Aging’s momentum cannot be altered. However, we can move gracefully through it when we consciously practice pausing before engaging with life’s circumstances. Slowing down enough to gather our response enables us to compassionately assess and set realistic limits. Pausing before making a choice counteracts the mindset found in our contemporary culture that demands immediate information that then pressures us into rapid decisiveness. The ability to halt to gather a more authentic, and therefore loving, response is the gift aging can illuminate.
In Chinese medicine, the turtle retains its life force by tucking its head into its shell, thus conserving energy. Retreating to contemplate or hold what needs to be considered are human ways of going within to retain our chi or energy. Being grounded in this perspective of slowness and reflection counters the frenzied push many of us have adopted as the only way of life. This cultural craze of relentless activity extends into our aging process, a time that was once appropriated for less all-consuming ways. Through pausing and creating space between our actions, time is befriended.
I decided to apply values of pausing, mindfulness, and stillness to my ordinary daily activities. By concentrating more singularly on the task at hand, I maintained my inner strength and opened clearer spaces within me. Little by little “consecrating the ordinary,” as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber advocated, became my way of life. Imagine my great surprise when doing less and even feeling empty began to satisfy me and help me experience contentment. Pausing enabled subtle changes in my thoughts, words and deeds, which surpassed what I had previously experienced as “the more.” The gentle process of making small changes after pausing mindfully created deeper, more purposeful meaning behind my actions. In harnessing my inner strength to pause, I also retained more energy. I began to experience a shift in my attitude—a sort of homecoming to the essential disposition of my heart.
I began to apply the wisdom found in many traditions to support my aging process. The Japanese custom of oryoki, whereby Zen monks learn a prescribed eating ritual based on the concept of “just enough” intrigued me. The philosophy behind the intricately attuned practice of being in the present moment through the ritual and mindset of oryoki is also found in the practice of qigong. Ideally, the practice of qigong can translate into a person’s ordinary way of relating to the world, too. By using the right amount of physical effort for a task at hand chi, or energy, is reserved to create longevity.
Scientists revel in understanding a source’s content to know how its origin reveals itself and how that affects what it encounters. Think about how some rivers, streams, and creeks are influenced by their source. I, too, want to be strongly influenced by the source of love or the benevolent energy within me. In Alaska, the Copper Glacier feeds the Gakona and Copper rivers, and though their source is thousands of feet above and thousands of feet away from them, it determines the quality of those riverbeds. These very riverbeds then impact the stability of the biological communities living in them, making the rivers home to prolific and famous wild salmon runs. We, like the life in rivers and streams, need energy sources to sustain us and to allow us to thrive. Being grounded and sustained by our inner source of strength readies us to be available when called to action.
The last third of one’s life should be a time of less concern for acquisition, which naturally lessens the need to barrel through life. What matters becomes about being fully present to access more loving kindness. The privilege of aging honors realistic limits, while still cultivating a meaningful existence. This power of pausing enables us to linger longer, gently nurturing the habit of noticing, which enables us to remain at ease with our whole selves. Choices will come more naturally and give room for slight adjustments if warranted. Quarter-turn movements honor the natural flow and pace of making profound life decisions that manifest from a mindset that harmonizes itself into action. Pausing makes it possible to experience formlessness coming into form. Holding the very spaciousness of mindful reflection creates and provides richer, stronger, and deeper manifestations of life. The gift of time generates much gratitude for our befriending the aging process and certainly is a wholly peaceful perspective.
Grace Conte integrates healthy religion, positive psychology, and health-proven scientific and medical practices in her workshops in her company, Through the Eyes of Grace, LLC. She has a master’s degree in education, graduate theological studies, as well as pastoral and reiki certifications. Her published article, “As I Am: Being Fully Human Is the Gateway to Divinity” in Presence magazine (Vol. 26, No. 1, March 2020) articulates her great love for the ministry of spiritual direction.