What age would you tell someone you are if you didn’t know what age you are? Stephen Levine asked this question at a seminar on Death and Dying that he was presenting many years ago. Sometimes, I find myself asking myself that question. When I’m on a golf course, I feel about 25. Not because I’m a good golfer but because I always feel like a newbie even though I have played on and off for over 40 years. After I was treated for cancer, I aged about ten years, in one year. Before cancer I would have answered that I was about 35, after cancer I felt like 45. I guess that was ok since at the time I was treated I was 52. I haven’t “aged” much over the last two decades which makes me wonder if that shows a lack of maturity, a lack of self-awareness or complete denial about the passing of time.
My first visit to Canyon Ranch in Arizona was over a decade ago. I was looking for a way to learn about how to best take care of my health and I had read a lot about the resort and decided to give it a try. It’s a wonderful place, very holistic and almost surreal. It met all my expectations. While there the founder and owner, Mel Zuckerman did an early morning presentation about the beginning of the ranch and why he started it. He was very dynamic and I found his story to be quite inspirational. He said when he first arrived in Arizona he was not in good health. One of the first tests he took determined his “age” based on his physical condition. He was about 55 at the time and the test came back that he was in his 70s. Now, he was in his 70s and after years of training and healthy food and other practices, his “age” tested at 55. At the time that seemed like a radical concept, becoming "younger" as one ages but now there is a lot of information about getting stronger and healthier as we age. One of my personal favorites is Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D.
A friend told me “Growing old is not for the weak of heart.” I know the number one determining factor about how we age is our genes. It’s also the number one factor determining if we age, but the second most influential factor is how and what we think about the aging process. In the Omega Institute’s first Conscious Aging conference one speaker shared his research into the number one factor concerning the age at which we will die. After years of research, he found it was determined mostly by when we thought we would die.
As of this writing my mother’s best friend is 96. Many mornings when I am entering the gym at 9 or 9:30, she is on her way out. She has already finished her workout. She peddles the bike for 15 minutes, she uses the rowing machine for 15 minutes and then she does the weight machine circuit. She drives herself there and then she heads to Trader Joe’s for her daily shopping expedition. She is one of my heroines. She had a broken tibia when she was 94 and was in rehab for almost 9 months. I was sure that was “it” for her. I couldn’t imagine her recovering from such a break at such an advanced age. It’s good I didn’t share that with her because she never doubted she was going to heal and return to living in her own home on her own and back to a full, rich life and so she did!
Have you listened to what people say about their health? Have you had the opportunity to hear people speak about their memories, their backs, their knees, eyes, hearing, stomachs, etc? It seems a day never passes when someone isn’t claiming that age is the reason for some ailment with which they are dealing. People seem to be looking for a reason why they are deteriorating and it’s so easy to claim it’s age related.
Dr. Andrew Weil had a PBS special on how to live a healthier older life. He recognized that the body does change. We are always changing and that we might need to make adjustments as we go along. Most of us seem to fall into that category and then there are the people who are in their 80's or 90's and are still running marathons. What works for one simply may not work for another. We need to create a personal life plan for each individual.
My cousin’s mother was almost 100 when she was diagnosed with dementia. Of course, they were told, it was a normal condition for someone her age. Another physician asked the family if their mother had been tested for a thyroid problem. No, she had not been tested. A few days after beginning the proper medication, she was back to her normal self.
Do yourself a favor, don’t claim your ailments. Certainly, they can be a part of your life but let them be just that, a part of your life. Don’t let them determine who you are. Don’t identify with them. Even a serious diagnosis does not have to determine your identity. I have met more people who introduce themselves to me by telling me about their physical challenges. Sometimes, it’s the first thing they tell me after their name. I want to shout “Get behind me Satan! Don’t do that! You are greater than whatever ailment you’re dealing with. Find another way to view yourself, to view your problem.” Truly, it’s not a lack of compassion on my part. It’s actually very compassionate. I want to tell them they are injuring themselves even further by focusing on their diagnosis. Put it aside, put it on a shelf and go do something fun or better yet, go do something for someone else.
You have the power to heal yourself! It is within all of us. Claim it! Yes, it may mean making some changes, getting help. It may mean medication, surgery, a change in diet or exercise but listen closely and you will know what you need to do to help yourself. But, the first thing you need to do is to not identify with your diagnosis. You need to find a way to make peace, to just allow it to be and to move away and forward. You’ve seen them and you’ve met them, people who don’t only refuse to allow their ailments and disabilities interfere with their lives but who thrive in spite of them. It is possible for all of us.
What do you think the Olympic Athletes tell themselves? Do you think they focus on their aches, pains or ailments? What about Oscar Pistorius, the "fastest man on no legs." He's had a double below the knee amputation and runs on two artificial limbs. He competed in the 2012 London Olympics. How hard do you think that was?
Rachel Naomi Remen in Kitchen Table Wisdom speaks about healing. She says that sometimes we will not be cured but we can always be healed. What we think about, we bring about. You might be dealing with a serious illness but if you choose your thoughts carefully, you will know you are a glorious creature of God. You are beautiful! You are amazing! You still have a life to live and love to bestow! We need to hold onto the belief that the Best is yet to come and that we get to choose whether or not to believe it and whether or not we will create it.
Once again, we get to choose. We decided day to day, moment to moment how we perceive ourselves; how we perceive our abilities; how we perceive our bodies. It's our greatest power. It's the one thing we have total (at most times) control over. Claim your health! Claim your strength! Whatever it is that is interfering with your optimal health needs to be reframed, adjusted. You may not have to put on two artificial limbs, thank God, but maybe you need to put on an artificial aid, a new thought process to enable you to compete in the race of life.
“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you - all of the expectations, all of the beliefs - and becoming who you are.”