Arts & Crafts Magazine

A Conversation About Aging Gracefully; Two Things

By Laharris1

A conversation about aging gracefully; two things
Yesterday I was lying on the soft mat at my gym, when I looked down at my black leggings and realized they were inside out.Yep. There it was, two mountainous seams running down both my inner legs and god knows if there was one on my backside.
Oh crap. How did I not see this?
For a whole second, I debated about heading to the locker room and immediately fixing this embarrassing fitness-faux pas. Only the vision of me hobbling on one leg at a time, leaning against the wall while I yanked and stretched myself back to respectability popped into my mind.
Forget it, too much work.
Afterwards I made another surprising choice (for me); I didn’t rush home, pink faced and self-conscious.  Instead, I ended up doing a bunch of errands still wearing my leggings down the bright aisles of the grocery store, into Macy’s to pick up my new glasses, and back into the sunny parking lot, every bit aware of the women walking behind me.
La de da de da… feeling exposed but oh-well.
Only each time I thought about my seams, I started giggling. I felt like Dudley Moore in that limo scene in the movie Arthur, when he bursts out laughing hysterically for no apparent reason and explains to the prostitute,“Sometimes I just think funny things.” Don’t you love that scene?
The idea of expressing your insanely, goofy self with a brazen freedom, without a care about who is around or who even gets the joke?
As I’ve gotten older something radical has been happening inside me. And I’m convinced it’s the je ne sais quoi of good aging, the equivalent of hitting the beauty jackpot only instead of gold coins spilling out at your feet, there’s a new perspective. I notice it in the little moments.

Like when I walk into a room of strangers and I’m more focused on how the other person is feeling, instead of me.  I no longer worry if I’m dressed Ok. (If I feel good, that’s my answer) I’ve stopped pretending I care which hairstyles are best for my age group. (see above reason) And when I occasionally dress without my glasses and show up in public with my clothing inside-out, I’m the first person to laugh at myself.

I’m not sure when these internal shifts began, but I do believe aging with grace involves a transformation of our soul, mind and heart as much as our physical bodies. It means opening ourselves up to a new way of being in the world, and this requires us to be real and honest and brave about the person we want to be.I'm still figuring it out.
But for me, aging means being empowered in two specific ways.

1.Myths about our Self2.Other-ness1.Letting go of old myths about YOU

Take my example with my leggings.At first glance I know it looks like a silly thing. But not long ago I would have been cringing at my mistake, convinced that everyone’s eyes were riveted on my protruding seams and that of course, they were snickering as I walked away.
The Younger Me would have rushed home to change, unable to tolerate the embarrassment of having my defective self on full display.
And there’s the key word. Defective.
Without realizing it, I would’ve attached meaning to this experience based on some outdated and hurtful myth about myself I still carry around. Old beliefs about who I am-- that when triggered, --evoke a rush of cobwebby feelings to the surface again.
You know that feeling when you finally talk in person to someone you’ve only heard stories about, only to find out that they are nothing like the impression you had of them?
Well, we can walk around with distorted views about our Self too.
Aging with grace is teaching me about letting go, period. Not only in how I deal with my relationships and valuable objects but even old critical ways of seeing myself.
This means facing some of our earliest experiences, when you didn’t have your wise, adult perspective to explain how it wasn’t really your fault because you were only a child. And how as a child, you were only trying to do your best and by-the-way, you shouldn’t have felt so alone.P.S. You were always enough.
Holding on to an old narrative about yourself keeps you from growing. And it prevents you from loving your most tender parts: remember the You that spoke from your small, petty self and said mean things to someone you love?
The You with the jealous feelings, and the You that made that bad decision?
Luckily aging makes us smarter. We know that disowning our messy, flawed parts doesn’t make them go away. It just keeps us from feeling whole and lovable and we deserve more from ourselves.
Finding our kinder voice
The reason I’m sharing my "inside-out" story is not because it’s special or unique. Its value is only as a little nudge. Something to make you think about how kindly you treat your own awkward mistakes.
And maybe you can relate.Because here's the truth,
I still felt that old twinge of self-consciousness while I was walking around in my leggings.
But here’s what’s different now.
Those feelings are no longer ME.
Now I’m able to create enough space between myself and my emotions to view them from the eyes of an observer. I am not my feelings and I am not my thoughts. I know this sounds basic, but that’s a monumental step towards being happy.
My kinder voice sounds like this:
Oh look. It’s that old feeling of ‘being different’ again. Of thinking that I’m the only one who does something like this and this wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t something deficient and lacking about me.
Cleo Wade the poet and writer, gave a beautiful example of this type of mindful awareness at her recent book signing.
Instead of investing in our negative emotions we can choose to acknowledge them in a way that doesn’t cling or overwhelm us. Instead of telling myself, “Oh my god I am so embarrassed,” I can say, “I feel embarrassment passing through my body right now.”I can resist over-identifying with negative emotion.
I will feel it.
I will respect that this feeling is telling me something interesting,
but I will let it move through me without judging.
Because this emotion is not Me.
This is the kind of self-love that is better than any miraculous skin creams you can buy.
2. Freedom from Other-ness.
I explain Other-ness like this.
  • When you’re in grade school you look at the prettiest girl in your class and you admire her and you desperately want to be included at her birthday party.
  • When you’re 15, walking with your best friend on a crowded sidewalk from school, you gaze longingly at the 16-year old’s driving their own cars around town.
  • When you’re 19, without a boyfriend, you sigh and wish you were 21 so you could hit the bars and be included in a world that looks populated by new and imagined friends.
  • When you’re 35, you start to miss your 20-year old body.
  • When you’re 40, you wish you were more like the friend at your child’s school, who appears to be balancing motherhood and career in a way you’re not.

You get the idea.
We are profoundly aware of the Other Person.Only it’s not the awareness of the Other Person that’s the problem, it is the silent comparisons we’re making inside our heads. As I get older I’ve decided to be like the suspicious Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, right before she yanks back the velvet curtain exposing the Wizard.
No more wide-eyed girl believing the illusion that some Admired Other has all my power.
The mysterious thing I’m seeking.
Instead of looking at someone we admire and asking,

·Why am I not more like her? ·Why is my life not like that life?

I think we should start with the truth.
You feel like something is missing.
That’s ok.
But instead of going toward the empty place inside you for answers, you project your dreamy ideals on to someone you admire. Someone who seems to possess what you’re missing. Only one problem. This kind of gazing outward for your happiness continues at every stage of your life unless you deal with what’s really missing inside you.
It’s ok to gaze over and see what someone else is doing, but when you end up feeling bad about yourself or dissatisfied with your own life afterwards, it’s time to look deeper.
Rejecting smallness
Energetically, each time we compare ourselves with another person we are choosing to keep our world small and compacted. This feels like ‘stuck-ness.’ Either we end up feeling inferior in some way, or we end up feeling superior which means that we’ve been judging some poor, unsuspecting person’s lifestyle or their face, or their weight in secret.
It’s the opposite of living a big-hearted life.
Let me give you a personal example.
I was at a wedding recently, standing in a group of women I hadn’t seen in a while and after several minutes of cheerful conversation one of the women left the group. Within seconds, the remaining friends began whispering. The comments weren’t meant as negative, these were nice women. But the topic was whether this woman had any “face work” done because she apparently looked great.
I stood there feeling confused. First, because I hadn’t noticed anything different about her, but mostly because this conversation happened only seconds after she left the group.
And I couldn’t explain why, but I felt yucky.
Since then, I’ve thought about this situation. And I realize that even “positive” judgments can be a slippery slope, because we’re still judging someone. Maybe even comparing ourselves in the process.I’m not saying I never do this kind of thing, but I’m aware that it feels wounding to my soul.
And while I don’t always realize ‘smallness’ in the moment, I do know when someone’s words feel like the opposite, inclusive and loving.
I realized this recently. I follow a yoga teacher on Instagram and a while back she addressed some “haters” who made hurtful comments about (of all things) her feet. Instead of lashing back, she pointed out that we are all mirrors to one another and she said,
“What hurts me is knowing that you can never say hurtful things to another if there wasn’t some part of you that’s being hurtful to yourself.”
She continued to speak from a place of forgiveness by asking the haters to meditate on the negativity they directed at her and ask themselves this question, “What is it that you dislike about who you are?” Wow.
I felt so impressed by her lack of ego.
Maybe because I spent too much of my 20s and 30s being worried about what others thought of me.
But I recognized this as sign of a generous spirit.
This is what I believe aging gracefully looks like in real life; I see it in the words of this thirty-something year old yoga teacher. It’s not about being a specific age, it’s not about having a firm body, and it's not about looking like some version of a fashionable Diane Keaton.
It’s about being a certain kind of woman. Maybe for me this means walking around on a sunny day wearing my black leggings inside-out as a statement of defiance: I am not my latest goof-ball mistake nor am I my latest success.
I am so much more than what you see on the outside.

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