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The (Real) Secret to Staying Young

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” ~Benjamin Franklin

You know them well.

They pop out of every magazine you open and every billboard you drive by: skinny sixteen year-old models with blemish- and wrinkle-free skin staring blankly back at you. Like they own the place or something.

If you don’t have their complexion and shape you probably wince the same way I do when you see them splattered on that advertising campaign. Youth is where it’s at in the twenty first century.  We’re told it’s desirable and that we should want it—and inevitably, many of us do.

On any given weekday you will find perfectly sane women trampling each other to get to wildly over-priced beauty-products (read: the same ones advertised on that billboard you drove by earlier) at our handy local beauty store.

Then we head on over to the gym where we run, lift weights, and cycle ourselves till within an inch of our lives before jetting off home to soak our faces in that New!Magic!Serum! (read: fetuses liquidized with rat tails and just a dash of pigs foot and perfume to cover it all up).

And rinse and repeat.

Inevitably, one sunny morning just before your (please insert) birthday, you look into the mirror and see a line cracking down like the crater of doom from the corner of your eye towards your slightly saggy cheek.

Don’t hyperventilate.  I’m here to deliver the good news:

You don’t really want to be young again!

You might as well wish you were Santa Claus or Oprah. It’s never going to happen. Besides, you had to sit through puberty and all that to get where you are now, and I’m guessing you’re probably quite happy to be here.

You might enjoy the notion of being youthful instead, because that’s a completely different thing, you see. In fact, that’s something you can actually achieve.

Youth refers to how you look; it’s a reference to your body. Youthfulness is a reference to your life energy—a much nicer thing to strive for than your long lost (sorry) youth.

My Pilates teacher, Fiona du Plooy says that she can tell your “real” age by how flexible your spine is: If your can still bend it, flex it, and roll it, if it’s still malleable and fluid, you’re doing OK.  (Whether you’re 20 or 70, this is a realistic goal we can all try to attain!)

I agree with Fiona, but from the viewpoint of my own modality. Youth is something that’s present in your eyes. It’s a way of being in the world, of interacting with it and placing yourself in it.

It’s something you can see in a person’s energy rather than their skin—a liveliness and interest in their environment that regenerates itself.

If you want to stay youthful, you don’t need to go under the knife. Heck, you don’t even have to leave the house. You just need to sustain these three simple-yet-much-more-magical-than-rat-tail-things.

1.  Play

(Otherwise known as that thing you used to do in your youth.)

Play means you’re having fun. It’s the polar opposite of work. Somewhere on the path to getting a career and “growing up” we forget that.

What does it mean to play with something?

  • To engage
  • in a light-hearted way
  • to discover and explore
  • without expectation
  • or being invested in an outcome.

All of my favorite spiritual teachers have a cunning sense of humor about life and bring it into their teachings as well.

Do you do anything fun with your time?

When’s the last time you discovered or did something new?  When did you do something without trying to get some kind of end result from it, just for kicks?

If you’re drawing a blank it’s time to sign up for that scuba diving course or join a local knitting group once a week. (Yes.  Knitting can be fun.) Remember: Fun is the process. It has nothing to do with the outcome.  Play.  Discover. Explore.

Never, ever take yourself too seriously. To ensure long lasting happiness, make this is your primary way of interacting with the world.

2.  Desire

Desire has become a dirty word in our society. It conjures up pictures of couples in a 1950’s movie clinging to each other with a look of desperation in their eyes. Desire has acquired a bit of a stink to it.

Which is a great pity.

Desire is the energy that propels us forward.

It makes us want to stick around to see what happens next. Even a monk who desires nothing is driven by a strong desire—to desire nothing and connect with his higher Self.

Nurture your desires. They serve as the canon which continuously launches you into life.

When you wake up in the morning ask yourself:  How can I satisfy one of my own desires today?

Even if you have a nine-to-five job, make sure that you do at least one thing everyday that you consciously chose to do because you enjoy it. It doesn’t need to be earth shattering. Take a long bubble bath, have coffee with a friend, or write a poem.

3.  Malleability

Malleability is your ability to adapt, to change.  Youthfulness requires you to be able to bend with life.

Case in point: Have you ever seen a baby fall over? Their soft little bodies are usually OK since they don’t absorb the impact, they embrace it. Their fluidity is their saving grace.

The older we get, the more rigid we tend to become in both our thoughts and bodies. Tension stiffens and leads to breakage. Like an old woman who refuses to change, rigidity about who and what you are leaves no room for exploration. It means you’re old.

When you’re no longer willing to leap blindly into the abyss of self-realization, if you’ve closed the doors on new possibilities, your life slowly starts to suffocate from lack of fresh energy and motivation.

Rigidity is a direct result of fear and presumption. Fear and presumption narrow your choices; they close you off to new possibilities and vitality. The more you indulge in these two emotions, the less chance you have of nourishing yourself with new adventures.

Take a risk every now and again. Step out of your box, even if it’s just a little step.

Youthfulness is about your vitality and spirit. Stop chasing after that sixteen year-old skin, embrace the wisdom that comes with age, and next time you drive by that billboard, smile.  Youth isn’t in your skin my friend.  It’s sitting in your bones.

Photo by johnlembo

About Anél Hamersma

Anél Hamersma is a Sangoma from South Africa. She offers bone divination, talks, or workshops relating to Self-Uncovery and Life Deconstruction. Visit her at www.inyourbones.com.

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  • Sarah

    Great post Anel. And so true. We are all so frightened of getting old that we forget how to LIVE!

  • Play is so important. Even beyond knitting and scuba diving (which I’m sure are fun too), I really think that most of the things that were fun when we were kids are still fun now, if we approach them with the right spirit – blowing bubbles, flying kites, colouring, climbing trees, making things with lego, building sand castles, all that.

    I’m still tempted by the toy section in the department store, and I’m in my 20s now 🙂

  • Thanks for writing this, I got a lot from your emphasis on malleability, and the way you linked rigidity back to fear and presumption.

    I have two young children and I’m amazed at their physical  flexibility, but also their emotional flexibility. The way they can be howling at some disappointment, and then a minute later be filled with joy. Watching them really helps me to see the places where I’ve allowed myself to become rigid and inflexible, and inspires me to work on that.

  • Jswainsworld

    I am a fifty year old woman who proudly shows the young girls I coach in rec volleyball that I can still do a headstand….
    My grandmother and I used to play on the teeter totter when I would come home from college
    She lived to be just shy of 99.

  • Jessa News

    I really enjoyed this! great wisdom and humor. thanks for sharing! let’s all play more!

  • Anel Hamersma

    Hi Dave!
    So nice to meet you.  Kids are amazing, totally in the moment.  They don’t get caught up in anything besides for what’s occupying them in real time.  As you say, whatever was paining them a second ago is gone pretty soon.  If we could let go of the past as simply as they do, our lives would all be a whole lot easier.

  • HOW AWESOME IS THAT!  Living proof of my theory right there! 

  • Ditto Sylvia.  I’m a sucker for a good toy store. 

    As you say, it’s all about how we approach what happens in life, doesn’t matter what it is.  If you can stick with the idea of just exploring and discovering instead of projecting and assuming, things are generally a whole lot more fun!

  • Excellent post! I’m 62. On the one hand, I’m having fun “using” my age to get away with things. Yup, there’s so much leverage there. On the other hand, I’m not old at all, not in my mind or heart or emotions. My mirror, well, that’s a strange thing. I keep glancing my mother in there as I walk past, though she passed away a long time ago. But even that image is getting to be OK. We can get used to anything, even our changing looks. Self-acceptance is part of the malleability you talk about, Anél. Losing the rigidity of self-image; allowing for change especially in that.

    The older I get, the more I assimilate the truth of “age is a state of mind”. So OK, I stayed age 23 for so many years. Now I’m feeling more like 40-something I suppose. But I’ll never “grow up” or “act my age” and please don’t call me “mature” or, horrors, don’t call me “normal”!

  • I hear you Sarah. 

    We get so caught up in the past and the future that we completely short circuit the NOW.  Our heads can really pull a fast one on us if we don’t stay aware of our thoughts and our mind!

  • Thanks Jessa!  Great to meet you.

  • Thanks Kate, love what you’re saying! 

    You know, besides for everything else it’s totally absurd to expect to look the same our whole lives.  Babies are chubby little things, so are toddlers.  Then in the teenage years we tend to go tall and gangly, and in our thirties and forties we become more womanly, a bit softer.  Often in (very) old age people become exceedingly thing again.  Change is inevitable.  It’s one of the primary non-negotiables of life.  The fact that our society idolises youth says alot about where we’re at I think.

    I’m very optimitstic that trends will change in the next 50 years, and that becoming an Elder will once again be something that people aspire to.  It makes a lot more sense to me to aspire to something that I can actually achieve, than to try and become a twenty-something again!

  • Kyttenn

    Excellent article.  I’ve always told my kids that your body is going to grow older, you can’t stop that; but don’t stop living and having fun because then you become old. 

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  • Elizabeth

    I was at an outdoor music festival a couple of weeks ago and I looked around me and saw people dancing, hooping, blowing bubbles, and playing with glow sticks. The crowd ranged in age from children to seniors, and everyone was playing and having fun. I’m 48 and I sure don’t “act my age”, and why should I? I plan to sing and dance and twirl and have fun for as long as I am able!

  • selinsunflower

    The Dharma Comics are fantastic!

  • PowerMental

    Saw this video on youtube… seems good (in addition to what you have said in the article)

    http://youtu.be/qxtnXfaV_i8

  • Getting older doesn’t mean to stop enjoying you’re life, our body just started to act slowly, and maybe we can’t do things that we used to do before, but still there are a lot of things that we live as younger to our age, just be open minded and enjoy life to the fullest. Play…. Thank for this post.

  • Shane Eric Mathias

    Good points! As we age, we naturally lose flexibility, not only in our joints and muscles, but also in our thinking. It requires discipline to overcome this natural entropy. Furthermore, I prefer to use the term “staying youthful” rather than “staying young”. The latter assumes that being or trying to remain young is the only way to find happiness. Yet, many of the best parts of the life I enjoy now arrived somewhere in my fifth decade. Self confidence; creativity; compassion for others; being a better partner; discipline and better problem solving skills make this the best part of my life so far. The only thing that enhances it is “staying youthful”. Through this mindset, I am not afraid to play, to be wrong, to experiment, to be silly, to try new things. Enjoy the age you are, but bring an attitude of youthfulness with you. This is how we create sustainable happiness. -Shane Eric Mathias –