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The choice to age well: Refresh yourself in spirit

One of the best ways to age well is to refresh ourselves in spirit as often as we can. Every day we live and work, something magical and full of life gives us the sustenance and power to go on, whether we are aware of it or not. We may feel weighed down by thoughts and worries, stuck in our habits and routines, but right before us, unseen but always there, is another way of lightness and ease.

Every minute, instead of choosing the weighty and the complicated, we can find the refreshment of spirit, which is in us and all around us. Instead of agonizing under the weight of our kids’ problems, we can take time with them and catch the glimpse of joy in their eyes at play. Those who refresh themselves like this, whether in their 90’s or in the prime of life, can learn, as Thomas a Kempis says, to “lift themselves above themselves in spirit, and with joy remain at rest.” I can think of no more essential way to keep vibrantly alive than to find spirit everywhere and take vital nourishment in it. Do that, and age becomes just a number; life remains abundantly fresh. Here are five ways you can refresh yourself in spirit:

1. Take the time to open up: In our accomplishment-oriented world, we move and think endlessly; we go on and on and don’t stop. So in the midst of your day, take time to stand aside and breathe deeply. If your partner or co-worker is talking to you, give them full attention and actually listen. As you do so, gradually letting your guard down, thought slows down and a slit opens up where spirit can enter.

2. Spend time with kids or with the elderly: When we are racing to try to stay ahead of the bills, it’s hard to stay centered. So take a break from it all; go in the backyard and ride the swing with your kids. Let them help you into that rhythm where the body just moves and joys in itself. Or, stop and listen as your grandmother tells you of her first job as a salesgirl or of milking the cows on the farm. Time outside care and routine, with people who live and move in themselves, will give you a glimpse of what you, too, are, and what connects us all deep inside.

3. Find the new in the old: In the midst of life, the ordinary and even the tedious can open into the magical if you give them your full attention and interest. The other day when my wife suggested we go grocery shopping together, I winced, because I hate shopping; but something in me said, try this. The result was, I had a relaxing and full experience amongst the rows of fresh vegetables and bountiful bins of flour. That’s why when the Zen master is asked how to contact our spirit, he says, “I eat my rice, and I wash my bowl.” Really, it’s all about throwing rigidity and stale habit into the dustbin and opening to the ever new, even within the old and ordinary that beckons us to try it afresh.

4. Open up to weakness: Usually our weakest areas are things we want to hide. Do you have trouble getting angry with your husband for no good reason, or exasperate others because your way is the only right one? A weakness usually puts us in conflict with others, or it causes suffering deep within ourselves. Rather than hiding from them, open up to your weaknesses; appeal to others for help with them. People who can’t admit failings don’t realize they are a trail leading down into us straight into spirit. If we can surrender our rigidity and egocentricity over to our appeal for help, it will lead to a place of healing deep within that we cannot invent or plan for. By showing us how human we are, humbling personal experiences can help us go beyond our finite boundaries to find an inner refuge and home.

5. Practice meditation or prayer: All ways to spirit point to one thing and that is finding peace and truth in the wholeness of who we really are. To help in this, I would recommend a spiritual practice such as personal reflection, where we take time to go over the events of our day or even of our life, striving to redo in our minds things we could have handled better. In this practice, prayer to the divine, however we may conceive it, helps us gain the strength to make the new choices and become more who we want to be.

For support in this difficult work of personal change, I have found another form of inward prayer very helpful, and that is meditating on the words of sages and poets who have known emotional security and spiritual peace. In this mode of prayer, concentration on an inspiring passage, word by word, seeds the mind with the higher reality present in the passages. Eventually, concentrated meditation can slow down the feverish pace of automatic thinking, which blocks access to our true self and feelings. With a slower mind– even a still mind–Zen teachers point out that a sudden flash can illuminate our spirit, showing us who we really are and have always been. And at that time, we will know we are ageless, with the fount of spirit and life within us always.

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