When invited to write an article for Smart Strategies for Successful Living on “get a jump on aging,” my first thought was, ‘I am not so good at jumping anymore.’ Arthritis, too many surgeries, and a mental slow down have taken their toll.
I recently returned from Sedona, Arizona, where I hiked the 4.2-mile trail to Devil’s Bridge. My son and grandson made the hike with ease, while I thought the last 200 yards was where my life would end. Fortunately, I made it.
I have concluded that the more I age, the less I am inclined to jump. Seems my sense of balance has been misplaced, and at the same time the desire to do more things and jump to higher ground has waned.
Exercise remains important, as does eating good food. I generally do this well, but not always. There are times when I do not want to lift weights or walk for an hour. There are mornings when I do not jump out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and start my day with nonfat yogurt, papaya, and a good book.
Instead, I have been known to sleep in, get up at my leisure, feast on bacon, eggs, hash browns, and, yes, apple fritters. Yet such a morning takes place without a tinge of guilt or thoughts that I should take better care of myself. Rather, my stomach full, I quietly sit in my favorite chair and watch the morning sun brush a new day onto the Boise foothills, and I revel in the majesty and mystery of it all.
As I continue to age, I have less to prove. As a result, I no longer always jump at opportunity. I have been known just to wave as it passes by with no desire to reach out and grab the gold ring. I have become more selective in what I do with my time, which includes enjoying doing nothing.
Hidden in the words above are areas where I do jump. I jump at reflection and re-living (at times re-writing) important events in my past. I jump at being with family. My wife and I recently made a life change that will allow us to spend more time with our immediate family in Southern California.
I jump to be with important people in my life. I just returned from a two-day drive to Tucson, Arizona, where I reconnected with my best friend from youth, whom I hadn’t seen in over forty years.
I jump inward into my thoughts and emotions. I like getting away from the city, from everyday matters. I like to hike in the mountains, sit against a tree or a large rock, feel the sun warm my body, and just be.
Unlike earlier years, I love to wrap myself in silence and listen to it speak.
As I have aged, I have jumped more and more into quiet thought, listening to the insights it brings. Caught up in the mystery of life, I know anew the greater role mystery, rather than pat answers, plays in my life. When I emotionally dance with the trees, the birds, or the wind, I feel transposed. I jump to a place where I feel a part of all that is, beyond time and space.
The late research psychologist, Lars Tornstam, helps describe what I experience. He developed what he called the theory of gerotranscendence. He proposed that, instead of assuming that “good aging” means continuing to do everything we did in midlife, we need to consider that old age has its own specific meaning and character. It often involves disengaging from the goals, activities and even people we were involved with earlier in life to allow more time and opportunity to develop an inner life (Gerotranscendence: A Developmental Theory of Positive Aging, 2005).
When I first read about his theory, I thought it created a profound loneliness and isolation, separating a person from everything but one’s own thoughts. This, however, proved not to be the case.
Gerotranscendence does not try to replace activity in an old person’s life; it just supplements it, and in some ways redefines what activity means.
When I first found myself disengaging from numerous activities and jumping to a quieter place inside, it just didn’t feel right. I thought I was copping out on life. Not doing enough. As time went on, I discovered I was not rejecting life but jumping into engagement of another kind.
Jerzy Piotrowski, a Polish gerontologist, discovered near the end of his own life that he, too, experienced social disengagement and instead found engagement through a source that came from “within myself.” He concluded that disengagement can create extreme loneliness or, on the other hand, open a door to a type of engagement many had heretofore never experienced. In old age each of us decides how we will disengage, which way we will jump.
Lars Tornstam’s work points to the paradox of experiencing engagement while disengaging in old age. He did a study on loneliness with people aged fifteen to eighty. The surprising discovery was that loneliness decreases with age, despite role and relationship losses. Being alone does not always mean one is lonely. Disengagement is not isolation. It is not inactivity.
I believe we jump to this truth in old age like no other time in life. With the right attitude, loneliness can be transformed into welcome solitude, supplementing diminishing social and community involvement. With solitude comes a silence that teaches and brings peace and meaning to everyday living.
This jump to solitude was not something I entertained until old age. Now it is a welcome friend.
Easing into the final stage
If you are experiencing old age as I am, feel free to give me a call. I would jump at the opportunity to sit with a new friend, share some coffee or perhaps sip on an old single malt scotch made better with time, reminisce on our different life experiences, contemplate our navels, tell a few bad jokes. We could thoughtfully explore the mystery we call life and consider where we might jump next to fully live in this, our last stage.
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization. He is the author of the recent book, RavenWind, that is available through outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing. His first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A Spiritual Approach to Aging, is available through Amazon.
More about Dr. Cobbs’ latest book, Ravenwind…
From ancient lore, down millenniums, traveling through worldwide mythologies, legends, and folktales, the mythical raven is entwined in the history of mankind. Most researchers agree that about twenty thousand years ago the first Americans came from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to what is now North America. The Siberians and their shamans were accompanied by the mythical raven who mediated between the physical and spiritual worlds.
With the Siberian influence, Northwest Native American mythology speaks of the raven as creator, destroyer, and trickster. As in Siberia, raven soars on the wind between the great spirit/mystery and the physical world. Raven teaches respect for earth and the oneness of all that is.
In RavenWind, author Hartzell Cobbs offers at look at the raven’s role in world history and in Native American myths, legends, and folktales. He tells how the raven of folklore calls one to follow, to listen, and experience life with all its complexity, insight, ambiguity, contraction, and humor. With an emphasis on Native American tradition, Cobbs explores the presence of mythical raven in the mundane.