What if aging could feel natural, not just a struggle or high drama? What if you weren’t obsessed with fear about surrendering to the process? What if you felt comfortable handling the changes that are inevitable? With each year, imagine the possibility of increasingly feeling more connected, more “yourself” instead of dreading each birthday. You’re not fighting the cycles of years passing or denying them, but instead surrendering deeply to your own power and light during both tough passages and periods of grace. This is the path to radiant aging.
Our society has an aging phobia. If you buy into this—and it’s all too easy to do—your optimism about aging may be no match for the onslaught of fear-based stereotypes that dictate you can’t do this or look like that. Truth is, worrying about aging only makes you age faster. If you see yourself as old, then you will be. In fact, research has linked negative perceptions of aging to people with a seven-year shorter
Even at 40, I remember people beginning to use annoying phrases such as “at your age,” then make presumptuous predictions like “soon you’ll lose your sexual energy” or “you’re almost over the hill” (Reality check: Maybe they’ve always been over the hill, but you don’t have to be!). The older you get, the more you’re bombarded by these hexes that try to derail innovative, intuitive, passionate living. In defense of all these vital resources, I want to reexamine prevalent Western thinking about aging and blow apart assumptions that make no sense or are mistakenly portrayed as inevitable.
What’s Radiant Aging?
Radiant aging is a rule-changer and intimately related to surrender. I’m defining it as a life-cycle process connected to the rhythms of nature, divinity, and universal flow. Radiant aging is about letting go, being fluid, not tensing up, whatever happens. It means viewing all your body’s creative expressions of change through lenses of light. Each day, moment-to-moment, you’ll be tapping your physical, emotional, spiritual, and energetic well-being to boost health and lessen negativity. To age radiantly, you must embrace all these elements, even though conventional medicine focuses mostly on physical aging. Each element enhances you in different ways, creating an intricate mosaic of life forces.
Life is wondrous, every single instant—if you can only view it that way. The point of radiant aging is to not loathe the years that pass or the changes that come, even if you suffer illness and limitations. Surrendering to aging involves letting go of your attachment to previous years or decades, bittersweet or unsettling as that may be. The great poet Rumi wrote that the stream you stepped into yesterday is not the same stream you step into today. It is the same place but the water that rushes by your feet is new.
Personally, I’m inventing aging as I go along. We contain the joy, sorrow, and wisdom of every year we’ve experienced within us. Just because you pass one age doesn’t mean those states of mind are gone. They’ve been downloaded into your being. You can access all your experiences without attaching to them. The 14-year-old in me is just as alive as the 40-year-old. The calculated mischief of aging is that you can act however young or old you choose to be. Tapping different ages in yourself changes your appearance and how others relate to you. It’s a choice of consciousness.
Aging Is Not for Sissies
Mostly, I find Western culture’s attitudes about aging are misleading and ageist. In Asian cultures, it’s a privilege to be in the enlightened company of an elder. We must create a new vocabulary to describe the process of time passing that pays homage to the mystery. What defined our parents may no longer
What typically makes aging a struggle? When we try to control it, deny it, fight it, or rigidly define the process. Truth is, to our egos, the idea of change is scary. It makes us feel out of control of our lives and the universe. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass says, “Sure, certain doors will close to us, but the changes will offer us opportunities. Behind all the drama and clinging to the past is a place of soul.”
Aging is an embodiment of an unraveling mystery. Our surrender is to go along for the ride, to flow with both joys and impediments while doing what we can to stay healthy and happy. Some people lose hope and become resigned: this is not the same as surrender. The point isn’t to forsake passion or your wild spirit. Rather, surrender is a mindful way to slow down time, to be present in this moment—not the moment ahead or behind, but to reside in the eternal Now. Don’t try to predict your future. Instead, savor the moments. Being willing to surrender to the mystery of it all will make aging feel more adventurous.
The Art of Surrender in Emotional Aging
What is emotional aging? On the positive side, it is the wisdom and radiance you gain over time from being committed to compassion, love, and an open heart. It’s a lightness of being you keep aiming for, a dedication to surrendering fear and negativity. It’s living a life of intuitive guidance, of bending with the wind, rather than trying to control everything with your will. The point is to loosen up and get happier with time.
There’s a huge difference between aging and feeling old. Aging is natural but what we project onto the process determines whether we feel tormented or tranquil. Dedicate yourself to surrendering bad ideas about aging that keep you feeling old. For instance, avoid thoughts such as,
“Who would want me now?” “I’m all saggy and wrinkled,” or “The best part of my life is over.” Obsessing about “flaws,” disappointments, and shame is akin to cursing yourself. Even worse, it’s self-fulfilling.
The more you repeat these ideas, the more stressed—and old—you become. (News flash: most people are too self-absorbed to scrutinize you as closely as you might suppose.) Especially in Western culture, many of us end up staring terrified into that black hole of self-criticism about our bodies. Don’t get drawn in by it. To reverse course, turn practicing surrender into an intellectual discipline. This means you need to intentionally drag your mind away from negativity and point it toward the positive.
Here’s how. The way you perceive your body and spirit is crucial, so let go of the need to obsess about signs of aging. Rather, adjust your perspective. Make your mind a shelter, a safe place to go. Your body hears all your thoughts. You can make it feel younger when you say nice things about it and older when you don’t. On the truest level, when you strip away all the ego distortions and cultural fears about aging, you are perfect, beautiful, and capable of renewal. In support of this, concentrate on what feels most alive—your sparkling eyes, radiant smile, or arousing touch. Define yourself by your passions such as walking in nature, creative work, sensuality, or serving the world—not by your insecurities, hurts, or physical infirmities. Yes, ideally you want to love and accept every part of your body including the wrinkles, but if you’re not quite there yet, you can begin by appreciating your attributes.
The last thing most people want as they grow older is to be treated as if they are old or infirmed. The greatest compliment you can give anyone at any age, in any state of health, is to recognize their wild spirit and beauty. So, when you are thinking about yourself and others, be sure to respond to the light and the marvel that resides within us all. Treat everyone as gorgeous.
The mind-body connection is intimately linked to aging. How could it not be? A revelation of 20th-century medicine is that anxiety and anger aren’t just feelings. Nor are love and joy. All emotions trigger biological reactions. How you respond to any situation is a choice—and those cumulative choices shape your health and how you age.
Numerous studies have linked chronic emotional stress to premature aging, less mental acuity, and feeling old. Although stress itself doesn’t condemn you to aging poorly, how you cope with it is critical. Remember: Unchecked stress is the enemy. Calm is your friend.
Being calm is an emotionally stressed-out person’s salvation, a break from turmoil when you’re centered and at ease. A state of biological calm floods your body with the bliss of endorphins, our body’s painkillers, which makes stress hormones recede. Serotonin, a natural antidepressant, increases so daily hurdles feel more do-able. The answer to aging well, in spite of stress, is learning how to find calm in the storm.