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By Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle
If someone asked you that question, how would you answer? This question isn’t about New Year’s resolutions; it’s about something deeper — some value, point of view, or philosophical outlook that inspires you.
Three days before New Year’s, The New York Times ran a feature article titled, “Want to be Happy? Think Like an Old Person.” The author had interviewed six New Yorkers over a period of three years. He found some surprising revelations:
Back to the opening question: what quality inspires how you live? Here are a few possibilities: Resilience, enthusiasm, kindness, contentment, determination, balance. Because we live in a time when all of us are bombarded by enormous amounts of information and other demands on our attention, it is valuable — perhaps life-saving — to reflect on how to handle the sometimes overwhelming challenges of life, especially if we’re elders.
My recently published book, Aging with Wisdom, addresses these very issues. Here are five guidelines for how to handle not only the challenges of aging but the demands of life itself. I think of them as practices or attitudes, something one intentionally cultivates:
1) Honoring your inner life: Some form of spiritual orientation can provide a framework to hold life’s complexities and challenges. This usually involves a practice like meditation, prayer, mindfulness, tai chi, and so on, that shows us that something beyond our limited self offers both inspiration and shelter. When we set aside time — even a few minutes — for some form of contemplation, it brings inner balance and greater resilience to our days.
2) The practice of stopping: to interrupt the mindless momentum that can take over our days. Stop to look at cloud formations in the sky, look at the intricacy of a flower, look into the open, exuberant face of a child, etc. Such simple acts, yet how often do we truly slow down, stop, and really look?
3) The practice of mindfulness: This has become a mainstream word, yet the reminder to bring one-pointed attention to ordinary activities can transform the littlest moments of a day. Contrary to multi-tasking, this is about doing one thing at a time with full, loving attention. It’s astonishing how wondrous the simplest things are! Just look at your hands in action and appreciate all they do for you — constantly — yet how often do we even notice?
4) Cultivating lightness and humor: Surprising power is released when we choose a light-hearted response to a challenging or tense situation. In that split-second between reacting and responding, see if you can open to the possible humor in what’s unfolding. Notice how the body relaxes, the breath deepens, and a sense of release and relief floods over you. It’s a simple practice that contains its own magic.
5) The practice of gratitude: Our perceptions — for better or worse — rule much of our lives. For example, we may fixate on the difficult aspects of our lives, forgetting to be grateful for how much is really OK. Gratitude can become a practice; we stop to appreciate what is right with our lives, not the litany of what is wrong. Gratitude is a gentle movement of the heart, a pause in the stream of life where we feel or say thank you for relatively good health, for a kindness, or for the beauty of the sunrise.
The practices above are a few possible suggestions for how one might cultivate a more thoughtful, aware attitude toward life — this one precious life that we are given. Reflect on what touches you and see what quiet inspiration you can bring to this new year that is unfolding.
Blessings and love, Olivia.