When I turned sixty in 2008, I set a clear intent of moving into elderhood, growing beyond my prevailing warrior-hero approach to life. Six years on, I can report good progress but further mysteries.
For most of my adult life, I have been a happy workaholic: drawn to situations where I had lots of challenge and responsibility, working in a state of high adrenalin which gave purpose and structure to my life, and paved over the murky depths beneath.
All this has been dissolving and under scrutiny since I turned 50. I have made numerous descents into the murky depths, sometimes just falling in, sometimes an orderly visit properly equipped with a therapist. I aim to be friends with the early wounds and neurotic habits which still thrash around in those depths: I don’t believe they ever disappear, but an elder has their measure.
A major part of moving into elderhood for me is at work: instead of being a manic prime mover, I am really trying to change my habits, working collaboratively, enabling others, offering a wise presence and holding the space, instead of rushing in. I’m achieving this quite a lot of the time, but… it’s not very exciting.
I recently found an excellent medical herbalist, Nick Hudis, who specialises in the health issues of older men. In a recent consultation, I described myself as having low energy, moral and libido. Nick gently observed, “Sounds like low testosterone: nothing’s exciting any more?”
Nick went on to say “This is why it’s so important for older men to have a sense of purpose. Otherwise they become couch potatoes.” Absolutely, and plumbing the murky depths, and other great stuff eloquently laid out in my book, Out of the Woods: A Guide to Life for Men Beyond 50. What my book covers less well is this issue about the lack of excitement. Part of this is biological fact: men’s testosterone levels do decline with age. But the chat with Nick got me thinking positively about better ways to handle all this.
So here are four tips I’m finding helpful:
- Mindfulness: focus on the breath and sensations of the body, to reduce the power of negative thoughts and feelings.
- Ration your media: limit your intake of mainstream news and ads to what you can happily cope with. Too much of this can shred your attention span, raise your craving for distractions, and sap your ability to be present.
- Be tremendously present: whether you’re making love or making sandwiches, this helps. Imagine this is your first moment in life, in a body: every moment is potentially exciting.
- Reconnect with purpose often: if you don’t feel a sense of purpose, seek it or ask to be shown it. Bathe in you sense of purpose often: enjoy it, value it. For each of us to believe that our purpose and presence makes a difference is crucial in these times.
I feel very blessed with worthwhile work projects, a superb marriage and family : enjoying all this as an elder may have less adrenalin, but it has huge potential richness.
by Alan Heeks