(Republished from 2016) In which I look ahead to the final task in my year of being old: coming to terms with death and dying. Yeeouch.
So, I’m putting myself through a DIY boot camp for the bonus years, achieving one goal every month. I’m booting myself into action, establishing habits that are likely to preserve me—and my brain and my family and the national budget—in the best possible state while I live.
The final task is what it’s all about: I must come to terms with old age and dying. Whew, big ask, huh?
In one sense, the whole year is dedicated to precisely that unprecise and probably impossible goal. However, I’ll be forced to focus strongly on death for an entire day shortly, when I attend this workshop:
Life, Death and Transformation
One of my sisters told me about a Tibetan meditation on death, when for almost an hour she visualised herself dying in a remote place like a desert, and then vividly experiencing the gradual decay of her body. This sort of guided meditation, I expect, will be part of the workshop I attend.
My sister said that ever since that day she has never worried about whether she looks old or young. She still looks marvellous, but it seems she just let go of that understandable desire to look younger. I too would like to become less attached to my anachronistic self-image as a younger woman.
Why am I booting myself into such a morbid experience?
Well, it’s clear that most of us have highly successful mechanisms for denying, downgrading, dumping and downright rejecting death. We’re not going to die, oh no! And we’re not ever going to be old like that pathetic person over there who can barely walk or see, oh no!
Possibly the human capacity to blank out the end of life is a healthy thing. I don’t know. But that capacity is sustained by self-deception and bizarre thought patterns, which (to me) are not so pretty.
I would like to try another possibility: knowing deep in my bones that I will die one day, maybe tonight, maybe in 25 years, maybe sometime in between. I would like to be able to accept that fact, to understand what death involves, to feel the honest grief and loss, and somehow to be OK about the entire incomprehensible terrible wonderful bundle of life and death.
That’s what I’m expecting from a workshop on Life, Death and Transformation.
It’s hard work letting go
Of course this day will be hard work in every sense. Such understanding cannot be delivered on a plate. If it was easy, we would all think like Buddhist nuns and monks, I suppose. Or at least we would think rationally about our own life cycle instead of subconsciously regarding ourselves as exempt from the processes of dying and death.
With any learning, the more effort you make, the greater the rewards. And this is a different kind of knowledge.
Must I write any more about my year of being old?
I’m a writer, doh! But I hope that after this year, I’ll stop brooding on the topic and revert to being myself — not defined by age, exempt from internal ageism. Whether I write anything more, ever, about my boot camp feels more and more improbable. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been very, very real to me.
This was all about death. But I feel that I have again been writing into life.