make about how you're going to conduct your life.
Can you see the challenges you may now face as mirroring the challenges you were up against as a child, merely in playing games? For back then, most of your diversionary (i.e., non-school related) activities also consisted of challenges, of problems to be solved—though you probably didn't need to take them all that seriously. Which is precisely what made them so much fun. From jigsaw puzzles to crossword puzzles, from board games to card games, from hopscotch to jumping rope to hide-and-seek, or from soccer to baseball to ping pong and shuffleboard, there was little more exciting than testing your mental or physical prowess—making a game out of striving to do your personal best.
Might you regain that mentality now?—with whatever obstacles presently seem to be blocking your progress? Could you actually contrive to make these present-day difficulties a "path" for reclaiming your possibly lost sense of play?
NOTE 1: Both parts 2 and 3 of this post take up additional ways to stay young in mind.
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© 2012 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.