Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Old Age: dissolution or integration? The Fear of Death part 2

In my last post, a very welcome comment from K at   freerangeweddings sent me in search of insight into our fear of the potential dissolutions and illnesses of old age. So I went to the water's edge. 

There I let go, as far as I could, of whatever was keeping me from being in  the moment, then came home and tried to Think, which hurts, hence the capital letter.

I reckon the first step is to acept the unavoidable reality of change.

Said the sun to the moon, 

You cannot stay. 


Says the moon to the waters, 

All is flowing. 


Says the field to the grass, 

Seed-time and harvest, 

Chaff and grain. 

You must change, 

Said the worm to the bud, 

Though not to a rose, 

Petals fade 

That wings may rise 

Borne on the wind. 

You are changing 

Said death to the maiden, your wan face 

To memory, to beauty. 

Are you ready to change? 

Says the thought to the heart, to let her pass 

All your life long 

For the unknown, the unborn 

In the alchemy 

Of the world's dream? 

You will change, 

Say the stars to the sun, 

Says the night to the stars.

               Kathleen Raine

Not just to understand this, but but to let it into your life, so you live it. And actually, though it means we age and die, thank goodness we do age and die. What could be more tedious than to be the same for ever? It's impossible.

But what K wrote is, I reckon, widespread: a fear of dissolution and decreptitude in old age.

Well, the first thing to say is that old age isn't always like that. I've visited a lot of families in seven year's work as a funeral celebrant, and that's my basis for thinking so. Of course we have the relatively minor complaints of ageing, but it may help to remember Mark Twain's observation: "I'm a very old man. I've had lots of problems. Most of them never happened."

(Genius, thanks.)

The trouble with my next step is that it involves a set of practices and beliefs that you may feel don't or couldn't apply to you. All I'll say is that meditating enables people not merely to stay in the moment, but to lessen the effects of pain and illness by reducing the fear and mental tension they generate. Pain is one thing, our response to it is quite another. Meditation can help with both.

K also worries about dependence. I understand that fear. So much depends on individual situations, but I sometimes think we worry too much about being dependent on others; we might reflect on the times others have depended on us. 

Having an old person depend on you is so much shaped by the personalities involved - you, and the old person. I'm going to preach, sorry:- if we can aim to live in the moment, if we can feel gratitude for our lives and compassion for others, we are surely less likely to be a burdensome presence as we age.

OK, sometimes old age can be pretty horrrible - I hope it won't be for K, for anyone reading this, but I believe there are things we can do to lessen that possibility.

That's enough for one blog. Maybe more another time. The island is storm-lashed tonight and I'd like, for a change, to listen to what the wind says.

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