Alan Heeks shares his development through the life stages
When I turned sixty in 2008, I set a clear intent of moving into elderhood, growing beyond my prevailing warrior-hero approach to life. Ten years on, I can report good progress on my development through the life stages, but as well as further mysteries.
Elderhood and the effects of ageing
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 effect of ageing and 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.
Other changes that may come with ageing
I recently found an excellent medical herbalist, Nick Hudis, who specialises in the health issues of older men. In a recent consultation, I described changes that may come with ageing, such as having low energy, morale and libido. Nick gently observed, “Sounds like low testosterone: nothing’s exciting any more?” before women reading this loose interest, I’d like to point out that, while the physiology may be different, I think many of the issues around elderhood are the same. So hang on in with the journey!
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.
Whilst women at this life stage might use different language, there are shared issues for both genders about loosing one’s sense of significance and purpose: people don’t pay you so much attention. You have to find your sense of direction and significance for yourself.
Helpful activities of daily living
So here are some of my helpful tips and activities of daily living as I explore happy elderhood:
- 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.
- Feel generous and abundant: if you can feel this, it can help you to make approaches, and share your talents and insights with other people – even if they are not seeking you out. You have a lot to give, but it’s you who has to believe this the most.
- 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.
- Find the fellowship of other elders: this may not be easy! Your contemporaries may be floundering more than you are, and in deep denial about getting old at all. Try cautiously nudging your acquaintances and friends towards a more meaningful discussion.
- 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.
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.