Aging with Grace – Age is a State of Mind

Nana and me Dec 12 '08

Yesterday (February 5) was Susannah Conway’s 41 birthday. I’ve been a fan of Susannah’s blog for several years; she is a wonderful writer and photographer.  As part of honoring her birthday, Susannah asked a group of bloggers and friends to write a post about getting older. I’m honored to be part of this group and to share my thoughts about this subject. I will be 62 at the end of February.

My Nana, my mother’s mother, lived to be 101 and resided at home, alone, until six months before she died. A tiny woman (just over four feet tall), she was also feisty, and as she aged, she took more risks. She married Ed when she was 70 and he was 65. For 29 years they enjoyed a big, full, happy life.

If you knew my Nana, you would know that for her, life is to be lived as one big adventure. Nana started a senior citizen’s band and they entertained at nursing homes. She bowled, and with Ed, was the four-time putt-putt champion at the senior center. She only gave it up at age 95 because she felt her balance was a bit off for bowling.

Nana always laughed and said, “I don’t like to hang out with old people. All they do is talk about their aches and pains.” I loved to tell her I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. It took me a while to get this; I was in my late 40s when I began saying this to her.

I consider myself blessed to have had such a positive role model for aging with grace. Nana showed me how to live a big life, take risks and go on adventures.

In my work as a coach and two-time entrepreneur, I have a keen interest in online marketing and the trends in business. This tends to put me in contact with young women half my age. I notice that most of my online friends are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s – younger than I am. At first, I felt awkward about it and questioned myself: what is it that attracts me to these younger women? I realized I am drawn to their energy and their keen desire to learn about themselves.

Now I feel gratitude and pride to be invited to soirees with 30, and 40-year-olds where I am the oldest of the group. I am honored to be one of the elders of Marie Forleo’s B School where I have made incredible friends online who “get my work” and understand the world in which I live.  Last week, I received a hand written note from one of the women I work with and under my name was the title: “Tribal Matriarch.” I loved that. I accept it and wear it with pride.

All of us have challenges in our lives, some of us more than others. My 50s were the most challenging decade of my life, due to my younger brother’s murder, and yet this decade held the most personal growth. I sought to understand what this tragedy taught me and what I could learn from it. In my quest to grieve and recover, I learned how to practice the art of self-inquiry called “The Work,” which was developed by Byron Katie. “The Work” helped set me free from all the stories I had told myself since I was young that were simply not true. I had created a meaning from all the defining moments of my life. Questioning my long-held beliefs ultimately gave me freedom. I was humbled and learned self-compassion and self-love.

I consider myself, in my 60s, to be the most authentic version of myself. I feel good in my skin. I have learned that my body is wise, and if I follow its energy and listen to its form of communication – physical sensations – I can trust it more than my ego.

I’ve survived tragedies and found resilience. I am now courageous enough to share my vulnerabilities and imperfections, and employ my personal growth tools to face whatever life brings me in terms of challenges. I no longer dwell on the tragedies of the past nor let fear direct my actions or my life. I love this quote by Byron Katie, “If you want to live in fear, get a future. If you want to live in regret, get a past.”

In my work as a coach, I have seen twenty-somethings suffer with the belief that “they are too old,” such as too old to get a particular job. It seems we can be too old at any age, in our own mind. If you become conscious of the story you tell yourself about how you are either too old or too young, consider instead that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. If you believe you are something other than where you are, you are arguing with reality, or “what is,” as Byron Katie likes to say.

hooded croneI am a fan of Jungian psychology and of Joseph Campbell’s work. In his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the Hero’s first encounter is with a crone, revered as a powerful and protective being. She offers the Hero help in the form of magic devices against the dangers he will face. In ancient cultures the crone was a female elder considered to be a wise woman. Yet sadly, in our present-day culture, “crone” is a derogatory term. I believe with the rising consciousness of the divine feminine we will embrace the wisdom of the age. I aspire to be a crone.

I believe it’s vitally important for all of us to find inspiration along our life’s path, and especially as we age. There is no one right way to achieve this; I, for one, love finding inspiration instead of berating my body. My body is completely innocent. It’s the mind – the ego – that attacks the body. I learned to be at peace with my body in my late 50s.

I know now that I am an ageless Soul in a body having a human experience in this lifetime. I feel almost a decade younger than my biological age. Yes, my body now has more physical limits, but I am an active outdoor person and equally at home in the world of travel. I do know and accept that I must work out more to keep my weight down and to maintain my physical strength. My body is aging and that is something I can fight against (and lose) or learn to accept. I can accept that which I am able to do instead of focusing on the things I can’t.

I want to experience a BIG life and have amazing adventures. I live my life so that when I am 90 and in my rocker on my front porch, I can say, “Wow, I had some amazing experiences, didn’t I?

Here are the concepts I practice:

  • Have no regrets. Make amends to those people I have hurt and ask for forgiveness.
  • Live from a place of gratitude.
  • Look for the positive in challenging situations or catalytic events. If you can’t easily see it keep looking it is always there.
  • Be as present as possible.
  • Become conscious of what you think and believe.
  • Happiness is an inside job. No person or material thing can make you happy.
  • Notice what inspires you and gives you energy – follow that.
  • Notice what drains your body of energy and move away from it.
  • Follow what brings you happiness.
  • Eliminate worn out things, worn out relationships, and simplify your life.

I know that my last true freedom in the world is being able to choose how I think about a circumstance such as aging. I choose to embrace it and I choose to do it with grace.

I am happier now than I have ever been.  I know my Nana would be proud.

 Happy birthday to you, Susannah Conway, and thank you for inspiring a group of women to write about conscious aging.

What are your thoughts about aging?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

  1. Ronna Detrick – thank you for reading! I appreciate your feedback. Nana would be proud I know it;) We women must raise the consciousness of what it means to age gracefully. I’m so happy to meet you virtually.

    1. Erin Geesaman Rabke – I love that you have a Nana too. I had two and the other one was a beautiful woman whom we dearly loved too. Tell your Nana that she is inspiring you. She will be pleased to hear it. They are so important to us. I wish I could hug both of my Nanas. Hugs yours for me ok? Thank you for writing, Sherold, aka Tribal Matriarch;)

  2. Wow! This was a great read, Sherold. I always prided myself on my positive feelings about aging. Then I reached my 50’s and suddenly I was thrown very off kilter. I, too, sustained a traumatic loss of a family member, my children going off to college, etc. I felt shame for not handling it all in the way I always thought I would. I recently discovered Byron Katie by way of Elizabeth Duvivier and just witnessing the work she does with others has helped me immensely. Reading what you wrote here about the 50’s being difficult for you makes me feel like there’s hope for me. I’m 53 now. As things have settled down a little I have more clarity and can see the kind of growth you mentioned you experienced in your 50’s. Anyway, thank you. I really appreciate your positive outlook on aging. What a great idea Susannah had. Beautiful.

    1. Karin – you know it’s so cool that we women can connect online now and see that we are not alone in our lives. It’s so sad that you felt shame for the way you handled it. I love Oprah’s quote, “When we know better, we do better.” I did not handle my grief well, self-medicated with a glass or two of wine at night. I had the spark of life inside that led me. It’s leading you – it’s our Soul’s light. Byron Katie’s Work is my power tool. My only offspring was 28 two years ago and diagnosed with a life-threatening disease out of the blue. Her Work helped me see that my “mother identity” was telling me I could not go on if he died. I found that I was at deep peace during a facilitation and I realized I could mother myself, other young people and the planet if something bad happened. That alone was transformative. If you ever need to get a facilitation, go to http://thework.com and look under Resources for the Helpline. Trained facilitators like me staff it as part of our training. I will start staffing it in April or May. Sometimes it takes a catalytic event to crack us open for our own Soul’s evolution. Check out my manifesto – 10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Was 30 – you can get it on the front page of my web site. I think you will resonate with the info and I have questions at the end of each piece. My best to you.

    1. Dear Susannah – look how much good your idea has spawned. You have so many women who want to age consciously. I love that I got to be part of this remarkable group. You are a beautiful woman, inside and out. I’m so happy to know you virtually;)

  3. This is a beautiful post, Sherrold. Thank you for being so clear and vulnerable. I really hear you and appreciate what you have shared. I love how you have shown that anyone at any age can think of themselves as “too old”. I’ve run into this, too. Thanks for leading the way in being an amazing woman at any age, and sharing the inspiration from your grandmother.

  4. Robin Holland – it’s so wonderful to meet you and thank you for reading this. Yes – we seem to argue with reality of our state of age – we are either too young or too old and never here in the present. I am so happy to share my thoughts and thank you again, Robin.

  5. Sherold, you inspire me! I have only been following you for a short while but I can tell you’re the real deal. I love your beauty and integrity (I never would have guessed you were in your 60s.) I’m 46 and have been going through some type of “dark night of the soul” or “midlife crisis” for over two years now. Probably more than that but more intensely since a work term ended over two years ago. It was then that I knew I needed to clean house inside as it was no longer serving me and I stopped looking for “outside work”. It’s definitely been challenging for me and my family financially but something keeps telling me to stay here or to not go there any more. I immerse myself daily in inspiring authors, speakers and am hoping all this is not for naught – that the light of inspiration will break through one day and guide me along in that outside world. Anyways, thanks for being so authentic as it allows me to do the same!

  6. Guylaine – what a sweet, sweet message from you. I hope that you have downloaded my digital manifesto and read that. I have learned a lot about how to be resilient and that is something I think about sharing.
    I feel for you going through some of this yet it’s all for you – as Byron Katie would say. Have you felt like you were shedding layers to become more yourself? It’s painful yet it is freeing. I am running another Smart Women Make Money program in April. Keep in touch with me because I give out several scholarships. Just email me when she you me promoting it ok? I would love to have you in there. Money is the theme yet it’s all about beliefs, thoughts and learning to be conscious. Thank you for writing. xoxo

    1. Thanks for your kinds words and support Sherold. I will definitely keep an eye out for your next Smart Women Make Money program and I would love to take part in it.

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