By Sifu Joseph Simonet
Herodotus was the first to write of the fountain of youth in the 5th century B.C. and it has been the much sought-after object of legend and mystery ever since. As we live longer, spending proportionately more of our lives in the ‘older years’, our coveting of youth has only grown stronger. Today, products and services designed to restore youth (or the illusion thereof) unburden us of billions of dollars every year, as our continuous struggle against the onslaught of age intensifies. The promise of youth is cruelly deceptive however, and no amount of vim and vigor can release us from the burden of aging, gracefully or otherwise. Father time is indifferent to our human strivings and despite our delusions of invincibility, from the moment of conception death courts us all.
Perhaps borne of our frustrated angst, we now so applaud the young, in their beautiful becoming, that we enable them to sit back on their unrealized potential and bask in the glory of that which they could be. Unrealized potential simply means you haven’t done anything yet. So we ride this wave through our teens and 20’s, preferring the far more parsimonious and comfortable route of “the world is my oyster”. We avoid challenging ourselves to rely upon or appreciate experience, because we intrinsically lack it when we are young, and arrogance rejects reliance on external help. Since we want to be self-contained and independent in our glory, we discount experience. As we dismiss the value of experiential understanding and replace it with a worship of our “unrealized potential” in youth, are we setting ourselves up for later misery? The so-called “midlife crisis” and existential turmoil that is there to meet us on the other side of our young years could be lessened if not avoided altogether, if we challenged ourselves to take a different perspective on age. Although few people say “I can’t wait to be 60”, the truth is, the older you get, the more you can draw from the understanding unique to a matriculated timeline. Young people should not arrogantly bask in the glory of youth, and the elderly should not succumb to the depleted stance proscribed by dominant social paradigms.
Time, as much as it takes longevity from us, gives back in the form of opportunity. The accumulation of years and experiences provides one with more chances to improve, learn, grow and recalibrate to a higher plane of existence. The mind that is open to evidence of needed adjustment, seeking wisdom through missteps, gathering perspectives that are valuable and guarding against deleterious encounters with those who would compromise clarity of understanding. Mistakes are a necessary part of the learning curve, and should be embraced as the fodder for experiential perspective. Fear of death is compounded when life choices are not aligned with meaningful living. How hastily we plunge into the onslaught of illusion, ignoring the warnings against indulgence until the trap door is sealed–and how many traps are there? The worst kind of trap is the one you don’t know you are in, and there are several alignments of perception that prevent the recognition of such traps. Realigning toward positive course correction is often difficult for people of all ages, but most particularly in those who are still under the spell of youth. Inexperience, pride, and an egotistical avoidance of reality will impede the progress of the young. Sadly, petulance can infect people of all ages and too often, stubbornness is acquired in youth but grasped until old age. Those who are closed minded, inflexible and self-righteous are, in my view, captured in a black hole and escape velocity can only be achieved through critical self-assessment. Although these observations may be “obvious” to the reader, perhaps it only became so apparent when someone pointed them out. In order to work your way out of the traps that have so captured you, take stock of the things you do on a daily basis to add comfort to the ones you love. Are you immersed when listening to your loved ones reveal their most intimate vulnerabilities? Age adds urgency to the need for making needed adjustments that will propel our true life’s intentions. No matter what age you are now, see each day as an opportunity to improve, and repel the tempting lure of assured but unexamined convictions.
In his masterpiece, “The Glass Bead Game”, Herman Hesse writes:
Our days are precious but we gladly see them going
If in their place we find a thing more precious growing
A rare, exotic plant, our gardener’s heart delighting;
A child whom we are teaching, a booklet we are writing.
I am now in my 60’s, just at a new starting line. As the bar continues to rise for me, I am able to hold on to the dream of tomorrow, striving each day to actualize my full potential. If we are up to the challenging and often uncomfortable position of not being an “expert”, not resting on our laurels and coasting our way through the twilight years, we may find that time to be the most compelling and fulfilling point in our life’s course. Perhaps it is that orientation that holds the fountain of youth, or even something more valuable than youth–wisdom.