What We Can Learn from Aging

How the anti-aging battle can distract you from living your purpose.

Posted Aug 10, 2018

. . . my skin once soft is wrinkled now,

. . . my hair once black has turned to white.

My heart has become heavy, my knees

that once danced nimbly like fawns cannot carry me.

How often I lament these things—but what

can be done?

No one who is human can escape old age.

-Sappho, sixth century BC

Some things change, some things remain the same, as the adage goes. Aging woes appear to be the same today as 1,500 years ago when this poem was written. Yet while Sappho perfectly captures the human lament of aging, she didn’t realize that humans would fight aging with such fervor that one day it they could escape old age. Theoretical physicist and futurist, Michio Kaku, predicts that medical advances will be able to reverse aging sometime between 2070 to 2100. Already, the global anti-aging market is expected to exceed more than $216 Billion by 2021–and these figures do not include the entire cosmetics industry or global fitness or medical technology industries that seek the same goal. If this is the case, conceivably this post is a whisper of dissent against an inevitable tsunami of change. A cure to aging may one day be a reality—yet at what costs does the fight for youth have on our sanity and quality of life?

First, let me give a big giant disclaimer that I am not disagreeing with or disparaging anyone for taking steps to take care of themselves or do things that keep them as young and healthy as they can be. In fact, there’s a rather brilliant rebuke by Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in “I Could Never Be Your Woman” who speaks for all women—and people—when she grabs a casting director by the jaw as he degradingly insults some of Hollywood’s most talented women for having had too much plastic surgery:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=SesRpwLV_o8

Women get in such a double-bind with aging as societal narratives praise sex and sexually alluring traits of youth, beauty and fertility. No matter how accomplished, heartfelt and wise a woman may be, they still get subjected to the “Is she hot or not?” question. Or, in the case of aging women, “Is she still hot?” Or more to the underlying issue, “Is she bangable?”

An evolutionary psychological perspective that looks at simple biological drives would suggest that people invest their time, energy and resources into doing things that make them attractive to a mate so humans continue to procreate and survive. Apparently, something is working as there are 7.6 billion people living today with a projected growth of 11.2 billion by 2,100. Population discussion aside, each human being within the staggering billion plus population citations is far more than their biological drives—which may help explain why the obsession with anti-aging can be so detrimental to one’s mental health and soul.

Perhaps Nietzche, a philosopher, can best point to the ethereal aspect of living life that exceeds biology with his description of Amor fatiLove your fate:

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.” –Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

There is something profoundly peaceful in accepting oneself. Moreover, I would imagine that when one can find acceptance with one’s life (and their body no matter how broken or aged it is becoming), a more meaningful and Soul-directed life one lives.

There is always a natural tension and balance between two extremes. Doing something that is externally motivated can be one extreme while doing something internally motivated (from one’s core, one’s truth, one’s Soul) is on the other side of the continuum. What I have found (for myself and with clients) is a powerful recognition that doing things that focus on what others think and perceive—especially when motivated by approval-seeking behavior—produces great depression and dissatisfaction with one’s life.

The paradox is that people-pleasing and approval-seeking behaviors can often push people away while living from one’s internal truth reinforces self-confidence, self-worth and self-esteem—which are far more attractive traits and paradoxically tend to make a person more appealing to others around them (people can feel and become repulsed by the unconscious needy motivations of others). Thus, when anti-aging techniques are employed to fill the proverbial empty hole of one’s Soul in an attempt to get outside approval, the empty hole feeling usually remains and can push the person into obsessively chasing continual and more extreme measures.

Perhaps wisdom can be gleaned from another philosopher, Cicero, who wrote his insights about aging in 44 BC:

“Let me tell you what I think about death… For a while we are trapped in these earthly frames of ours, we carry out a heavy labor imposed on us by fate. Indeed, the soul is a heavenly thing come down from the celestial realm, pressed down and plunged into the earth, contrary to its divine and eternal nature. But I believe the immortal gods planted souls in human bodies to have beings who would care for the earth and who would contemplate the divine order and imitate it in the moderation and discipline of their own lives…I haven’t come to this belief solely by my own reasoning and logic, but with the guidance of the most noble and authoritative thinkers.”

Going back even further to the Paleolithic cultures of 30,000 BC where tribes were matriarchal in nature and the female represented the creator and mother of life, older women were viewed as the teachers and guides of the community. Some matriarchal cultures exist to this day and one could argue that the dawning of the Age of Aquarius that is to herald in the reestablishment of equal harmony between men and women could be occurring as female rights dominate narratives more than ever. In these discussions, may older women recognize their purpose and worth. The movie Avatar shows the female as a Spiritual guide and leader for her community. Like Avatar and the matriarchal cultures reveal, the call of the crone years for women is not to be ugly, sinister, expired, and repulsive as some of the twisted interpretations have conveyed, but rather to be a wise woman filled with grace, knowledge, and psychic Spiritual intuition that serves as wise council for the community. Therefore, every woman’s wrinkle is regarded as a uniquely female badge of authority like the stars on a general’s epaulet.

Will aging one day be cured? Will wrinkles and one’s biological age be viewed as a relic of ancient societies? For me, I sincerely hope not. Like Cicero, I believe the Soul is temporarily residing in the human body and can’t help but wonder if these earthly bodies begin to deteriorate as a call to the Soul from a heavenly home that beckons its return.

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