Conscious Aging in the Age of Pandemic

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“If you are invested in security and certainty you are on the wrong planet.”

Pema Chödrön

 

There is no denying we are living in unprecedented times. Our expectations of normalcy and how our lives are supposed to be have been upended. In this time of extended crisis, some things have not changed, rather they are blatantly amplified. Profound inequities based on age, race, economic status, social devaluation and “othering” have contributed to the devastating impact of COVID 19. Ageism has long led to the marginalization of older people with negative impacts on health and well being. In the face of a deadly virus, we have been told we are less deserving of life saving health care, that our lives have less value and that we are expendable. Like many of us, I feel angry and sometimes anxious and powerless. I’m grateful for what I have learned about conscious aging. It has reminded me to practice awareness, compassion, and self care to draw on my strength and resilience.

In pandemic, we find ourselves propelled into a situation we’ve never been in before. We can’t rely on what we’ve taken for granted, or the routines that have been markers of time. There is no foreseeable end date, when our perception of “normal” returns. We may feel isolated and struggle to find meaning and purpose in this new normal. Isn’t this in many ways parallel to the experience of aging? Late life is a stage of post adulthood, in which we enter uncharted territory. We may attempt to hold on to what was familiar, to our youth, to our sense of productivity. We are challenged to redefine our sense of self and purpose when the old roles and routines no longer apply. Our relationship to time changes. COVID 19 has made the prospect of death more immediate. Making peace with mortality can replace fear and give a deeper appreciation of each moment. In this more fluid time of aging, as in pandemic, we have an opportunity to explore what really matters.

This is a fertile time for life review. As I go through photos, letters and journals, I remember what has shaped me, what supported me in times of change. And, to my surprise, I feel an urge to declutter and discard many of these things from the past. I am also discovering outdated thoughts and attitudes to be released. These changing times call for an honest self-inventory, not only in regards to the ageism we’ve internalized, but also to racism and other forms of discrimination. As older people, we have an important contribution to make in shaping a new future, in partnership with younger generations.

Dr. Aisha Ahmad has written about coronavirus-inspired productivity pressure: “Now more than ever we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience. Focus on real internal change. These human transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, beautiful and divine.”

Her words speak to the age of pandemic, as well as to the potential in aging. Change is inevitable. Life contains impermanence and uncertainty. Aging consciously, we can choose our response.

Evalina Everidge, IONS Conscious Aging Facilitator

(previously posted on IONS Noetic Blog website)