By Danna Downing
Sickness, aging, and death are not the signs of failure they have come to seem in our can-do society. Rather, they are the natural order of our lives, a multi-faceted and eternal cycle of birth, growth, and decay. Coming to terms with these facts in later life is a spiritual practice that requires us to modify endless lists of tasks and move steadily into a life of simply being.
The need for simplifying daily life is more often felt than seen; it is a very personal experience that typically begins with older adults in their seventies. However, persons with chronic disease may have such experiences much earlier. That is why aging experts repeatedly and emphatically recommend an active lifestyle, community engagement, and good health care to delay the onset of physical decline.
As energy becomes a precious and more limited commodity, simplification is a critical survival skill to develop. It allows us to do less and enjoy more of the things we can do. It is a time to identify what you most hold dear and make sure you are spending your precious life doing it. It is a time to let go of the unimportant and prioritize the things that give you the most meaning, comfort and joy. It is a time to actively let go of needless worries. It is a time for reflecting on the past with learned gratitude and without harsh judgments.
As the naturalist John Muir reminded us, the round earth rolls and takes us with it, whether we like it or not. The famous British intellectual, Bertrand Russell advises us that we need to let the river of our individual life widen by making our interests gradually wider, until “bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.” It seems to be just another lofty goal, until he goes on with an inspiring analogy of our lives starting like a young river, “small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls” until gradually, “the river grows wider, the banks recede, the water flows more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, it becomes merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”
Using these natural images lets us begin to embrace the inevitable and enjoy more peace of mind. So, let us all begin to relax and enjoy the ride. It is a beautiful world if we just open our eyes.
By Danna Downing