So despite philosophising, planning for a change of pace and gratitude for what I already have in life, getting older does have its down side – the aging body. My body has just raised the ante recently in reminding me that it needs care by succumbing to a series of viruses, including one that caused inflammation, pain and stiffness in many of my joints. I really felt old in a way that alarmed me.
Some older people seem to effortlessly breeze into aging as trim and taut, loose and luscious. But for many of us, joints ache, bones become brittle, breathlessness occurs more frequently and simple pleasures such as a spicy curry washed down with glasses of red lead to liver and gut protests.
I’ve been involved as a health professional and a physiotherapist for decades, and working with people’s bodies has allowed me to become attuned to my own body and its needs. Despite a grounding in traditional medicine, I’ve always been involved with alternative health and found benefit from using naturopathic treatments as well conventional approaches. A book that opened my eyes to the potential iatrogenic (caused by treatment) risks of many conventional medical approaches was Ivan Illich’s 1975 polemic ‘The Medical Nemesis’. Reading that book and Krishnamurti’s books about Eastern philosophy at the same time led me down an alternative path to health. For most of my life, then, I’ve eaten reasonably nutritious food, done yoga and enjoyed walking. Before anyone assumes that I’m a paragon of health, I might add that in the busyness of life, balancing the needs of my family and work has often led to my own health needs slipping off the end of my to-do list.
As I get older, staying healthy and well seems to take more time and care. Whereas when I was young my body would forgive my intermittent neglect, over the past decade I increasingly feel reminders, in the form of odd pains and ailments, of the need to nurture it. Dr. Christine Northrup’s book ‘Women’s Bodies; Women’s wisdom,’ given to me a few decades ago by a dear friend, added clarity to my understanding of illness and wellbeing as being about more than physical care, involving our spiritual beliefs and emotional energies, intertwined as our whole being. Her site is worth looking at; her books worth reading (See http://www.drnorthrup.com/about/). I found them a particularly useful guide through my journey of Menopause in my early fifties.
There’s wonderful information available from books and websites, doctors and alternative practitioners, but I’m wary about becoming obsessed with my health, particularly about fanatically following any one approach. It appears people could devote most of their day to looking after their health. I wonder about how much of the richness of life, fun and connections with people they are missing. Ultimately, I think that wellbeing is as much about enthusiasm and enjoyment, passion and purpose, as it is about health and being well. I’ve worked with many people over the years with disability or chronic illnesses who manage to maintain their wellbeing.
I’m interested in finding a middle path between proactively taking responsibility for my own wellbeing without assuming that I can control random life events; accepting aging gracefully rather than seeking to rage against or deny it. In reflecting on my recent patch of ill health there are certain things I want to change in developing more sustainable habits of health – like taking less advantage of convenience foods at work and yet again beginning my vegie patch so I can pick healthy food at home. Increasingly I feel the single most important contribution I can make to my wellbeing is to take time each day to tune into my body, through meditation, yoga or even walking. I’d like to hear what others in similar situations are doing.
A key tenet of Buddhist philosophy is acceptance of what is. Hopefully I can accept the changes of my aging body – in size, shape and function – and age in a sanguine manner – whilst not letting go of the pure pleasure of dressing up, pampering myself, maybe embracing eccentricity – wearing outrageous clothes – wearing purple. Jenny Joseph’s poem, ‘Warning’ began with the line, ‘When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple’. Although she wrote it in the early 60s, I didn’t read it until 1991 during my first pregnancy, when turning 60 was a lifetime away. I love purple. The photo I’ve included today is my lovely purple hat. I’m wearing it more often these days and it feels good.