I’m submerged in nostalgia, surrounded by friends I’ve known for 15 years or more. It’s a bachelor party weekend for a friend I’ve known since I was 4 years old. The phone rings.
I answer to the voice of a tearful mother.
“Mike, I think we’re going to have to put Star down.” She was our 13-year-old Chocolate lab and wasn’t doing well. My mom agreed to wait until the next day so I could say my goodbyes.
Less than 24 hours later I find myself sobbing deeply with my parents as our pup took her last breath. It was a profoundly meaningful moment colored with the sharp sting of a final goodbye, softened only by our shared love for this animal.
Before I left my hometown to return to my life in Colorado, I sat down for a good long chat with my 101-year-old grandmother. She is an incredible human being who carries with her a kindhearted faith in the divine with a remarkably lucid mind for her age.
The nostalgia of old friends, the loss of a dog, and the presence of an elder all catalyzed in me a swirl of cherished memories and deep ruminations about the passage of time, the nature of loss, and what it means to age with grace.
This is what I’ve discovered in my exploration.
Young In Spirit
We’ve all met people, well into the later years of their life, whose eyes still shine as they gaze upon the world. Their body might not be as spry as it once was but they exude a sort of buoyancy of soul that is immediately noticeable.
As we age, it’s easy to settle into grooves and become rigid in thought and expression. Born as children with clay-like malleability, the crucible of life throws us into the fire and we harden into the capacities that will help us survive. We become a sculpture rather than that which can be sculpted.
“He’s set in his ways” is a common phrase that refers to this process.
But not everyone gets stuck like this. Why?
You could suggest it’s luck of the draw. Some people just have the appropriate brain chemistry or their formative childhood experiences lend to a sunny disposition. But that frames things as completely outside of our control. It’s not.
We can learn to age with grace.
A tree that cannot bend in strong winds will break. It lacks ease and suppleness of movement needed to sway in response to the harsh winds of life.
Allergic reactions to uncertainty make us fragile and resentful. Embracing the inevitable transformations of life make us robust.
We have to build the expectation of change into our experience, not as a bug, but as a feature, in order to cultivate youthfulness of spirit. This transforms novelty from an inconvenience into a precious gift.
Youthful Expression: Spontaneity + Playfulness
If you ever feel yourself settling into rigid grooves you can shake things up by embracing spontaneity and playfulness.
It’s easy to shy away from the spontaneous as it can feel closely related to chaos or the lack of control. In some ways, spontaneity is the absence of obstruction or blocking. It lets things flow. It allows. From this place, emergent order can arise from what seems to be chaos. The capability to be spontaneous makes us more adaptive to the sudden gusts of harshness.
Alan Watts does a great job describing the notion of spontaneity in this short video:
Playfulness is a sibling to spontaneity, perhaps a breed of the spontaneous that erupts into joy. This notion of playfulness isn’t about simply playing a game or sport with predetermined rules. You can play a game very seriously and exude very little playfulness in the process.
It does not need to be confined to a specific activity. What play requires is a lack of attachment to an outcome. The expression in the moment is self-satisfying. It has no agenda or destination.
A clear practice you can use to develop playfulness and spontaneity is to attend an Improv class. In these classes, you get to step outside of your normal context and plug-into new modes of expressions character. You can begin to feel out the edge of your comfort, noticing how you’re blocking your spontaneity and playfulness in order to protect the idea of who you think you are. As you lean into these edges and erase previously held restrictions, you may yourself automatically expressing with more spontaneity and playfulness in your normal waking life.
Youthful Perception: Wonder + Awe
It’s no surprise that a child’s gaze is often described as filled with “awe and wonder.” The world is still made up of magic for them because everything is so new. They haven’t built the sensemaking architecture that leads to a “been-there-done-that” disposition. The living reality jumps out at them in every passing moment.
As we grow, we build up a labrityhn of ideas about the world. This can very quickly lead to feeling jaded. We become blind to the ever blossoming novelty that life has to offer. There is tremendous detail and beauty we can easily gloss over by unconsciously categorizing and sorting the stimuli we encounter. The kaleidoscope of perspective gets stuck. The shimmering jewel-filled reality becomes static, dry, and commonplace.
But if we lean past the frameworks we’ve developed and leap into the direct hum-and-buzz of sensory experience we can become awash in the vibrant spectacle of life. From this place, the mundane transforms into the magnificent.
So how can you practically experience more awe and wonder in your life? Make time to absorb nature, attend to the tiny details in things, and contemplate all that had to happen for you to be sitting where you are right now.
For instance, consider the cellular symphony that is occurring at this moment in your body. All of the chemical and biological processes that are unfolding below the level of your awareness. It is astonishing.
Contemplate that as you begin to transform your perspectives and reactions you can reduce dysfunctional fight-or-flight responses that boost cortisol in your system that accelerate aging. As we get better at getting out of chronic whirlpools of stress, we reduce our risk of heart disease, digestion issues, memory impairment, and a lot more.
And this is where we can cross a bridge into examining the physical. We’ve explored some principles for cultivating youthfulness in spirit and yes these principles can support the health of our physical body but we can take an even more direct approach to support optimal biological functioning.
Eating healthy and exercising regularly stand as canonical advice when it comes to longevity. This next section I’m going to take a more unconventional approach.
Transforming a person’s diet and exercise routine can be a massive undertaking requiring the rewiring of long-enduring habitual patterns. It’s obviously not impossible and is absolutely worth the investment. The thing is, a lot of people fail at making the change.
They encounter a lot of friction and very little grace. That’s why what follows isn’t a 30-day meal plan or workout regiment. It’s something different. It’s simplicity that lives on the other side of complexity.
As I found myself swimming in this reflection on aging, a package came in the mail. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was from our friends at Neurohacker. They’re the minds behind the groundbreaking Qualia supplement for cognitive enhancement.
But this package contained something new.
I cracked open the seal and found a green and white bottle plastered with this quote from R. Buckminster Fuller on the back:
“Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about.”
On the front were the bold letters ETERNUS.
This product was designed for better aging. Curious to learn more, I started to dig into the nuance. I already knew that Neurohacker’s team of doctors and researchers take a complex systems science approach focusing on the interactions and synergistic effects not just on boosting a single pathway or increasing the production of a specific molecule.
In their words:
“Aging isn’t caused by just one type of cellular damage or too little/too much of one molecule and, as such, it can’t be impacted by only focusing on one thing. Better aging requires a complex systems science approach, targeting the interacting network of molecules, pathways, and processes that allow cells to perform at their best.”
And what they’ve created in ETERNUS is a minimum viable behavior change that can create massive healthy aging upside. It’s not a major routine overhaul. It’s one simple action. You just take a few pills in the morning and you begin incurring benefits like more restful sleep, increased energy levels, and better functioning cells. The last of which is so important:
“As we age, cells break down and don’t have the same energy to do their jobs. When enough individual cells are ‘aged,’ we tend to feel old and experience age-related health issues. Eternus was developed to comprehensively support better aging at the cellular level because, with more energy, your cells can do all the things they need to do for you to feel your best.”
I’ve started taking it and I’m already noticing the benefits but we will all have different responses so if this interests you at all, consider doing an experiment.
If you use the code “EXISTENCE” at check-out you save another 15% and because we will receive a small commission, you help support HighExistence to continue to create articles like this one.
(This isn’t a random supplement recommendation to help us make some money. A world-class team and deep systems thinking went into creating this product. It’s probably one of the highest leverage choices you can make to support in aging more gracefully on the physical level. But please do your own research and see if it’s right for you.)
Cycles, Seasons, and Life Beyond Death
We can exercise and eat healthy as many recommend to support longevity. We can cultivate playful, spontaneous expression as we gaze upon the world with awe and wonder. We can take a supplement to support numerous complex biological processes to increase cellular health.
But no matter what we do we are all inevitably headed to the same place.
And accepting this is the final ingredient to aging with grace.
As I was placing finishing touches on this article, I walked into my backyard and noticed the dark soil in the garden. It’s spring here. The flowers are beginning to bloom and dead leaves are becoming fuel for the future.
The change in seasons makes it obvious that life is cyclical. We are all a part of an unfolding that has been underway for an unimaginable length of time. This thing called nature, we are interdependent with it, not separate or isolated from it.
We are not just an insignificant poor-little-me in a great big world. Each of us is genuinely unique and important and all of us are emerging from the same process, of the same substrate: life itself. In that, we are united and we can begin to commune with a deeper WE that is far more than just a collection of individuals.
As a part of my grieving process when putting down my dog, I wrote a tribute that included this passage:
“I thank her for that final gift she gave me. The painful, yet beautiful moment of letting her go. And to do it in the company of the people who raised me, weaving our hearts together in the sharp pain of a vivid loss. A loss the reminds us of all that we’ve been given.”
And just as the leaves fall every autumn, someday I’ll share Star’s fate.
Without affirming or denying an etheric realm where souls arrive after this life, I know I’ll continue to live on. My heart will keep beating in the hearts of those I leave behind and the “me” that is in union with the deeper WE, will remain as vibrant and alive as ever.
I don’t need my body to last forever but in the years I’m given, I hope to bring forth the spirit of playfulness and the eyes of wonder. I hope to age with grace and die in peace with my end serving as a reminder of all we’ve been given.
That is my wish for all of us.