Embrace the suck of growing old
I am making the final adjustments to my book before it goes to the copy editor. I thought I would share the prologue of the book, to let you know what is to come and what I set out to investigate.
“Embrace the suck of growing old!”
Those were the words one of my previous military colleagues at the Danish Defence blurted out to me on my 30th birthday with a big smile on his face. The phrase “Embrace the suck” is usually something soldiers say to mitigate facing the horrifying realities of war head-on, when there is no running away from whatever situation they find themselves in. They say this when something must be confronted and dealt with no matter how unpleasant or uncomfortable. My colleague was in his mid 60s, about to retire and suffering from quite a few health problems. The phrase made sense to him. To him, age meant facing pain, loss and death – the same as if you were going to war. I was young and in a very different place in my life. I was fit and healthy. Getting old was something somebody else was doing. If I was tired it was because my two young children kept me awake at night. I didn´t understand why it would suck to grow old. The future was bright and promising.
But the phrase struck a chord with me, because life is not easy. Although you might not be going to war, there is plenty that sucks along the way. Suffering is implicit to living. We even like to create suffering for ourselves. Some of us like to watch horrifying, dark Scandi Noir crime series. My son plays VR games where he is attacked by dead zombies. A common way to create suffering for ourselves, which is even encouraged by health authorities, is to exercise. We pursue university degrees or take on challenging, stressful jobs, which involves many uncomfortable hours of learning and maybe physical hard work. Or we decide to have children, which ensures us a never-ending supply of unpleasant experiences. From the gruelling nights awake when they are young to the eternal negotiations about bedtimes and basic hygiene when they are older. I am wondering why we are lured towards suffering? Why do soldiers choose a job where they have to be prepared to embrace the atrocities of war? Because life would be very empty and meaningless if it consisted of pure hedonistic pleasures. Giving birth for instance was one of the most profound event of my life, yet at the same time the most painful thing I have ever experienced. My life wouldn’t be the same had I not chosen that suffering.
It is not that we purposely wake up and ask ourselves; how can I make myself suffer today? Yet we accept that there is rarely any gain without pain. When we play a game, we set out to win. It wouldn´t be fun playing if we knew we would win every time. There would be no challenges to overcome and no rewards to be had when doing so. Similarly, the possibility of failing at the things we do in life has to exist or it becomes rather empty. We want to be able to make a difference, have an impact on something or help someone. The paradox of it all is that although we know deep down that difficulties and sufferings are unavoidable and the source of meaning, purpose and pleasure, we still find it hard to accept that they are a natural part of life.
When my own 50th birthday began approaching, and I was starting to get a glimpse of what comes with age, I decided to investigate the 20-year-old invitation to embrace the suck of ageing. As a mindfulness teacher and a Master student of Ageing and Vitality, I had been intrigued by the encouragement to embrace rather than resist ageing, which is what we are mostly told to do by the society we live in. To embrace something means “to accept (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically”. It also means “to hold (someone) closely in one's arms, especially as a sign of affection”. Although spoken amongst tough soldiers, it sounded like a very peaceful and mindful way to approach the last part of our life. I was also curious to see if ageing is as bad as it´s reputation. Does it really suck to grow old? And finally, I wondered what one can do on a practical level to embrace it? This book is my investigation into all those questions.
What did I find out then? Given the title of the book is “Ageing Upwards”, you can probably guess that the answer was a NO to both of the first questions; No, it doesn’t necessarily suck to grow old. Statistically we actually get happier with age. Having said that, there is a lot we can do to embrace life and ageing. It is loud and clear YES to the last question: to embrace life is a skill, we can practice and get better at. We have an enormous influence on our well-being through the way we perceive and respond to the natural challenges of life. In the book, I suggest a mindfulness-based AgeingUpwards Framework, that will help you get started.
Stay tuned, it will be available for pre-sale in a few months.