by Swan Michelle
“Aging; the party we have all indeed been invited to.” -Mirabai Bush
There is something refreshing about mysteries coming out. This is why funerals in New Orleans fascinate me as they are very much out of the closet, second lining everything out instead of hiding out behind closed doors or hearses. Death takes on a bright, celebratory, and transparent meaning.
Varanasi India is one of my favorite pilgrimages. Numerous beings take refuge there specifically to die, or to openly witness a loved one or anyone rapidly aging or leaving their body being transported to a place to burn to ashes, called the Burning Ghats. Death is not unfamiliar there. The children, the families, and strangers are all reminded of the truth of impermanence each day since all of us are indeed aging and the body will die. No one escapes it.
Saging Not Aging
Working with the body so intimately as I have now for 23 years doing yoga, it’s been an interesting ride to watch mine as well as other’s change. With the help of the mile marker of time, change and a few losses of loved ones, it’s clear this is a sacred vessel with an inescapable expiration date.
My identification with the body too has changed the more I work with it and live with it. Having built up my identity for so long in this physical form, I feel less inclined to grip my identity so tightly or to continue defining myself so absolutely. I seem to respect and listen to the needs of my body more than before out of a need and maturity I am very much ok admitting.
“Now is the time to know that all you do is sacred.” -Hafiz
Some of my most spiritual moments have been when I have had the grace and auspiciousness to be there with someone leaving their body. There is nothing more real and more palpable. Time stops. It is a vivid differentiation of the eternal aspect of who they truly are, beyond the ever-changing cloak and character they were portrayed as.
In my training in Ayurveda, we spoke to aging and prematurely decaying the body as a parallel to our relationship with time. If we are not in right relationship with time at all, not present to life in the moment, we wear our bodies down with busyness, stress and multi-tasking or through defeat, inertia and lifelessness. Both age us rapidly.
Often in our western culture, we are told that we will most certainly decline in age, which is far from glamorized or respected as sought after wisdom and inner wealth. Aging with dignity is not often a topic. This keeps the signs of aging hidden from us and makes aging feel embarrassing as a fear invoking denial.
Our yogic practices are commonly called the fountain of youth, which is a working from the inside out. As we learn to regain our true nature and embody yoga more fully, we are ageless and we know it, yet this takes work. That is what this lifetime is.
When we are ageless and we know it, it is not because it is more socially accepted to look and act young as the media pushes on us. Ageless does not mean immature, wrinkle free, yearning for the past, nor giving up and acting old.
Wisdom is an effortless referral to an inner constant or anchor, not completely identified or spun by every single experience, change or chapter as final. A wise Sage is not ruled by time, but remembers life is both precious, temporary and short. It could end soon.
The less we get the message to each life experience, the more thrown off by the highs and lows of change, which is the aging process, we will be. When we Sage instead of age, we are in time and we know this, but we are not of time nor ruled by time, even if the body is impacted by it, which is important to take note of. A resilient mind is a supple, mindful, ever youthful mind, one in this moment.
Slowing down offers us more time. Agelessness is timelessness. There will come a time each of us will need to be ok with ourselves when asked to slow down .To do so while we are healthy and young in terms of our birth age creates less wear and tear on the body and a familiarity to instead of being a stranger of an inner orientation.
As literal physical years accumulate, it is important to maintain our radiance and enthusiasm, finding something new about life, not falling victim to complacency, inertia or the stagnation that the body tries to settle into as under more years of its use. Our vehicles may try to talk us out of daily movement.
The Yogic teaching of the “Gunas” is an important teaching in relation to time and all things in the physical world. The Gunas are descriptions for qualities of anything in nature in occurrence with a cycle, be it a beginning, middle or end, of which all things in nature do, including the body.
There are 3 Gunas:
“Rajas” is a much needed active, moving, and assimilating quality that when imbalanced accelerates serious wear and tear on the body. To combat the damaging effects of an imbalance of “Rajas,” with maturity and from the identity of agelessness, we must train ourselves to reduce our tendency to more too quickly, get spun out by sensory overload or to multi-task, which has been proven to be inefficient. Overactive lifestyles will be forced at some point to stop. In an ageless process, we are looking to lessen severe abrupt stops whenever possible as this too is intense and can be hard on our continued hopefulness and stamina.
To reduce and refrain when imbalanced can feel like a reversal of aging and an increase in our spiritual vigor. The more prana or life force we hold and can maintain, the younger we truly feel. Being clear where that energy goes is an ageless choice, picking and choosing wisely what gets our precious energy, not so easily lured by busyness or excessive accomplishments we can’t take with us. An increase in stress, often leading to a compromised immune system and sleeplessness will inevitably lead to an increase in decay.
A body is not wired to keep running. It will eventually let you know. Called “prajnaparadha” meaning “poor decision making,” a busy and overwhelmed mind is not necessarily a sharp and intelligent one but an aging one. It will inevitably make poor decisions. Mental decline is an effect of rapid aging but to what degree, we may have some say in, due to our level of mindfulness.
Far more worn out than we need to be, it is easy to forget we are ageless in the over activity of rajas. “Paranama” means “a drastic change in the body, rooted by too much motion, perpetuating disease.” Simply put, moving too fast is not good for our health. The faster you move the faster you die.
“Tamas” Guna is the ending cycle of a seed. Decay, decline, degeneration, stagnation, cementation and inertia are its traits. Some of this is important. The night time, aligned with the moon & sleeping is naturally meant for mental reduction and physical activity. Remaining rajasic after the sun goes down with loads of projects or sleeplessness can increase the speed of decay as it is not nourishing but hard on the body’s systems.
When tamasic qualities are imbalanced, a sedated period sets in without the much needed resiliency to persevere. An imbalanced tamas trait is the temptation to give up, and this is a common characteristic to be weary of in any of us aging as aging is Tamasic overall.
Unbalanced tamasic actions can also be found in eating preservative or non-organic food lacking in prana. The less we use our mind in communication processes or social connections, opting for couch sitting, t.v. watching, and a general passivity to just let life pass us by is a sign of tamasic imbalance that will further degenerate disease. The effects of gravity will concave our healthy tone, agility, and spark for curiosity into cementation. The brain will then age ever so rapidly. Memory loss settles in, we stiffen, loose body awareness and control and experience even more pain due to very little energy flow.
Ayurveda, which utilizes the 5 senses as the entry point for natural medicine, describes the beginning of the dimming of the 5 senses as an important part of our aging process as to assist us to not attach too tightly to what can be the gateways of craving and attachment. If we remain easily distracted, our interior can be overlooked our whole lives. A lack of self inquiry can be a terrifying self realization once forced into it.
The tendency for us to reflect, process, and observe our lives, no longer rushing about is a harmonius balance to so much prior activity . In Ayurveda , this is called the “Vata” stage, commonly stated to begin around the age of 55 if we relate to change in numbers. This type of progressive merge back home into a conscious stillness is healthy.
Agelessness is a pivot and redirecting as to remember the journey towards the origin of which we derived. To have no felt sense, relationship, nor a coming to terms with our origin whatsoever can create more shock, helplessness, and fear while we live.
“Disease is the end result of a disharmonious relationship with our environment.” -Dr Mark Halpern
The third Guna, “Sattva”, is a state of harmony embodied. Sattva identifies as Spirit. Practicing now to relate to ourselves as a Soul in this body while attending to what the body needs currently is wisdom. There is a wisdom within each of us regardless of our age or the year we were born.
The Sattvic state is a quality of being in balance, harmony and right relationship with time. This wisdom is quite spiritual and totally practical. Pretending not to age at all drives us further away from our pure, transparent, wise, and non-material inheritance.
In Ayurveda, it is believed that is not aging that causes disease, but further separation from the nature of Spirit that decays us further. A constant, all abiding remembrance of Spirit even in sickness or discomfort is Sattva.
Remembering you are a Spirit, you identify less as being sick, older, broken or diseased since the Spirit is neither of these things. When someone asks you how old you are, you can say “ageless” because it is Absolutely true!
Space is related to timelessness, tranquility, potentiality and freedom. It is important to remember this aspect of us since really we are made up mostly of space. This naturally gives us a constitutional longevity to endure the physicality of our experience.
A healthy body and a healthy mind are naturally inclined to healthy routines. Living within the natural rhythms of nature is nourishing and fosters less suffering as to maintain the sacred, not to bypass time. The Sattvic state makes time sacred.
Time, which is linear, is generated by the movement of the mind. Space, non-linear yet more subtle, can bend, twirl, dance, twist, move or remain still. Space is everywhere and all encompassing. This is the saying “time is of the essence.” It is! It is to be appreciated, as is the age you are or the age others are currently in.
If you are in your twilight years, you naturally have acquired more experiences and memories from which to draw upon that we need to hear. Others, especially those with inexperienced and easily distracted or immature minds, need to listen. Sharing and hearing stories without the yearning of the past keeps us all youthful, learning and sharp in memory: Saging instead of aging.
There are 4 Vedic aims in India that have assisted me in honoring my own perspective of moving from aging to ageless. These 4 aims are in direct relation to the 4 cycles of life, called the Ashramas, found in the Vedas.
4 Vedic Aims
- Dharma– upholding Truth and purpose
- Artha– upholding health and a means for abundance
- Kama– upholding natural desire, love, sexuality & relationships
- Moksha– being in freedom from illusion
Brahmacharya- natural renunciation for a goal of growth to studentship (Gurukula), learning scriptures, science, philosophy
Grihasstha- a dharmic social life, or raising a family, children, marriage and maintaining social constructs and responsibilities; this can be sexual, emotional, physical, occupational, material and social
Vanaprashha- forest dweller stage where pursuits of security, wealth and social status matter less and there is a gradual desire to slow down and consider detachments from things that hold no eternal meaning and social/familial duties lessen
Sannyasa– total renunciation and detachment from news, society and prejudice, where simplicity, peace and Moksha, being with God, is the only priority.
“The lifespan of a man should be 100 years where all 4 life stages are possible to fulfill, supporting rather than hindering one another. In youth attend to Artha and Kama. In wisdom attend to Dharma and Moksha. It should also be noted that for Moksha from a cycle, Dharma is to be practiced throughout.”Kama Sutra 1.2
“There will be a time you believe that everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L’Amour
Make time sacred, Swan Michelle