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How Come You are so Alive?

Charlie Ivermee

“There is more in a human life than our theories allow.
Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path.”
The Soul’s code, James Hillman

I am frequently asked the question above in one form or another and tend to pass it off as being due to ‘lucky’ genes inherited from my mother. The full, partially unspoken, question is “How come you are so alive at your age?” I have seventysix years of life experience and when I’m asked what age I feel inside my reply is often “ten with some money in my pocket”. Plus more freedom than my ten year old self could have dreamt of!

The reality is somewhat more complicated and whilst I appear to have inherited qualities of good health over time I have also grown to respect my life, becoming more aware of my embodied self and treating my physicality with gratitude and respect. Ceasing smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol, diet, being a lifelong cyclist and walker have all played a part in that process. I also realise I am in what has been called a ‘sweet spot’ and that eventually I will become less able.

Developing a way of life that fits me has been crucial to my mental, emotional and physical well being, not that I didn’t try a number of times to be like most other people. The trying often ended in pain for myself and others as I attempted to shape myself into the socially accepted pattern of couplehood and nuclear family. Inevitably this led to unhappiness in and around me.

Very often we don’t become aware of our need for self-repair until it slaps us in the face. Some major upheaval such as the loss of a job or the end of a relationship leads to hurt and discomfort. It can take a while to realise that we might need to change our map if going down different paths always ends up at the same dead end. Making the necessary changes can in itself bring with it sadness and grief, it takes courage and compassion to uncover what our heart needs and change our life’s direction.

I now see how important it is that we steer our own ship, to navigate our personal unique course. Naturally we can do that and still be in relationship and raise a family. We can also find that our path includes community and service. Over time I have begun to feel more comfortable becoming my unique authentic self who has never been this age before. I am more than willing to embrace the joys and sorrows, the uncovering and learning, that being an elder brings. It’s been a long and sometimes painful process but there has also been moments of deep understanding, forgiveness and compassion.

We are all on a journey towards completion, towards oneness, and we can do this consciously if we so choose. Journeying with awareness opens us to great depths of feeling, of joy, of love and a great sense of being part of this whole lived experience. Alive on a living planet with all the connection and responsibility that awareness brings. At the end I hope to come to a place where I can say, “What a challenging and fruitful path I have walked. Thank you.”

Elderhood has the potential to be a source of great joy and an opportunity for us to grow as human beings. Those of us growing old are deeply privileged and perhaps we have a sacred duty to share the joy to be found as we age. Can we possibly approach the journey to the end of life with joyful acceptance as opposed to resignation and without resentment or bitterness? Can we leave this beautiful world not with a whimper or a bang but with equanimity? Can we also be an  example to each other and to those following us?

Each person's journey is unique, no one has ever travelled along the path before. Every step, every stop, is yours. We are encouraged to conform, to be like our neighbour – nothing wrong with the neighbour but she is not you. If the goal is contentment with what is then we can’t be content everlastingly emulating someone else. It takes courage to explore our history, to wrestle with our demons until we own them. It takes courage to embody who we really are, to expose our true selves to the world and it takes self-compassion for those times when we aren’t being who we know we are. Self-compassion says whatever happens, wherever we go, ‘I’ve got my back’ which can be hard at times.

About the Author

The Joy of Ageing Picture of Charlie Ivermee

 Charlie Ivermee has seventy six years of experience  and is active in his local community, most recently in  a Buddhist based retreat centre on the Sharpham  Estate near Totnes in Devon where he was a  residential voluntary co-ordinator and part of a team  that lead weekly retreats (when not in lock-down).  Currently Charlie is a residential volunteer at  Schumacher College on the Dartington Estate. He  has a regular mediation practice and helps facilitate  various on-line meditation sitting groups and ageing  workshops.

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