my how-to on busting out of the ‘aging can only suck’ mindset

stairway to appreciation

stairway to appreciation

Descending the two flights of stairs to reach the Keurig machine each morning has become a daily wakeup call. Literally. The first thing I notice are the creaky sounds accompanying each step. Not from the lovely oak floors below my bare feet, but the lack of cartilage in my aging knees. The second morning revelation comes via an unwelcome internal dialogue sent from my knees directly to my brain: Does this mean I’m done running? Is this another indicator that I’m getting older, slower, fatter, saggier, and invisible to all the young lovelies riding their hipster-basket-on-handlebars-bicycles clad in helmets and floral dresses surrounding me in the 30-something town my husband and I landed in last year? Is my brain disintegrating along with the remaining cartilage left in my joints?

So much for a cup of Joe with gratitude. But here’s the thing. I can – and you can too – make an immediate shift within the very moment the aging-can-only-suck mindset kicks in. For me, the shift begins with my yoga practice. And no, that doesn’t mean busting out into an Instagram-worthy rendition of Half Moon pose on a dark set of stairs.

No, it begins with what must be cultivated in every yoga practice: Awareness.

Aware that I’m succumbing to a fear of aging: inevitable future ailments, stories passed down from others who make it a habit of discussing bum knees; menopause-means-guaranteed-spare-tire; wait’ll you get to my age woes. But once awareness emerges, I stop. Pause. Breathe. And recognize that right now, I’m simply standing on a stair. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just standing on a stair at 47 years old en route to brew a cup of coffee. And with that coffee I can, if I’m open to shifting my attitude, see the value in being, and growing, yes: older.

Two pen pals meet after 56 years.

This morning I landed on a story in the Boston Globe about two women who’ve been writing each other for 56 years. Not via text, or email, or snapchat. But handwritten letters to and from the U.S. and Australia in their own penmanship. I had a few pen pals growing up, one in Texas who shared the joys of riding horses (with polaroids of her chestnut mare included) to this city girl who’d only see the occasional cop atop a horse in a public park variety; another an east coast girl with big bubbly cursive writing embellished by sparkly pens and myriad stickers. Getting a sealed letter in my mailbox from a pen pal to open, read, and store in a special box on my dresser was a massive joy amidst braces, puberty and other preteen angst. I’m grateful I’m old enough to remember such times – that likely seem archaic to kids today.

I can relax in the effort.

In class this morning I knew handstand wouldn’t come unless I softened my jaw, lightly floated one foot, then the other, up into the air while maintaining a soft gaze at the center of my mat. Experience and years of gritting my teeth, obsessing over the result, and self-loathing with every fallout have taught me there is no other way to hover in handstand than to relax and enjoy it. Paradoxical but true. This morning at the end of class as students were filing out of the room I played around with handstand. Nailed a few, fell out of more than a few, and loved myself all the more for the many years it’s taken to learn this valuable lesson. And that doesn’t come with youth. That comes with aging.

‘The food was disgusting..I’m not recommending..don’t go..you’ll get food poisoning..’

I chalk my age up to cultivating compassion and accountability. Especially in our hyper-plugged in world. And recognizing the pain our precious local proprietors – restaurants, salons, retail shops – any business shoved unwittingly in front of the cyber firing squad of reviewers on Yelp, TripAdvisor and their cadre in today’s unidirectional assault epidemic. I learned early on, in Journalism classes, dinner table daily recaps (“now what did we learn today, Shannon? my late papa would inquire), and do-unto-others reminders at church to opine responsibly.

Opining responsibly, to me, and perhaps others in my generation or older, means availing yourself to open dialogue with whomever is on the receiving end of your feedback. As in, face to face. Not hiding behind an Avatar cursing through a keyboard to the entire community. The venomous review above actually prompted my aging self to give this restaurant a shot. And as you might imagine, the food, atmosphere, service, and margaritas were fabulous. And yes, I Yelped as much afterward, knowing that had I had a different experience, I would have chosen to speak to the manager directly instead. Face to face without an audience.

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s descent down the stairs. Because after a moment or two of lamenting my aging knees and frown lines, I’m certain I’ll find more to love about my journey. Here’s hoping you can too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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