Imagine if we possessed the ability to step into ourselves from ten years ago, to completely re-embody the person that we were at that time, if only for a few moments. How different would we be? Where were our heads at then — our hopes, dreams, the things we deemed the most important, our opinions and philosophies on life? How were our bodies, and how did we feel about them? What was it like to be us, at that exact moment in time so long ago?
It is impossible to know. We have a vague notion of who that person was as we go about our lives, now — when we can afford the time to reflect that far back — but the actual essence of who we were at that point is lost to us. At the same time, everything we are in the everyday moments of our daily existence is built upon those people that we were. Everything that we learned, all of our experiences and relationships, our trials and errors, failings and triumphs, continue to condense here, now, in this person that we call our Self, and in the ways in which that person perceives and interacts with the world. So too are our future selves dependent on the person we are now — a person that will, ten years from now, be only a vague memory in the mind of the person we will be then. This is the riddle of time, unique to us as humans. It is impossible to have a complete understanding of either our provenance or destination, yet equally impossible to escape living the consequences we continuously create for ourselves in the ever-existent field of now.
The great irony, then, is the manner in which we forever give our power away to that process, casting it both forwards and backwards — within a flux of time that exists only in our minds — leading to the ultimate idealization of everything but the eternal moment in which we live. We cannot escape it, yet we go on forever missing it. For many of us, this results in some very familiar experiences. As youth, we fail to recognize the vast potential we embody, taking the vitality we possess and the time we have for granted. The future is on our side. We desire much, but work towards little. Or we work towards things we don't truly desire. Upon aging, we lament the loss of our potential, unused, realizing only too late what we had. Desire and lamentation. Dissatisfaction. These are our chief experiences, comprising the great tragicomedy of life as we have created it. In all of this, the most sardonic element is the inevitable cementation of our personalities within it, by it. We have allowed the unconscious process to shape us. The world has made us what we are, and it wants to take us to the grave without letting on that anything is in fact wrong.
The reulting paradigm is all-pervasive within our culture. It is a vicious cycle. Youth is idolized while old age is deemed a burden, most people — after a certain number of years — seen as no real use to the rest of us. Rarely is any room made for the eldest in our society to possess a real voice, and thus have their years of experience be truly heard — authentic life experience, for which there is no replacement. Beyond this, the real shame lies in how many of the elderly themselves have come to believe in their own depreciation. It is a terrible loss, and one that couldn't be further from the truth. We are one. There is no doubting this — all of us are going through this process together, merely at different points along the timeline. The fact that we place no value on those who are nearer the end speaks volumes to how truly unwise we are.
Far from being the horror show mainstream society would have us believe it is, the aging process is in fact one of our greatest gifts. In many ways, the deterioration of our corporeal form serves as the only true reminder that we are here, mortal, and that the flask of life contains no refill. As the body that holds us slowly begins to weaken and fade, the process asks if we are willing to return to ourselves, to relinquish finally the terrible attachment we carry to everything we think we are. Even the hardest among us are softened by this process — it causes reflection, understanding, appreciation; it is a catalyst for the growth of insight and wisdom, a powerful agent for surrender, for love and acceptance. As each of us watch the past collect behind us, while the future narrows to an ever thinning point ahead of us, how can we not experience this? As we watch our children grow and our parents pass on, how can we miss it? How truly unconscious are we? This is what the aging process asks. This is what the ever-present experience of death begs of us. Put away your pride, your self-indulgent thoughts and your ego. Your beauty will fade, your energy will drain, yet you will remain. For a time. What will you think then? How will you be, as you sit with your only true companion in this life — the present moment — in those last few years?
Hopefully you will have learned. Hopefully joy and gratitude will shine from your Self, no matter the physical condition of your body, no matter the mental ails that may plague you. Hopefully you will have received the gift, and the gift will have opened you in turn.