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Is It All Downhill From 35? Reflections On Growing Old(er) Gracefully

Last week I turned 35. Milestone birthday!

Whilst I don’t exactly relish the process of aging, I cannot knock how it feels to be maturing. I’m experiencing more happiness and personal freedom than ever. Pleasantly, I am growing less uptight. (I just spent ten days and nights with my mum, without being mean to her, or withdrawing, once.

Now that’s grace.

Similar to cheese, human maturation can go one of two ways. Some of us ripen into something more characterful and embodied, whilst others feel they never transcend the peak of extreme youth.

I always wanted to be in the first category, which I suppose is what drives me to continue learning.

A General Note On Coping With The Passing Of Time

If you are neurotic about getting older, then I’d question your perspective on time. If you were my friend and I could get away with it, I’d suggest a part of you deep down suspects you aren’t using it wisely.

I really am going to sound like a fuddy-duddy now, but… youth truly is wasted on the young. If you’re twenty something and reading this, don’t be a typical product of your decade. Embrace questions of a spiritual nature sooner. I’m talking about things like who you really are, and what you’re alive to do or express.

When we’re really young, and we have a problem (e.g. we don’t like our job), we think we’ll have all the time in the world to figure it out. Challenges lack gravitas or urgency.

I no longer feel like I have all the time in the world. Actually, this stopped in my late twenties.

One consequence of that shift is that it has lit a fire underneath my backside. (When you really get that “later” is an increasingly dwindling commodity, you don’t pussyfoot around in making necessary changes.) Another consequence is that I’m a better companion, at least to myself. I’m usually pretty alive to the possibilities for joy in the day.

Someone once said time can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

I think about that a lot.

An Inner Capacity I Am Valuing More

Certain personal qualities are widely coveted. Confidence, for instance. Wisdom.

Grace is not one of those qualities. It’s too subtle.

In fact, if you’re not religious (I’m not), you may not have ever thought about the word. That’s significant, because the language we have shapes our experience in profound ways.

Grace, I suggest to you, is a word and a concept worth knowing.

Here is my definition of grace:

Having the psychological space to embrace unpleasant realities, contradictions, or complexities upon awareness of them, without shutting down.

How Grace Comes In Useful In The Aging Process

It’s not the process of aging exactly that grace is useful for, but the process of growth. I conflate them because for me, they are analogous.

Self-confrontation is mucky work at times. If you’re committed to developing, a huge chunk of that is staying present when dubious behaviors arise. Deceit, jealousy, or rage, for example (I’m just naming those I’ve experienced during the past week).

The stuff that we hide, repress or deny, has a psychological term. It’s referred to as “the Shadow”. This is another word worth knowing.

101 on the Shadow:

  • Traits, qualities, strengths, weaknesses, emotions, etc. that are hidden from your conscious view of yourself.
  • Things you are the most ashamed to acknowledge about yourself – or you’d be the most mortified if others knew about.
  • Stops you from reaching your full potential.
  • Needs to be recognized and reintegrated as a key element of personal growth work.
  • Illuminated through unconscious psychological projections.

In my life, I’ve repressed/avoided many things, from neediness to creativity. Now you’ll see both in me. The gift of being dependent sometimes is intimacy. As for the gifts of allowing my creativity free reign — well, who else do you know has the audacity to use the opportunity of turning 35 to produce a lesson in armchair psychology? Such is the fruit of reintegrating your lost traits. In this article’s case, I’ll leave you to decide whether that was a good thing.

This process of fetching disowned traits is grim work. Grace stops you from taking yourself so seriously throughout.

You’ve heard of “holding the space” for others, right?

Well, exercising grace is how you hold the space for yourself (or more accurately, selves).

Growing Old (er) Gracefully

I don’t know how much or how little of my Shadow I’ve reintegrated. I know there have been some changes in recent years, and I fully expect more. I’m also feeling a lot more accepting of others and myself.

As I said at the beginning, can’t knock it.

Obviously, it isn’t all downhill after 35. That’s ridiculous, and not just because 35 is still relatively young. It’d be ridiculous at any age. No number represents a decline on your ability to live life to the full. Plus, people of all ages fall into the self-made trap of taking aliveness for granted.

With the assistance of grace, I’ll go on quietly (and not so quietly) with my gallant efforts towards experiencing a workable, everyday enlightenment.

35, let’s do this.

This story originally appeared in Ideapod. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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