One definition of the phrase aging gracefully means that we look younger than our years. But that’s a sorry and shallow definition, and one we’d do well to put aside. Our worth has never been about how we look. The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart. And that message is one that we need for ourselves too as the years increase.
The body changes. Wrinkles appear. Things sag. We look differently than we did in our youth. We have little control over that. What we can control is what’s in our hearts. To age gracefully means to age with a grateful and loving heart. And that’s something that we can work on every day.
In order to age gracefully we need to care for ourselves differently. I don’t mean the trendy self-care that’s all over the Internet. I’m talking about a deeper care, a compassionate self-care. This care starts with loving ourselves. And loving ourselves begins with how we talk to ourselves.
What if we were to wake up every day and say thank you for my life, before ever getting out of bed? What if the first task of our day was to get up and dedicate a half hour to slow, gentle stretches and breathing? Compassionate self-care means keeping our body flexible so that the heart and mind will follow.
Count the gifts of the years. Joan Chittister wrote an inspiring book called The Gift of Years. Her writing inspires me to count what those gifts are. For instance, I love the idea of slowing down. Not so much slowing because of a lack of energy, more a slowing that makes us more thoughtful about how we walk in the world. To me, it is deeply self-compassionate to sit quietly without restlessness and breathe in the world around us. I appreciate the bird song, my hot tea, the budding trees, the clouds that drift across the sky. Life gives us poetry when we slow down enough to just feel ourselves in the world.
Compassionate self-care gives us permission to say “no” to things that don’t nourish our hearts and minds, and to say “yes” to the things that feed us, expand us and bring us delight. To grow older with a gentle humor and a heart intent on loving is the non-apologetic way to age gracefully. It’s what makes us truly beautiful. Let us be aware of the grace that has brought us this far. Let us find ways to take care of ourselves with so much self-compassion that it naturally spills over to everyone in our life. Aging gives all of us the potential to age gracefully, to be beautiful human beings living life with the intent of love, joyfulness and gratitude through the practice of self-compassion.
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