>Where do we go from here?

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Have you ever felt like not doing anything at all and just let the world pass you by?  I do, quite often, and at those times it feels like being in a haze.  I know I have these three hundred thousand chores to do, many other ambitious plans of writing, singing, going places, connecting with people, taking care of my well being, blah, blah!   And, those voices seem to come calling for me from a distant land … I can hear but can’t respond, as I am dazed; like being in a limbo with no movement.  Have you ever experienced this?

I do, quite often in fact, and I often wonder whether this is what getting old mean?  On one hand you “know” you have these dreams, wishes, desires and on the other hand, you “feel” so content with what there is … well, may be not “content” in the exact sense of the word but a sense of being “ok” and feeling no tearing sense of urgency.

I wonder whether it has anything to do with ageing at all?  My discussions with people usually bring up comments like “Oh, age is only in the mind”, “you can do whatever you wish to do; age has nothing to do with it” and yet I wonder, doesn’t it?

Ageing is such a less talked about phenomena in my known world – the few contexts in which it is talked about is either religiosity or health related.  Of course there would be counter arguments about the average age of our politicians, but in my opinion that is about our collective clannish orientation where “the elderly knows the best”. 

My question is are we really afraid to age and become old?  I know I am; I often tell my friends that my emotional age has stopped somewhere in my thirties although chronologically I am in my fifties!   

My fears of getting old is leaving a known world – a world where I could achieve anything, dream of future so bright and shiny, relationships seemed romantic and passionate and where anything was possible! 

As I am writing this post, I am also in touch with the fact that most of my dread around ageing is shaped by the way society responds to it; how we have collectively made this into a dreary, grey and slightly hopeless land where people can look back at their past glory, hand over their future to their children and/or desperately want to stay at the same place and claim that “50” is the “new 30” …. and how it has become our consensual truth, i.e. everyone says so, hence it must be so.  That old age is lonely, not very stable, dependent and diseased.  I am of course over generalizing here to make a point.

The other depiction of old age that I have seen is in movies where romance, grit and passion are also part of the ageing process.  Where people find each other and start afresh, and of course in Indian context that if often depicted with its share of shame and guilt.  As though romance is a big no no for people over a certain age.  But even this little bit of difference is scarce.   How much of this is real in our day-to-day living process in our upper middle class, middle class and other sections of the society in India today?

 Without aping the “youthfulness frenzy” and without falling into a “hopeless abyss”, are there different ways of enjoying our life space when we are stepping into the older part of our lives, be it after 40 or 50 or 60?  This is a phase of life for most people where togetherness with partners has been lived for a while, children if any, are either in their teens or in early youth, career has taken a certain shape and we are standing at the peak from where we can both sides of the slope.  We can hurtle down, we can slowly walk, we can stride, but we can neither stop nor go back.

What choices do we make?  Are there any models available?  What new models do we wish to create? Traditionally in India there is a concept of “Vanprastha” where people can make new choices after their basic commitment and duties of being a householder is over.  However, in popular parlance, this is often viewed at from a particularised point of view, i.e. people are expected to  get into spirituality, into social work and philanthropy, etc, as though after a certain age, making other choices for oneself is a matter of shame. 

While I certainly do not run down social work, spirituality, philanthropy etc, the point I am trying to make here is what other choices are possible for us to look at?  How would we look at contentment that comes from having finished a phase of our lives to the best or worst of our abilities?  


However, I believe making choices is a second step.  Perhaps the first step is to articulate how we feel about getting older.  Perhaps only then, can we envision our future and not resign to the way we are supposed to be!! 

Looking forward to hearing from you.  What do you think?

  

woman, mother, thinker, citizen of the world, curious and hopeful about the world, generous, opinionated, argumentative, insightful, intuitive, psychotherapist, executive coach and organisation consultant

23 thoughts on “>Where do we go from here?

  1. >Interesting. Particularly because over the last one month, the issue of old age and death has been a recurring topic in my conversations with others and my conversations with myself. And not in a depressing way. A gentleman of 79, suffering from intestinal cancer, has been fighting it with grit over the last three years. He went to an operation to avoid chemotherapy, but could not avoid it. Then he went through chemo. In the meantime and thereafter, he kept suffering from UTIs, recurring fever, until he started developing acute lower abdominal pain and was diagnosed with hernia. That operation over, he started experiencing acute stomach pain to find out that his intestines has coiled itself, got operated upon again – where the surgeon failed to rectify the knot beyond 30 or 40 percent. His diet was then restricted to liquids, and he said that one only needs 'chhanar jol' (the water one gets after citrusing milk to get cottage cheese?) to live, according to Buddhist monks. His spirit was not to be defeated. While I marvelled and admired his zest for life and his spirit of fighting disease, I also wondered what kept him wanting to live. I have observed a couple of deaths closely – one of my maternal grandmother, Ashalata, – who was bed-ridden for over 2 decades, managed to deal with that confinement with her passion for reading. She developed paranoid schizophrenia towards the end and by the time she died at 86, she calmly accepted death. The morning before she sank into a coma, she asked my father to sing a song by Tagore … 'aamader jatra holo shuru, ogo kornodhaar…' – which speaks of readiness to start a journey, never to return. She was agnostic – and always maintained that she did not know whether, and if, there was anything at all after death, or whether or not there was a god. My paternal grandmother, Suniti (Sen), on the other hand, a devout Krishna bhakt, who never let a priest ever come between her and her Krishna, firmly believed that her husband (who died 3 decades before she did) and krishna were waiting to escort her to wherever the minute she would die. She, too, died at 86. Until mid 70s, she was very active – and as her body degenerated, she would tell me 'my mind runs faster than my body, and my body gets exhausted trying to keep up with my mind…'. I have believed for the longest time that I am not afraid of death. In my late adolescence to mid twenties, I have fantacised about death, wondering what would happen, who would say what, what would be painless way to die etc. I think it was part depression, and a lot of self absorption and consumption. I am scared of disease and infirmity, of indignity of old age. Of physical pain. I am not so scared of dying as I am afraid of having to wait for death. I do not have Suniti's conviction/faith of a Krisha to tide me over decrepity. I probably may have more of Ashalata's resilience of accepting 'the unknown'.Sharbori, your note is not about death really, it is about ageing. But I felt too strongly evoked and wanted to share this.

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  2. >@Roop – thank you for sharing. Though I did not mention death, I believe that is what most of us are very scared of – and aging is a inevitable process towards it and perhaps the first reckoning in our mind that time is limited. Although pragmatism says that we start our journey towards death from the moment we are born; but who looks at a baby and thinks about death?I am quite touched by the description of your grandmothers – both had conviction and courage but from different sources.As for wish to live, when we think like that, how are we looking at old age and an aged person? I have often thought like that about my father, about others and I wonder, what was I really thinking?

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  3. >My mother's guru is nearly 86. He stands upright and till date prefers to walk rather than take an auto. He loves to travel and experience new places. But the best part about him is the way his eyes twinkle and how he enjoys every single thing. From my pop music to flowers, books, art, jokes, tv shows, movies and classical music. I often imagine what I will be like at that age, and honestly I can't even see myself. There are many people on the contrary at much younger ages I have seen who seem weary of most things and exhausted all the time. I don't know if it's all just in the mind, or it might be some other reasons. But I have seen musicians, dancers who grow old but love to live and laugh a lot more than us young people. I once asked my mother's guru, Jhala Saheb, we call him; what kept him so energized all the time? and he said "Life is meant to be loved, I love this Sitar and I love music which I am with all the time, I cherish what I eat and I eat as much as i need, I find laughter and value in most encounters and I live each day as it comes, when I will die – I will die. Till then life is right here."In seeing him and few others like him, I don't believe in vanprastha ashram or the need to detach from living. Rather I feel that immersion in what gives meaning and loving life is the answer. Who knows what tomorrow brings? Death is inevitable. But then there are diseases worse than death. It is the handicap of these diseases which I sometimes fear. Not death.

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  4. >I have not been afraid of ageing and in face love the idea of old age. we are freed from many of our duties and can explore out hidden resources and touch base with out inner self. And as far as dependence goes, I firmly believe that if one has financial independence one can face anything. I abhor the idea of clinging to one's children expecting emotional and physical sustenance. Beyond that, old age and even death don't faze me. I totally veto the concept of turning to religion to the exclusion all other interests in old age too.

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  5. >The one line that strikes me in your note is -the shame in living for oneself, in refusing to choose between philanthropy, social work or spirituality'. Do you see philanthropy and social work making choices for 'others' (as opposed to the self)? Do you experience spirituality as an engagement that is abstract, and not really with realness of life itself? I was also wondering whether we all have different boundaries and limits for the self. Does 'we' also denote self, or is self only an 'I'?

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  6. >WOW, so many fantastic responses. thank you Roop, Zephyr and Antara!@Antara – great to read about your mother's guru – what a line – quote :"Life is meant to be loved, I love this Sitar and I love music which I am with all the time, I cherish what I eat and I eat as much as i need, I find laughter and value in most encounters and I live each day as it comes, when I will die – I will die. Till then life is right here."when you say you don't believe in vanaprastha what do you mean? i for instance believe that there are fairly boxed in and stereotypical meaning given to the word, whereas we are free to make choices for ourselves when we are relatively free from roles.

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  7. >@Roop – No i dont believe any of those choices when made, are made for others. In fact if they have to be engaged with meaningfully and with purpose, it has to be for self to begin with. I was pointing out that in the eyes of the society the consensual truth seems to veer mostly towards these as choices in old age and hence are more acceptable. Any other choices are looked at more as a prerogative of younger people; as if the moment one becomes older, one must give up the pleasure of living and wait to become older and finally die.But, please remember that I am highly generalizing to make a point and obviously this will not be applicable to everyone. I am talking more about a trend, a more prevalent way of thinking that exists today.

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  8. >@Zephyr – I agree, financial independence does play a big part in old age to retain one's dignity. However, the point that I wanted to make in my note is that individual experiences (such as the ones you guys are so beautifully articulating here) are rarely heard and perhaps get buried under the cacophony of the other voices.for the last 7 or 8 years, I am finding spirituality as an extremely peaceful space where i am able to surrender my tremendous sense of pride (often held reactively against the world) but I totally agree with you on the idea of turning to it as a refuge and to the exclusion of all other interests in life.

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  9. >Sharbori, I read your posts after a long time, missed them. Though I don't want you to feel more aged then you already are feeling, i cant refrain from comparing your feeling with that of my mom, though I am her only listening board, every-time i leave her or say good bye, to come to my in-laws place, she cries thinking it could be our last byes.After reading about you i think it must be the same for everyone, though aging not necessarily means death, we all fear that. To an extend, it is the society which has put a negative intonation to the word age, and partially it is also in us. there are so many healthy people who are just scared to go out and make the most of their leftover lives.we always tend to think like – what will people say, we never say, Let's enjoy ourselves and let people worry. I wish this thought process changes soon.

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  10. >@p00ja -thank you and welcome back.I know what you are talking about. However, I also think that these can not be looked at only from one or two view points, e.g. society, others, etc. If I were to look at some of my anxieties, they would have their roots in the tremendous uncertain times that we live today, that we have live with the reality of living in different spaces and places from our loved ones, that on one hand we are becoming global, and on the other we are far apart in the way we think or wish to live our lives.today people of my generation or earlier are learning to live with newer realities every day and making their choices accordingly. It is very easy to fall in line with what is expected, but tough to make a choice that very few have traded before. Unless the context helps you making new choices, it is a huge task.

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  11. >Dear Sharbori,Lovely post :). I am with many thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I am looking at some list that I have to accomplish – have a baby,have a "stable" career etc etc, this is when I find myself getting nervous about ageing…when I look at life like a list of projects that need to be completed. And there are times when I dont want to do anything, like you say – let the world pass by, these are times when all of this does not matter. This phase of daze is usually followed by panic over loss of time. :)Also, I am struck by life getting represented by action, by movement. When someone passes on, statements that emerge are "he was so full of life" – translated-" he was so active". What about stillness?Thank you for writing this.

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  12. >Very well written Sharbori. I enjoyed reading this article. I don't think being old is when you know you have a ton of things to do, but are content where u are. I have seen young talented brilliant girls give up their careers & ambitions to settle into a life of content at home, doing nothing. I think you get old when you give up on your goals, your life, when you stop wanting to have new experinces or learnings… no matter what your age is. Bobbi Brown, for example, who I mentioned in my article is 50 +. But that has not stopped her from continuing her passionate exploration of make up & writing books on the same. Now, most societies, including India would frown upon a 50 yr old woman dabbling in make up. But then you can always either live your life accordingly to you or as per society. The choice is ours.

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  13. >@ Sharbori – yes, it is that very stereotypical definition of Vanprashtha that i mean. I'v heard so many of my middle aged relatives say that "oh now you see we are 50 years and more, going to so and so place or taking up sketching or whatever makes no sense for us….all these things at this age doesn't work"And maybe they are right. But then I have seen the passion which people even older than them have for life. People often use detachment as an excuse to not engage with experiences. But as you say, it is about not boxing oneself into any category but being open to life. One new day at a time.

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  14. >Hi Sharbori, Thanks for coming to my page. That was such a refreshing take on age. I like ur spunk. There are so many women I know, who begin to think they are old, when they become mothers. I guess the idea is to surround yourself with positive people. You are as young as you think you are. I don't think I am a day older than 28!

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  15. >@Butterfly – Thank you for visiting. I am so glad you have not done what others do. I also like your description of yourself, one who "talks a lot". I like that.point i am trying to make here is to start a discussion about how we age, what are our feelings about it and who do we wish to be. The thought about process of aging can happen at any age I believe. It is a natural process and yet there are so much suppression or resignation or asceticism around it.

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  16. >Ageing is a very gendered experience, generically speaking. Men experience themselves as more redundant earlier in life, than women, who often, do not really retire.

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  17. >@Roop – that is so true and if I were to build on what you are saying, I would say that generally speaking, for men the feeling of redundancy is more with the world outside – loss of power, position, authority, stature, money power, etc . for women the feeling of redundancy would manifest in the emotional infrastructural world, and, hence, it would probably have fear of loss of intimacy, authority, of not being needed and most certainly, power.

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  18. >Hi Sharbori! let me say that i really like reading what u write, its so mature, i can relate with it. This post is specially intriguing, hmm u said a lot of things, waht role model except for being religious,and social worker? what else? I would add – pursue your hobbies, whatever u wanted to learn or do, join a course, i have many such dreams ! like clay pot making, oil painting, writing a book!I think, our generation have to be the examples, age with grace, don't deny it, but don't give in to age, don't accept the stereotype of an elderly person set by the society. First thing is we should stop sermonizing the younger lot. This needs t be changed. I liked the term "collective clannish orientation ". really nice reading you!u r not alone to feel disoriented sometimes, I am 35 and i feel already have mid life crisis!!restless

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  19. >@restless – thank you :-)I think confusion and disorientation are actually great gifts. they may at times bring us back from the brink of living a delusional, false sense of life to hard reality.

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