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Mindful : June 2014
early. Not Frieda. She told me the next day that she danced until midnight—with her two artificial hips and one artificial knee. She’s interested in life. Old age can be a good time to look back on one’s life and review the narra- tive, but I have a bad habit of dwelling on past mistakes, and so for me, retrospec- tion is dangerously mixed with regret. The older you get the more things you have to regret, if that’s your bent. And bent is the word for it. Recently, while meditating, I had a powerful vision of myself bent under the weight of the chains of regret, slowing me down. One chain is inscribed with the name of Mr. X, one chain is a terrible thing I said to my child, another is the friend I neglected. I felt the weight of these chains, how they cut into my hands and dug into my shoulders, how my back was bowed and my legs were bent. Suddenly I said to myself, “Drop the chains of regret! You don’t have to bring them with you.” And I saw myself standing tall and walking forward into the next piece of my life. I’ve been taller since that day. I was recently complaining to Frieda, the one who still loves to dance, about the fact that my children and grand- children live so far away. “I would be so “You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” Michael Pritchard “As I started getting older, I realized, I’m so happy! I didn’t expect this! I wasn’t happy when I was young.” Jane Fonda Sue Moon is the author of This is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humor and Dignity. much happier if they lived nearby,” I said. Her response shocked me. “ Happiness is overrated. You can’t always be happy, and that’s okay. That ’s life. Just live your life. You’ve been unhappy sometimes in the past. Do you regret those parts of your life? Do you regret the experiences that made you unhappy?” To let go of measuring happiness—what a relief! People do try to measure it, though. I read a study that says happiness picks up significantly at 60, and that after 70, people get really happy. People in their 70s and 80s are happier than at any other time of life. When I turned 70 over a year ago, I missed the fact that I was crossing a big threshold of happiness, but I’m glad I read about this study, because now I know how happy I am! What is it, really, that makes old people happier? A friend of mine and her first love re-met, after not seeing each other for 50 years. They fell in love again in their late 60s. She let go of her old life in California, her habits, her home a nd her job, and she moved to Germany to live with him. Now they are married, and they live half the year in Germany, and half the year in California. They are happy. How is this possible? It has to do with going for what’s most important. Letting go of constraints and being curi- ous about what’s going to happen next. Theirs is a remarkable story, but for all of us, getting old is about letting go. Of regrets, of unachieved ambitions, of self-centeredness. My ego doesn’t whine as much as it used to, and this makes it easier to hear what other people are saying. I can’t claim to be completely free of self-concern, but it’s getting boring after all these years. And no matter what you have to let go of, no matter what you lose—your hearing, your vision, your memory, your mobility—you don’t lose the ability to love. You might even get better at it. The letting go includes letting go of always wanting to be happy. The more I put happiness aside, the more easily I ca n settle with what is. The more I let go of being happy, the happier I am. It doesn’t matter how old you a re. The numbers don’t describe the person. I have a lot of other traits besides being 71. When you taste your first cup of tea or coffee in the morning, you are neither old nor young. When you walk in the wet- lands with a friend and a group of swans take flight, and you hear the amazing clatter of their wings, you a re neither old nor young. You are alive. When you are making something—red lentil soup, a va lentine for your gra nddaughter— you are neither old nor young. ● “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” Madeleine L’Engle June 2014 mindful 63