My wife recently proudly flashed her cell phone in my direction to show a few pictures he had taken recently, holding my little son in a pool. I promptly grabbed the device and enlarged my fingers with my fingers belly, whose size and general dizziness I praised lately over and over again. "I knew you would do that," she said.
She thinks I'm ridiculous about my stomach – and she's right. In any case, I'm slim. I eat with caution and train at least six times a week. Still, I miss the visible abdominal muscles that I had in my 30s. I actually miss more. Now, in my mid-40s (wait, is my late 40s?), I find myself increasingly criticizing myself for looking old and confused. Why should you listen to me in the face of this nasty little stew of narcissism and body dysmorphism when you are graciously aging? Because while I'm persistent in
the level of concern ̵
About ten years ago, I was in a balding crisis, an omnidirectional freak-out that bled into every area of my life. I flew home from an incredible journey to report an isolated indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon. Instead of enjoying the experience, I locked myself in the toilet and spent ten minutes exploring my hairline, focusing on what the Buddhists call Prapañca or "spiritual spread." My mental movie went something like this: Baldness -> Unemployment -> Flopouse in Duluth. This Prapañca made me irritable and miserable. Just ask my wife Bianca, who has caught me many times in our bathroom mirror during this time.
These days I can better see my panic I focus on myself. As I wrote this column, I asked I Bianca, if I would deal with my stomach problems and aging more successful than bald. She chuckled and said, "There is no comparison."
What Makes Things Better – Part of it was the combined effect of marriage, maturation, and meditation (which has become a daily practice and also an active by-product), but another important soothing ingredient was something she may find highly devious: death.
Somehow, death has become taboo in our society. As meditation teacher Greg Scharf has observed in a culture obsessed with adolescents, dying is the ultimate "really bad taste". But it is inevitable – even for you. (And even for the tech titans in Silicon Valley, who are reportedly spending billions on the "solution" of death, good luck with that.) There is a fitting line from Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, "What is the most wonderful thing in the world ? ? The Answer: "Around us, people can die and we do not know it can happen to us.
Any great spiritual tradition has recommended that it is recommended for a full life to meditate on death Buddha advised to meditate while he was staring at dissecting bodies. Because these suggestions are so impractical, my wife and I opted for a more viable alternative: a few years ago, in 19659, I was assigned to a small eight-bed hospice in Manhattan's Upper East Side. After overcoming my first jitter, I learned lessons that went from inspiration to deeply soothing. For example, I have noticed that for many people near the end, the fear seems to be receding. I recall a conversation with a former college professor who told me that as death approached, he felt less like an independent ego and more as part of a larger, unfolding system. Yes, I thought, there is nothing wrong or unnatural about death. Nature is in constant flux – and we are nature.
I also found out that staying in a hospice offered a tremendous dose of perspective on my daily problems. Most passionately, I experienced this through my relationship with a patient named Ronnie, a former Harlem construction worker with chronic lung and heart problems. When he was first sent to the hospice four years ago, he was given three days to live. Instead, he resisted the opportunities and prospered. Every week Ronnie and I eat snacks, crack smart and play video games. (Ronnie does not see any irony in how he killed zombies for hours while sitting in a hospice.) I told him a story
of how I'd been worried about my life – and I remembered that at the time Ronnie and stopped me. Without interrupting the game, he turned to me and said with complete nonchalance, "Yes, you have no problems."
However, working in a hospice is not a panacea. In the end, I often get into a taxi, check the emails, and am completely trapped in my own nonsense. And I still think that my egoistic self-flairing actually has a certain advantage: A certain amount of awareness in my midsection can be a healthy motivation to get into the gym.
But I find myself gloomy on my hairline or waist at the 85th time, and now I sometimes have the means to ask myself: If I want my limited window on the earth, would I like to spend my time with it? Yes, it makes sense to work hard and make an effort, but what's the point if you are not? enjoy the ride?
Graceful aging is not a Yoda-style outrage, its uncertainties and Peccadillos are preserved, you only learn to master them better
I usually wrap these columns with something funny, but because of the weight of this issue I will renounce the sweetness and bluntly tell you: how do you want to live in the face of the undeniable reality of your finiteness?
If in doubt, just ask death.