Learning to Love Being Old

Have you noticed that a vibrant, joyful, passionate old person is always complimented with being young at heart or looking youthful for their age? Have you ever heard anyone being complimented for being an amazing old person?  It seems like being identified as old cannot be in the same sentence as being fully alive, radiant, and/or exuberant about life.

I would like to challenge this point of view.

I read James Hillman’s book The Force of Character and the Lasting Life over 10 years ago and it profoundly changed my worldview about the meaning of old.

“To inquire into oldness by thinking also about youth and freshness and the future diverts the inquiry into a study of opposites, rather than bringing us closer to the nature of oldness – that quality we feel in old things and places, meeting old friends, going to old movies, watching a pair of old hands at work. The world nourishes when we feel its oldness.”

What I love about what he says is that oldness has its own unique beauty and is diminished when qualified by young. It had never occurred to me before I read this that being old was beautiful on its own merits. I started to see old objects, old people and old living natural beings as having a different quality of beauty, and aliveness than something new or young. Have we lost the capacity to see this?


“The very word world was once spelled “werreald” …this nourishing place so full of “eald.” It is as if old was hidden inside the world. As the soul of the world is an old soul, we cannot understand soul without a sense of old or old without a sense of soul.”

I also love how he sees the interconnectedness between old and soul, that you cannot understand soul without a sense of old and vice versa. I now see a whole other perspective to the value and depth of old as it relates to soul.

Contrary to popular belief, we experience a depth and breadth of vitality and aliveness in old age that pales in comparison to its youthful counterpart. We are so stuck on the beauty and vitality of the body that we miss the beauty and vitality of the soul/essence of being old.

I had an aunt with emphysema who carried her oxygen tank with her everywhere she went. She had a quality of vitality at 78 years old that surpassed many half her age. Her life force shone through like a diamond even though she was in an old, weak body. I now wonder how I failed to see the inner spark in many old people because I was too focused on the façade of their frail body.

I often hear people over 60 say that they don’t feel at all like 60 or 70, they feel the same way they did when they were 16. Anyone saying that must believe that at 60, or 70, they are supposed to feel decrepit, useless, broken down, boring, with no life left. Why else would anyone say they feel younger than their actual age? Why can’t we feel this alive at our age? Also, have they not evolved considerably since then? I have never heard a 30-year-old say they feel the same way they did when they were 16. They believe their vitality is appropriate for their age.  I feel very much alive at 71 and I don’t feel at all like a 16-year-old. This is what it’s like to be 71, because it is the age that I am. It remains true at 90 or 100.

Also, learning to live our life in elderhood is as new as learning to be a child, a teenager and an adult, the previous stages. Not only is it new to us, but no previous generations before us have experienced being this old. We are expected to live an additional 30 to 40 years (previous generations on average lived to 50). We will experience being old longer than at any other period in our life. It may be worthwhile to appreciate being old. We have an opportunity to choose to define what it means to be old rather than deny it.

When I listen to people, they generally have the preconceived idea that learning is for young people and either diminishes or becomes non-existent in old age. I don’t know the percentage, but most people I know who are in their 60’s and older have maintained their sense of wonder, curiosity, and thirst for evolving.

Most of us who have entered elderhood see the quality of our awareness as sharper. We experience the qualities of wonder, and curiosity with more depth and breadth. We have a broader range of understanding of complexity, of seeing the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of things that become richer as we age.  We have a greater capacity to withstand pain, a greater resiliency to accept what is, to release and let go what no longer works as we have reached a deeper maturity and substance. It often also makes us lighter, more alive but it is a very different quality than its youthful counterpart.

The joy, happiness, and contentment that we experience is also different. For some of us, it is the first time that we experience this in a consistent manner. It may appear on the surface to look the same as when we were young, because we laugh and dance in a similar way, but it is distinct.

This stage of life becomes more precious as we start developing a deeper relationship with our soul/essence, what nourishes it, what feels true to live, experience and express in our life. We become drawn more towards a soul-centric, less ego-centric life where our soul/essence is in lead while our ego, its servant.

My impression, although I have no empirical evidence for it, is that as we start living our life in old age appreciating its oldness that our life will be more alive and authentic than if we continue to see ourselves as a youthful old person.

  1. Has your perspective on being old changed? Are you willing to say you are old? If not, why not?
  2. Are there areas of your life where you accept being old and other areas where you are not?

#Learning #Love

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