I’m 39 years old. According to our youth-obsessed culture, I should be gearing up for a full scale emotional crisis at my next birthday as I step over the threshold of youth to (gasp) middle age. But, I’m not really freaked out. Truth is, I don’t really think about it. While it is inevitable that everyone who has ever been born will age, it is completely optional whether or not we suffer because of it. It’s all about perspective and (of course) meditation.
Don’t identify by age
We all have a self-concept based on where we place our awareness. Some may identify by their athletic prowess, their job, their financial status, their relationship, or their attractiveness. These are all relative states however, so if one’s self-concept is defined by any of these, when change occurs, identity crisis follows. Same holds true for age. With meditation, as our awareness systematically dips into the layer of the mind that is unchanging–the unbounded Self, we come to identify more and more with that layer. The percentage of self that identifies with the body and how old it is becomes less and less until it’s hardly even a thought. If you don’t meditate, you can choose to place your awareness on aspects of your life that are more lasting–love for family, appreciation of nature, etc.–as opposed to dwelling on superficial, changeable forms. Not identifying with age also allows us to connect with others regardless of age, but more on the basis of points of unity we have with each other.
Chronological age vs. biological age
We tend to think of age as the number of times the earth has circled around its closes star, the sun since we were born, but that is only one way to think of it. There are many people at 50 who are far younger from a biological standpoint than those who are 40. This has to do with a number of factors including genes, environment, social relationships and stress level. Regular meditators have been shown in various studies to age approximately six months for every year and have an dramatically increased life-expectancy due to meditation’s ability to pull stress from the body. But whether you meditate or not, it’s nice to think of aging as something variable over which we have some control.
If we want to look at aging from the cellular level, it’s all about the telomeres. These are repeating segments of noncoding DNA at the ends of your chromosomes that shorten with each cell division, helping to determine how fast your cells age and when they die. However, we have some ability to lengthen our telomeres. Exercise, living in a healthy community, a diet of whole foods, and most importantly, stress reduction help keep telomeres long. Qigong and meditation have been shown to greatly increase telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres.
Looking beyond a lifetime
According to the Vedas, the soul’s path is longer than this one lifetime. While no one really knows for sure what happens to us before we’re born or after we die, adopting this perspective has greatly reduced my fear of aging or death. I see everyone as at a certain point in their evolution which has a very long arc, not whether or not they’re a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer, or Xennial (apparently that’s the group I belong to now). People respond very well to being seen as their true self and not as an age category which may or may not reflect how they see themselves. The more we can look beyond age and other superficial factors that separate us, the better off we will all be.
My dad, proof that chronological age is just a number.