Since turning 60, I’ve been increasingly interested in what it means to grow older in a vibrant and purposeful way. Much like my work with rightsizing, I see aging not as an inevitable loss or sacrifice, but instead as an opportunity to get to the heart of what really matters to each of us as living, breathing beings on this planet—and then sharing that with our community and the world. Plus, with so many of us nearing retirement age, and yet living many years after, isn’t is SMART to recognize that making the most of those years seldom happens by chance? So instead of merely growing old and waiting for the unavoidable, learning what makes us whole and happy is worthy of our attention.
What do I mean by growing whole? For most of us, I think becoming whole can be narrowed down to four elements.
- Finding and sharing our purpose;
- Being self-aware, conscious and mindful;
- Recognizing our connection to others and the planet as living beings;
- Connecting and balancing our body, mind and spirit.
A man who consistently teaches others to find and share their purpose is Richard J. Leider. Last year I read the book Life Reimagined that Leider coauthored and found it inspiring and useful. Even better is when I learned that Leider will be giving a keynote speech at a conference on Cohousing (Aging Better Together) that I will be attending in May. In preparation for what I might hear there, I did a little research and found that the topic of purpose is key to his work.
Leider is convinced that even though we all want to have fun and enjoy our leisure as we age, having purpose is far more important. In fact, he boldly says, “Without that purpose, you grow old.” The good news is that he offers us a “default” purpose that most of us will likely feel comfortable using. That default is “growing and giving.” If every single morning we each woke up and asked ourselves, “how will I grow today and what will I give?” that question can provide us with unlimited purpose for the rest of our lives. Then almost automatically as we explore “growing and giving,” we likely will find unique and exciting ways to bring our purpose into the world.
When you approach aging with the intention of sharing your purpose, becoming self-aware and more conscious is almost required. Again, this approach fits hand-in-hand with rightsizing on an internal level by urging us to become more conscious of our own motivations, what we have learned in our lives, what is important to us, and why we believe we matter. The more mindful and aware we are, the more we will learn to love and accept ourselves. We also feel freer to share that with the world.
On the flip side, without awareness, we can grow bored and tired of just cramming our days full of leisure activities. An audio talk I listened to this morning about retirement said that many people when they first retire are convinced that retirement means they can finally just think about themselves for once in their lives. In other words, many have spent the majority of their life doing things they felt obligated to do and now retired, they feel free to let all that go. But is it ever that easy to fully let go of obligation and guilt if you’ve lived your life that way? And perhaps an even better question is, why not replace that guilt and obligation with the gift of your true Self for the rest of your life. That will benefit you, and everyone else as well.
Next, I think that recognizing our connection to others and the world is a critical element of becoming whole. When you think about it, is it even possible to be whole when you consider yourself a separate and distinct individual without connection? Plus, it is becoming increasingly apparent through study after scientific study that isolation is extremely detrimental to our health. I think the latest I’ve read is that deep connections can add up to seven years to your life. So regardless of whether you want to extend your connection to all of life on the planet and what that means on a cosmic level, just growing and enhancing close personal relationships with a circle of friends will help to keep you alive and happy as you age.
Last but not least, I think the road to wholeness requires us to balance our health, our mind, and our spirit into one being. That union means that we are a complete system, not just made up of individual and separate parts. While some of us like to think we are spiritual beings dragging a body around, there are equally as many who believe our body/mind is primary and any “spirit” is just a chemical reaction in our brain. I tend to believe we are all of it. As whole beings, we are body, mind, and spirit infinitely connected to everything else.
For even great clarification, recognizing what is not whole is also valuable. Here are a few things I think makes for a divided or fractured life:
- Never taking the time to discover your passions, needs or place in the world.
- Following the advice of everyone else and never listening to our inner voice.
- Denying parts of you that don’t look attractive or “nice.”
- Thinking that it doesn’t really matter what you do because it won’t affect anyone else.
- Letting fear rule your life and refusing to interact with others.
- Believing that you are an island and don’t need others.
- Thinking of yourself in only one small dimensional way without acknowledging your past, present and future.
- Spending your days so busy that you never have time to think about what really matters.
- Working only on your staying young and healthy while feeding your mind nothing but gossip, television and junk food for the brain.
- Going numb to what is happening in your body, with your friends, or your world. Or, as Richard Leider says, we succumb to “…inner kill—the condition of dying without know it.”
No matter what our age, we all want to believe we matter. Becoming whole answers that need on every level. Having a purpose, staying aware and mindful, recognizing our connection to others and balancing our body, mind and soul all lead to a sense of wholeness. From there, instead of fearing the prospect of growing older, the SMART thing to do is to put our focus on growing more whole. Then no matter what occurs, we will be able to experience the best in ourselves and offer that to others as long as we can draw a breath.
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