It was during my thirties when I first realized that a life based on materialism and self-seeking leaves you with nothing more than an empty spiritual barrel. I had lived in that fashion until I discovered I was leading an empty, meaningless life. At first, this realization was not an easy for it led me to a scary period of depression. But, over time, it forced me to strip away these false external prophets of happiness. This was a giant step towards spiritual maturity and the discovery of the true meaning of my life.
My soul’s death and rebirth has happened several more times since, but the net result of this internal suffering has always led to the greater evolution of my being. Now, in my mid-sixties, the end of a long-term marriage, moving from Colorado to Florida and retiring from my formal career brought an end to my latest version of self and gave birth to the emerging new one. I know there are others out there going through similar experiences, so I thought it would be valuable to share with you the details of my personal evolution and help you experience aging more joyfully and with less fear and pain. I hope my words give you a sense of peace and the knowledge you are never alone.
Soul work is not for the feint hearted, this is why you need a healthy body and clear mind when wrestling with this internal turmoil. You must start with taking care of your physical body.
1) Staying fit. Exercising regularly is proven to combat depression by enhancing endorphins. It is known for boosting norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. Exercise releases stress and disrupt the circular pattern of worried thinking. It also helps your digestive system and lets you get more sleep. Last but not least, exercise helps you look and feel better. Many doctors prescribe exercise before giving medicines. Exercise is a necessary to form the new you. I play tennis, paddle board, lift weights, hike, cycle and I have very nice golf clubs (can’t in good conscience refer to what I do as “playing golf”).
2) Eating Healthy. Another way to prepare the fertile ground for your reawakening is to be conscious of what you eat. This is just as important as exercise. What we eat helps determine our moods and vibrations. There are plenty of resources that address proper nutrition, so I will not take any more space doing so. I wanted to emphasize, however, our tendency to overeat. This is especially true if you eat out a lot. in order to curtail this habit, listen to your body and stop taking in food once you start feeling full. I have reduced red meat from my diet and replaced it with poultry and fish. I have also eliminated all sweets, candy, ice cream, donuts, chips and cookies. I buy mostly non GMO and organic products and include plenty of greens in my meals.
3) Reduce or eliminate drugs and alcohol. This is straightforward, you will not age very well if you regularly get high or shit faced drunk. As a general rule, these substances change your vibration and their effects are usually negative. If you are using these ingredients, do so in moderation or cut them out altogether. I have a glass of wine or a beer once in a while, usually when I am out with friends, that’s it.
Just as you are developing good and healthy habits for your body, you should make an effort to clear your mind of impractical values and rid yourself of harmful emotions.
4) Let go of the past. It is easier said than done to look forward not back. You can do this if you accept the perspective that the events and people who have peppered your life taught you the lessons you needed to evolve into who you are today. It is also important to remember that the past was not meant to be relived in the present, no amount of thinking or analyzing can change what happened. Whenever I get down or angry about things in the past, I try to find gratitude in the present. Letting go does not mean you must find justification for the bad things that happened to you. It also does not entail finding forgiveness for those who did you wrong. Letting go means you acknowledge the past, you recognize you were strong enough to survive some difficult things and you commit to prevent these events and people from tormenting you any more. Sometimes this process requires therapy; there is no shame in that. If you feel the need for therapy to let go of your past traumas, I strongly recommend EMDR. Google this method to get the skinny on it. Only by releasing the past can you become the creator of your future.
5) Live your life in the now. All of us have been trained to plan for the future, but many of us have done so at the expense of enjoying the present. Life is unpredictable and, as the old Yiddish adage warns us, “Man plans and God laughs“. Live life in the present moment. Take that trip you have always wanted to take. Learn to play a musical instrument or new sport. Take time for your family and friends. These are the low fruits of enjoyment just waiting for you to gather them.
6) Don’t sit at home. The world is to be experienced live, it was not meant to be discovered while sitting on the couch watching TV or playing video games. Just think, every person you meet and every activity you undertake has the potential of bringing you great joy and fulfillment. There is an element of risk or rejection, of course, but if you never get up to bat, you’ll never get a hit. New people and experiences can expand your mind much more than playing it safe and boring. I am a relatively introverted person, so it is easy to choose to stay alone at home, but I have discovered that the isolation I seek, although safe and comfortable, can deaden my senses and bring on depression. I joined a gym and a tennis club and, even though I am scared of sharks, I took up paddle-boarding as a means to meet people while learning something new. Some of my best friends today I met through these activities.
7) Become what you want from others. As the decades of my life passed, I had learned to be cynical and suspicious of people. The only time anyone seemed to want my company was when they wanted a favor that I could provide while I held positions of power and authority. This view kept me away from social occasions. The move to Florida opened my eyes about friendships. First and foremost, I learned I was totally wrong about the people who had been around me. I had also grown lazy about investing in friendships and my cynicism was the excuse I used to stay out of the fray of life. Having to start my life from scratch again made me realize I would not meet people or make new friends without an effort on my part. I could no longer stay safe at home as my shyness suggested and I trained myself to accept any and all invitations I received as a way to live out in the world. This could entail playing tennis or going to a movie or a party. As I began making acquaintances, a new idea came to mind; how about becoming the kind of friend I wanted to have? Rather than wait to be invited, I started creating activities and asked others to join. When someone needed help of any kind, even if it was moving furniture, I was there with a lending hand. If someone was hospitalized, I visited him or her. If someone needed a shoulder to cry on, I provided it. I cannot emphasize enough the blessings that came from this new way of thinking and acting. Today I have a wonderful cadre of friends who have become my tribe. I believe this thinking applies in other areas. Become the spouse you would like your partner to be. Become the coworker you would like others to be. See what happens.
8) Keep away from toxic people. i learned about the Bible accounts regarding Jesus and forgiveness from my Catholic teachers. Turn the other cheek, we were told. Although I can agree not to retaliate against those who do me harm, I am not an advocate of blind forgiveness. Stay away from those who cause you pain, whether they be brother or sister, son or daughter, mom or dad or other family members. It is healthy to put the actions of toxic people in perspective. You may even find empathy for them believing they were doing the best they could as human beings, but there is nothing to be gained by subjecting yourself to their abuse. Save your forgiveness for those who are truly repentant and show a willingness to change, otherwise, stay away from them.
All the steps mentioned so far will bring you much peace and joy, but don’t let this temporary enjoyment deter you from your spiritual development. This is the pièce de résistance for aging. Taking care of your body and emotions will help you be healthier, but what will start your rebirth, the most joyous aspect of becoming your authentic self, is paying respects to your spiritual development.
I know, when people talk about something being “spiritual”, we tend to think religious conversion. Some of us, (myself included) agreed with Karl Marx when he said, “religion is the opiate of the masses”, implying that faith in an external god was an escape from reality that allowed the masses to put up with the oppression of their rulers. I no longer equate religion with spirituality, as I beleive accepting your connection to a higher power is essential for our successful aging, but this effort is based on faith and a logic that is not readily seen in our physical world.
9) Develop a daily spiritual practice. I have mentioned in previous writings my time spent as an agnostic. For decades I thought of all things spiritual as illogical and I was content to live a life controlled by my societal understanding and my five senses (touch, smell, feel, see and hear). Yet, life under these conditions seemed a roller coaster of successes and failures that had no rhyme or reason. By my sixty-third birthday, when I figured I knew a thing or two about life, I found my experience, ambitions and plans were not leading me to a happy life. Then, without warning, I started life anew. Fortunately, my tendency during these transition periods was to take time for deep reflection. In this particular period, I took up reading the works of Wayne Dyer, Gary Zukav, Deepak Chopra and many others who suggested life was meant to teach us lessons along the way in the discovery of our highest self. These ideas made sense to me for they gave every life meaning and purpose. They also lead me out of my brokenness. There is comfort in knowing there is a Higher Power that lives within each one of us and and connects us to all things.
Many ways exist to help one come in touch with the God within. I chose a daily practice of meditation, which I do twice a day for twenty minutes. There are many forms of meditation, TM (Transcendental Meditation) has done wonders bringing peace and contentment in my life. Look for a way to reach for inner development that fits you.
10) Find Your Purpose. I don’t think there is a greater reward in life than knowing you are helping create a greater good. Because we associate our roles with the jobs we have held, we can sometimes lose our sense of purpose when those assignments come to an end. The same can be said about mothers who feel useless when their last child goes off to college. The good news is that a good part of our existence is predicated on finding our true purpose. Jobs, etc. are simply different assignments we were given to help us discover our skills and talents, but our purpose is much greater than that and it is there for us to live out until our final breath. Finding your purpose is not based on titles and compensation for it is rooted in your passion and joy. Your true purpose gives you the energy, creativity and resolve to create a greater good. At sixty-five years old, I hired a career coach to help me find my purpose. I recommend this highly, but there are many books and classes that can help you in your discovery. Go for it, you will not regret it.
11) Develop a daily practice of contentment. I have never understood why the word “contentment” gets such a bad rap. Some describe a state of contentment as settling for less or accepting mediocrity. That is not what it means to me. After a life of striving and grasping for everything I could get, I was exhausted and frustrated with the results. So little of what I did actually had an affect. The same goes for the rest of us, we believe we are so powerful yet; we forget that other people, fate and luck also aided our accomplishment. Contentment is not settling, it is about savoring what is while welcoming what can be. A content life promises joy, tranquility and is open to all possibilities. It is worth a try.
Also published on Medium.