Aging. How to grow.

Suddenly it hits you, you’ve aged. Today’s blog is about aging beautifully.
I spoke with Ilene Cummings, 85, who leads workshops about aging with grace: aging beautifully. This is part of her work as a human development counselor and retreat leader.
“You have to learn to love yourself in spite of what is happening to your face,” Ilene said. There needs to be a place to talk about it. “We don’t say, omigod, what’s happening to my face?! But, we think about it.” She wants to facilitate the conversation.
Ilene thinks it’s best to get a jump on aging well, before you actually get old. She said that “aging beautifully is a function of how you have lived. It is very dependent on doing personal work. You have to decide if you want to age beautifully. It’s not going to happen automatically. Not in our youth culture.”
You have to put in the daily effort, like most things that are worthwhile.
Here are Ilene’s three guidelines to help people age beautifully:
1. Give up your attachment to being young. It’s a lot of work to keep a lie going. Be authentic. Be real. It takes a lot of balls to be yourself as an older person. You have to be honest to grow. Practice forgiveness. If you are beating yourself up all the time, how can you accept yourself?
2. Be willing to change. Be active in self examination. You have to constantly adapt to a current or new situation.
3. Find meaning. Go deep. Find those that you truly connect with. For example, Ilene has a friend who she has great conversations with.
“All this extraordinary stuff comes out and I can meet her. It’s worth a million dollars to both of us,” Ilene enthused. “We talk about God, animals, art, death. Nothing has really changed; however, I feel amazing after our visits.”
One thing that starts to happen when you get older- you began paring down. For example, you stop driving at night. This greatly limits integration. A lot of networking and social events happen in the evening. Make efforts to socialize in ways that you can. Ilene believes socializing is essential.
“Somebody might love knitting- they need to find a knitting group. Socializing is a must do. You absolutely have to get out. People need such events so that they have to present themselves; they have to wash their face. It is easier to stay home but it’s not in your best interest.  There is a tendency for older people to crumble up within and sort of wait to die.”
Ilene emphasizes, “Take care of yourself. Respect yourself. Start young and keep respecting yourself.” When Ilene was very young she felt well cared for by her mother. She thinks this taught her the value of good self care. She never forgets that her well-being and health matter.
Ilene said, “I ask people about how their parents aged. Regardless of what you’ve been exposed to, aging beautifully is up to you. This is your job. You have to make friends with your aging self. Or else you are doomed; you are fighting it. I am getting older and everyone else knows I am getting older. When we don’t accept that we are looking older, we become a caricature.”
I asked Ilene, what is the reward?
“I think it’s why I am living longer, feeling good about myself, being willing to honestly state my age. If you hate your age, it will show on your your face. Most people hate growing old. I don’t buy into the idea that you are losing it, or that you aren’t sexy anymore. At the same time, I am very aware of the losses that come with aging. It is hard to start this work when you are already aging. The earlier you start with your own process, the better it will go.”
Ilene Cummings
Ilene Cummings

Finding the window out of addiction

“I saw the window, so I took it,” was what he said. This was in response to the question of how did you quit large doses of prescribed pain medication and copious amount of pot smoking? He started out with neck pain and back pain. The pain medication and pot smoking rained down to cover the pain. There was also mention of PTSD lurking in the background. It needed something too. So he used substances, lots.

Then he quit.

How does it feel? “Good. now it’s just me,” he said.

Milkweed
Milkweed

I’m not sure why but he looked around, saw a window for change, and he took it. He didn’t deliberate. He didn’t wonder if he could do it. He figured it would be hard. He did it anyway.

Maybe he got lucky. He didn’t notice a painful withdrawal. He said it was neither painful or dramatic. A little while after he stopped the pain medication, his pain got better, decreased noticeably. After he stopped smoking pot, he felt more engaged/available in his relationships.

Now he actively meditates, gets acupuncture, and looks for holistic ways to nurture a healthy body/mind/spirit path. He wants to be active in his life, engaged, and, as he said, “become better.”

I see a lot of people who want to make positive changes happen. They are very sincere. But they struggle with obstacles. Real or imagined, the obstacles get in the way. Real or imagined, excuses clog the path, the stream, the field, and ultimately, the window. They can’t get to the window, much less open it.

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I am curious, how we get there ourselves? How do we help each other? How do I help clients? I had a teacher once tell me that what I do  (acupuncture/Chinese medicine) is like a housekeeper and gardener. The practitioner must help to trim the brush, sweep the walkway, wash the windows, clean the pond, hang up laundry in the sun to dry…. you get the idea. This maintenance and attention to the inner and outer landscape may lead to a sharper focus. It cleans up the noise and distraction and leads to an easier path to a row of open windows with bird songs floating in.

How people get there is diverse. The man I talked to seemed to just bob to the surface one day and it happened. I think a lot people can be motivated by witnessing others, being inspired. Though many appear to have inspiration like a new baby, a dream job, a great love, a new house- all the stuff we can see- none of this is enough to actually make change. From what I have seen, change comes from a deep inner place that has its own reasons and they can’t be seen or analyzed. They just are there and they have a louder voice than all of the reasons to not change.

Where do you find inspiration that lifts you and lasts?

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I never get tired of water

Water is a great mood stabilizer. Even a bath or shower improves the attitude. I like to hop on my stand-up paddle board (SUP) and glide just on top of it.

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I drove to Dorena reservoir, Harm’s park, and unloaded easily. There were only three people there, swimming at the boat ramp, ignoring the no swimming sign. This park is no frills compared to Baker Bay across the lake, which has an entry fee. It also has a swimmers’ area, campground, and more picnic areas.  It was a very warm evening, 84, so it made sense to go paddling. I made a quick picnic dinner and strapped it on the front of the board. I wanted to eat off-shore. I slipped on my water shoes to protect against the rocks and potential broken glass. I love to push off silently and get that instant water connection, completely shedding the land underneath me.

vintage dorena

The wind was calm, only some movement brushed the water. This was about 5:00 p.m. The air smells good coming off the water. It’s quiet. You can hear bird sounds. Some traffic, but not that much around the lake. There was one other boat and they were fishing so not making noise or a wake. I stopped for dinner in a slightly protected no wind area.

lake meal

This semi-protected little cove was the perfect place to munch on a casual meal of lentils,  raw yellow pepper, mozzarella, and a splash of olive oil. Everything fits easily in my trusty dry bag that snaps onto the bungee cords that are attached to the front of my SUP.

I wonder why I seek water. Why does it feel both soothing and invigorating to me? It must be the exchange of ions. This theory popped into my head. It sounded so true! But was it? I don’t know. I looked up ions on wikipedia. Yes, water did seem an important part of the transfer of chemical compounds and sea water is mentioned a lot because of the salt. But then it became too much to digest and interpret for this blog. This blog is more about spirit rather than scientific explanations.

Speaking for myself, I feel an exchange of molecules in and around the water and the air and the surrounding trees. Even the rocks and sticks, of which there are many, play along. I absorb and breath it into my pores.

It is incredible to be alone on the water, paddling along, choosing my path, noticing the light, sky, water, wind and surrounding hills that look very old. Yet, they are not ancient really, they are totally current, responding to each other every minute.

While among this, as a guest in the midst of it, I feel within and among the source. After our visit, I go back to life refreshed. I have exchanged energy with what feels like the vibrant base of life.

What’s your element? Visit it often. Make time for what feeds your source.