Recently, I seem to meet more and more people who are just beginning to notice physical signs of aging; or who are learning to wrangle with persistent pain or discomfort; or who are deep into their “wisdom years” (which ironically may leave them struggling to express or retain a thought). Because those of my generation form one of the largest demographics in contemporary society, the voices complaining of bewildering body aches sound a loud chorus. Additionally, this Baby Boomer generation is grappling with how to care for elderly parents: That concern, coupled with coping with their own aging bodies may leave many a Boomer feeling exhausted, frustrated, or even in a state of grief.
I find myself reckoning with my own newish foray into feeling my ”age of aging” by calling upon the affirmation—and continual reaffirmation— that each of us is so much more than a physical body.
As one who tumbled and tussled; played and battled; and competed, rehearsed, and practiced from my first tip-toe steps, physical aches, injury, and recovery are second nature to me. Certainly, the importance of a determined, focused mind factored into every physical challenge I undertook, be it a match, a race, a test, or a training: I learned early on that without the input and support of the mind, the body rarely soars beyonds its basic machinations.
As my multi-modality studies in energy and bodywork deepened over the years, my spirit began to unfurl: Its sails rose steady and strong, and my body and mind began to cede their reign. No aspect felt unused or unappreciated, however; they worked together, and grew together, and their resulting synergistic strength carried me through near-hopelessness and close-to-brokenness. I was grateful for each iota of understanding and deepened faith that germinated in the midst of trials.
In the past year or two, Life’s tides have shifted yet again. As my mother’s cognitive world began to move off-axis, my body and mind faltered: Her mental struggles seemed to awaken and reactivate dormant physical and emotional strife within me. I found that I had to be ever-vigilant and diligently disciplined, in order to resist an encroaching attachment to her ride into dementia. For this is where the sensitivity and strength that I have learned to hone over the years could easily have taken a wrong turn; the distinction between empathy and enmeshment is a fine one, and one that can elude even the most aware and attuned being.
The first step to avoid begin swept along in another person’s Life path is to, of course, recognize that that possibility looms large. Then, I find that to identify where and how that near-immersion manifests on a physical, mental, or spiritual level is the next step. For example, sleeplessness; resurgence of detrimental habits; irritability; or sadness may begin to surface; physically, “mysterious” aches or skin conditions may arise.
And then, the question becomes: How does one cope with the needs and circumstances that must be addressed for the other person, while safe-guarding one’s own health and peace? This is a common question these days, given that so many of us are in similar situations, with regard to our own aging and concomitant parental old-age. The general answer is that we do our best: Part of that requires an acceptance that some days may get away from us, and we will not care for ourselves as well as we should. Part of that requires an understanding that the struggle is a shared one, albeit felt differently. And part of that is having an arsenal of self-care techniques to call upon when we do settle in and make time for ourselves.
In tomorrow’s writing, I will offer a practice that eases physical exhaustion and over-stimulation, as well as general body aches. Further, the accompanying meditation inherently will address the flip side of, “We are more than the body.” While my focus typically is on awakening and nurturing the spiritual aspect of being through the use of mind and energy modalities, I concede that the mind may be a less accessible or friendly place for many elderly people. In my mother’s case, for example, her mind is a slippery slope, but her physical stalwartness defies expectation, if not reason: She is strong and mobile, heart-healthy and vital. When such is the case, i.e., the body is steadier than the mind, how does one access and engage the spiritual aspect of being? For it is in that spirit that the essence of Life exists and persists: Therein lies the eternal wellness that can be had by all.