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So, what is your number one fear in life?
Mine is aging.
I have felt this way for some time, but I have now gone around the sun 51 times, and my fears begin to feel more based on reality. Fifty is the beginning of one’s older years.
If you are still calling yourself middle-aged, then you are thinking you are going to live past 100. The silver foxes in the Viagra commercials laughing with their ladies (as they sail on a boat or stroll through scenic autumn vistas) are beginning to look more like you.
People younger than you celebrating your birthday begin to congratulate you in a wry, inner shake-of-the-head way as if to say, “Oh, good luck there, buddy!”
Your back reminds you daily how you have lifted things the wrong way far too many times, and you just don’t give a crap about the latest TikTok dance. Your doctor allows you to avoid a colonoscopy, but instead ships you a box with a plastic container for you to defecate in and then ship back to the laboratory. You sheepishly hand it to the guy at the UPS package store.
Some of the elderly people I know seem to schedule their weeks around doctor appointments and lab tests. Their body, once a sexy, frisky friend, is now a slowly failing container for their soul they have to lug around to the pharmacy to pick up more medications with potential side effects worse than what they are taking the medication for.
The nursing home my mother spent her last years in and the nursing homes I visit as a caseworker smell like feces and urine and futile bleach. The residents sit by themselves in wheelchairs staring at the wall or the TV playing “Murder She Wrote” too loudly, and the outside world full of fresh air and people not wearing diapers seems far away.
Every year I get older, the small, fearful side of me imagines this scenario slowly looming closer and closer—an inevitable descent into a sort of living hell full of Jello desserts, joyless bingo games, and school children singing Christmas carols out of tune once a year.
I believe in an afterlife, the beautiful infinite energy of the soul, and that Earth is but one journey we make among potentially infinite choices. I am a spiritual being having a human experience, dammit. It’s not death I fear, it’s all the humbling ways we get there.
But look at George Takei or Tina Turner or Jane Fonda. Apparently, old people can still have excellent lives. They can be vibrant, active, sarcastic, and even know how to send excellent tweets.
My father, who is 86, just drove three hours to go to a bluegrass festival and despite drinking and smoking much of his life (and a steady diet of bacon and ice cream), enjoys mostly great health.
So, I thought I would add my two cents to how to age well and how I plan to age well. And I will not be mentioning supplements or doing crossword puzzles or the right yoga poses. Although I do have one word to say about supplements: turmeric.
Here are seven ways to age like a boss:
1. Be Spiritual, but not Strict
One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Benjamin Franklin: “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”
To me, spirituality is very simple. Decide if you believe you have a soul or not. One decision is not better than the other, but it helps to know where you stand.
If you—like me—opt for the soul route, then get to know your said soul. Contemplate. Stare at your navel. Feel the quiet, constant hum of the universe around you. Think about who you want to be, and who you don’t want to be.
Balance being one with all people, along with figuring out how you are the only you in the universe.
What do you love?
What excites you?
What disgusts you?
What do you want to project outward to those around you?
What do you want to accomplish internally, emotionally, and soulfully while you are on this crazy round rock?
If your spiritual path has lots of rules and complicated aspects, I do not judge, but simplicity—I feel—is the path to wisdom.
We don’t have to know everything we believe, meditate two hours a day, and be relentlessly kind and calm to be our best selves. Sometimes being our best selves is throwing a wooden cooking spoon as hard as you f*cking can against the kitchen wall because the pot of tomato sauce spilled all over the floor. You are not hurting anyone.
The wild human beast and the shining orb of spiritual energy are entwined together in the dirty dance of life.
2. Don’t Only Listen to the Music you did in High School
Don’t get stuck—stay interested.
Yes, like me, you may not give a flying f about TikTok, but your teenage daughter does, so you sort of do too.
Did you love The Cure, Nirvana, Boyz 2 Men, Van Halen, or Macy Gray in high school? Super. But you know what? The world has made more music since then. Much of it is excellent. Don’t let your life past 40 be one long VH1 nostalgia trip.
Obviously, Generation X is the coolest generation, but the Millennials seem pretty amazing with all their patience still living with their parents due to the horrible job market, the cost of buying a home, and their cool polyamorous lifestyles. Gen Z is pretty much all LGBTQ, (and barely sees race) and Greta Thunberg and her peers may just be able to save us from ourselves.
I think Led Zeppelin or the Beatles or Radiohead are the greatest bands in the world, but Billie Eilish is cool and that last Fleet Foxes album was fire, and I want to know what’s happening right now. Life is change, and Woodstock was a long, long time ago.
3. Dress Like you Care
My 13-year-old daughter is pretty normcore in her dress, but she looks cool.
Some of her friends are more experimental with their mascara on their cheekbones and wearing bunny hoods, frog hats, corsets, and Doc Martens (which they stole from my 1990s grungy youth).
Young people often use clothes as wearable art that tells a story about themselves. Clothing as costumes. They are in their own little movies, expressing their characters. On the other hand, you often see elderly men who appear to have stopped buying clothes sometime in 1982. They are not wearing dad jeans. They are wearing grandpa slacks with plenty of polyester. You see elderly women with the same hairstyle they enjoyed in 1964.
It is sweet, of course, but it’s hard to not think when seeing a dude with his belt three inches from his nipples or a lady rocking the June Cleaver ‘do with that tinge of lavender, When did you kinda give up? When did you stop observing what people in TV and movies—people around you who don’t remember Watergate—are wearing and styling?
One could argue that clothing is materialistic and superficial, yet clothing is also fun and a statement of who you think you are. Clothing declares how much you are paying attention to the world around you. Clothing is your costume in the movie of your life you are starring in, and it doesn’t have to be a period piece on PBS just because you now take Metamucil on the daily.
I understand they are helpful to people with arthritis and poor mobility, but once you start wearing shoes with velcro closures, you might as well get ready for your dirt nap.
4. Drink and Party
There have been a few studies linked to moderate drinking about two glasses of wine or beer a day and a “longer” life. One done by a neurologist from the University of California stated those who do so were 18 percent less likely to die early. The best part: those who exercise daily only reduced that percentage to 11 percent less likely. So put down those running shoes and pick up the bottle.
I kid, however perhaps there is something to how younger people tend to party and drink and socialize more. Theorizing from a more poetic as opposed to scientific perspective, I would imagine that “taking the edge off” after a long day of adulting can be good for us.
Shifting from the grind of being logical, in control, and analytical, to (with the help of a drink or two) a more instinctual, loose, joyful way of being.
We often drink socially in order to be more like children: able to play, be silly, speak more directly. When we do this with others, we often find we have a deeper (or at least more imaginative) connection with each other. Unique things are said, hearts are opened, and stories are created: Remember that time we drank wine down by the creek and the moon was almost full, and Olivia lost her shoe and we sang “Ruby Tuesday” and howled like wolves?
Even if drinking occasionally leads to someone acting poorly or stupidly, at least something is happening. Some drama is taking place that breaks up the monotony of daily adulting.
Unfortunately, most of us need a little assistance in order to get funky, get weird, and let our wild things out. Even if we are just sitting in our living rooms having an IPA and listening to Spotify, there is a sense of ceremony, communion with ourselves—a paying of respect to our need to decompress and put down our heavy backpacks of responsibility and functionality.
We don’t always have to be machines of productivity. We can just be.
If we don’t have an addiction, drinking is just plain fun. Drinking is a way to access more spirit, more magic, more softness in a hard world. So drink your way to old age, folks. You can even get some exercise too if you insist.
5. Get in the Woods
Pretty obvious. By now most of us are aware of ecopsychology and the benefit of green spaces.
Many studies have shown how being in nature will speed the health recovery process, reduce blood pressure, lower the risk of cancer, and reduce depression and anxiety. Yet there’s more.
When I am on the miles of trails near my house, I feel closer to god, spirit, whatever we want to call it. I feel closer to my own true self.
My mind functions better, the world seems less insane, my senses are flooded with sights, sounds, and smells that are primal and mystical. The animal in me is at home. The trees, the lichen-covered giant rocks, and the mumbling creek are telling stories that can’t be translated into words—they can only be felt somewhere deeper.
The woods don’t care how old you are or what you do for a living. The woods don’t know about COVID-19 or all the atrocities humankind does to each other. It speaks to us about something ancient and surrounds us with unfathomable beauty and detail and artistry everywhere we turn. There are, hopefully, no cameras watching us. Or billboards, vape shops, fast-casual restaurants, or any of the other government or corporate small horrors that grow more prevalent every decade—although, I do love me some Chipotle.
6. Stay Sexy
Don’t stop thinking of yourself as a sexual being.
Whether with a partner or by yourself, get it on as much as possible. Young people are notoriously horny. So keep that sacral chakra spinning. No matter your size or shape, respect your body and how much pleasure it can give and receive. Celebrate how much fun you can have with it.
Porn becomes boring over time, where everyone sort of looks the same and has the same “sexy” behavior, but reality is always hot with its hair and fat and cellulite and raw realness.
You are living with an organic sex toy every day—your body. Don’t take it for granted. Put on some Khruangbin, light a candle, and go to town. You deserve it.
7. Give Less F*cks
Getting older gives you the right to care less.
Getting older, you have become a seasoned marathoner, rock climber, or backpacker continuing the arduous journey of life—failing and getting up, getting lost and finding the path, breaking bones and painfully healing, wanting to give up at times but managing to find ways to see meaning and fulfillment.
You have probably done the hardest part of raising your children. You have probably gone through thousands of hours of education and found your career path for some time. You have probably loved and been loved, screwed up, hurt and been hurt, and felt so many large and small moments of despair and loneliness and deep, horrible grief.
You may have buried your parents, friends, or partners. You may have gone bankrupt or been unable to pay your mortgage or seen the look on your partner’s face when you wounded them terribly. You may have driven your children to a hundred soccer practices and tried to keep them off their screens 5,000 times and disappointed them with your own shadow side. You have done all that you are supposed to do as a functioning adult (more or less) and have proven to yourself that you can exist quite adequately in a world that is crazy-making and often cruel and senseless.
You have tried to make meaning where there seemed to be none.
In short, you have been human for hundreds of thousands of hours, with all the blessings and atrocities that entails, and you now have little to prove—it is now your time.
It is now your time to decide how you want to spend the rest of your years. It is your time to home in on who you are, what you want to let go of, what truly matters, and what is just the world telling you that something matters.
Now is your time to tell the world to go to hell if it doesn’t sit with your soul.
You have been drinking the Kool-Aid of society for decades because you’ve often had to. To keep a roof over your head and feel like a good upstanding member of the herd. But now you have wisdom. Now you know shortcuts. Now you work smarter, not harder. Now you understand the joys of simplicity and how you really want to spend your days.
You owe the world nothing except your most authentic and loving self.
We are all heading toward death—the next adventure. It is terrifying and it gives life ultimate meaning. Treasure every sip of coffee, every falling leaf, every crescent moon.
Just now my wife called me over to see two hummingbirds at our feeder, moving forward and backward in seemingly impossible ways. If you have ever seen a hummingbird close up, you know the incredible precision and pulchritude I just witnessed.
Every second is golden and irreplaceable. Unlike Gatsby, you know you can never go back. As our bodies begin to be less efficient and smooth-running, we can turn inward to our minds, our hearts, our spirits, and discover new vistas we were formerly too busy and distracted to notice.
We can begin to know ourselves in more holistic and intricate ways, as our more still waters run deep.
Finally, aging is the recognition of the sacredness of the moment: how much there is happening around us at all times, how much there is to feel and smell and savor.
Care less and perceive more—this is the secret to a good life.
This, and turmeric.