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Educating ourselves about the Aging Process

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Where are you in the Aging Process? We are all aging. The only real question is what stage are you currently experiencing?

There are five components to consider in the aging process; chronological age, physical makeup or wellness, basic personality, spiritual health and cultural influence.

Generally, in this culture, aging refers to people in their elder years, as if they are the only ones aging. What is being referred to as the aging process is the normative developmental changes over a life span. In childhood, we learn the security of dependence and socialization. During youth, we experience an introspective, egocentric time and develop our sense of identity through relationships, skills, knowledge, physicality and independence. Young Adulthood is where we cement our identity, develop beliefs, friends, families and/or career. Adulthood is the “sandwich generation” for many North Americans raising children and supporting the elderly while often handling careers. This is when we will find ourselves confronted by the reality of inter-dependence. The Elder Years allow us to take time to attend to personal and health needs, family, friends and hobbies.

Current research on the aging process and personality suggests we become more of what we are with age. If I am easy going, I will become more easy going; if I like spending time alone, I will want to spend more time alone; if I like learning, I will want to continue learning. Personality is in part biologically controlled but is also directly affected by the behavioral choices we make and the habits we develop in earlier life.

We know the body will eventually fail us. Physical health is correlated to one’s emotional state of mind, level of physical activity and nutritional input over the life span. Since the body regenerates its’ cells every 7 years, we have ample opportunity to maximize our physical health. Some now suggest old age begins at 80.

The manner in which the predominant North American culture treats aging is different from that of many of our sub cultures and many cultures around the world. White hair has meant a certain form of invisibility for women and fewer employment options for men. Culture is a powerful presence, often unseen. Marilyn Ferguson wrote, “Custom is like a build up of smog. We only notice it when it has been swept away on a clear, clean day. We may fail to see the outlines of a new cultural development until its effects are pervasive.” Since our perception or beliefs about the aging process can directly influence how we age, I prefer to take the best of many cultures’ beliefs about aging.

Our connection to Spirit also changes with age. It is through observation of our selves, our relationships with life experiences and with others, choice of time and energy and the many ways others relate to us, that we see ourselves and Spirit in the aging process. I am continually amazed to observe and reflect on my life and life itself. At times I am startled to recognize the cumulative effects changes have had on me; physically, mentally and spiritually. Then there are those moments when I see the influence my own changes have had on others. Each can be humbling. We are truly minute yet huge in the larger scheme of things.

Are you creating your culture or are you allowing your culture to create you? Each of us has choice over how much we “give in” to the North American myths of aging: loneliness, illness, sadness, isolation, quiet, and inactivity. By educating ourselves about current facts we find large discrepancies between aging and it’s myths. Activity extends life span, opportunity and learning and provides new experiences to look forward to, to keep alert and be healthy.

Whatever our age in the aging process, we have opportunities to consider the behaviors we use on a daily basis; how we spend time or energy and how we think about ourselves, others and life. Multiply the emotional impact of this reality. Now ask yourself: If I were about to leave the planet, would I be pleased with who I was while I was here? If the answer is no, it’s time to change the way you’re aging yourself!