How To Stay Young Forever.
Age is not a number, it’s a habit.
Before I begin, I feel like I should point out that you can’t grow old. Your body does of course, but just by calling it “your” body, we’re acknowledging that your buddy isn’t not you, but something you own. Who you are, the collection of thoughts and feelings and memories that you refer to as “I”, doesn’t age. It’s why some people are wise enough to feel like they’re in their 20s when they reach their 80s.
Nonetheless it’s true that if you haven’t been conscious enough, a certain weariness sets in which we tend to call growing old. This weariness isn’t inevitable. Nor is it irreversible. It’s simply the accumulation of an error in thinking. The result of a lack of attention. How do you shake off this weariness? Well, by paying attention of course.
When we’re young we pay attention to life because we’re still expecting it to surprise us. We live life fully because we still believe in our potential. As children, we haven’t yet been convinced that there are rules. And we certainly don’t understand them if there are. So we pay as much attention as we can and try to figure them out.
This is what you did when you were still young; you tried to figure things out. But what most likely happened is that somebody who had been playing the game longer than you, told you what the rules were. They explained what was and wasn’t allowed. They told you what you could and couldn’t say. They described who you could and couldn’t be. And if you were unlucky, you believed them.
The more deeply you believe in those rules, the truer they seem to become. Life gets smaller in direct proportion to the rules you accept. And as life gets smaller, it’s no longer so important that you pay attention. What’s the point if you already know everything that’s allowed to happen? Of course, the less attention you pay, the less life surprises you. Until the whole thing becomes very boring indeed.
This is what growing old is. Not the number of trips you’ve made around the sun or whether your joints ache in the winter. It’s the point when you stop believing in your own potential. Old age is learned, the same way that elephants learn to stay in place when they’re tied up.
You see, if you take a young elephant, tie a rope around its leg and attach the other end to a stake that’s been driven deep into the ground, it will try to escape at first. It tries because it hasn’t yet realised that it’s too weak to escape. But eventually, it learns its lesson. It stops struggling against the rope. After that, even after the elephant is fully grown and easily strong enough to break free, it doesn’t try to. It’s not even necessary to tie the rope to anything anymore. The elephant feels the rope around its leg and it believes it can’t move. It has learned the rule. And an elephant never forgets.
So how do you become young again? How do you free yourself from the rope that’s been tied around your mind? Well, by pulling on it of course! You need to test your strength once in a while. Test whether the ropes that you believe restrain you, whether they’re your fears, or your obligations, or ideas you’ve held onto for too long, check whether they’re really tied to anything. What happens if you tug on them a little? Do they move? Could it be that you’re stronger than you realised?
This is a difficult thing to do. Which is why most people get older as time goes by. Staying young requires an act of courage. The more time passes, the more you have to stay alert to see life for what it is; a game with no rules. A game where anything is possible. And if there’s a voice in your head telling you that that’s nonsense, ask if you’d have thought so when you were still young. Back when you wanted to be an astronaut or a movie star or a Nobel prize winning scientist. Back when you didn’t know all the rules. Back when you believed in yourself because you had time on your side.
Well, time is still on your side. At least as much as it ever was. None of us knows what tomorrow holds, but you didn’t know when you were a child either. The only difference is that you hadn’t yet been convinced that you couldn’t move. You were still willing to struggle for freedom. To test your strength. To challenge the rules. All you need to stop yourself growing old is try again.