2 questions to know how ageing’s going to go.
“Who makes all these changes? I shoot an arrow right. It lands left. I ride after a deer and find myself chased by a hog. I plot to get what I want and end up in prison. I dig pits to trap others and fall in. I should be suspicious of what I want.” – Jalaluddin Rumi
I decided to grow a beard last week.
I could hear it charging up the hill. A full metal jacket assault every time I look in the mirror. The hairline resists by retreating toward the back lines, so I seek refuge behind a razor, keep it tight, along with all the other adjustments:
Skip the pizza-hit the gym-pump that iron-don’t drink-don’t smoke-sleep well-do yoga-go for a run-stay trim-think nice thoughts-juice-fast-cleanse-look nice-fool the mirror
Fool the mirror, fool the mind, fool the fool.
Aging: Its like being in the middle of a book thats so damn good you begin slowing down, reading one page at a time because….you don’t want to get to the end too fast. You want to savor the story, drag it out, enjoy each word, just. don’t. get. to. the. end.
The never ending story. Time speeds up and you want to bend its arc. So you try, you watch your lifestyle, you do what you can.
Sometimes I see a young guy strutting up the street, no shirt, full of untempered confidence, eating an ice cream cone, and I feel a twinge of longing to return to that spring.
I should be suspicious of what I want.
Because reality doesn’t care what I think or feel.
Reality is that tough teacher everyone hates and loves at the same time because he’s so… uncompromisingly JUST. Sooner or later, no matter how much yoga you do, no matter how much quinoa you eat, your entire life comes spilling out in your face, your hair, your body.
After a while the big “Life Review” everyone expects at the moment of death actually happens every time you look in the mirror. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “a kind face is a precious gift.” I always wanted that gift, but my eyes betrayed me. I wanted my face to seem kinder than my heart, an impossible trick.
Look in the mirror and in your face you see your heart. In your body you see all your thoughts & choices.
How we age can be determined by answering this:
- How full is the cup in my heart?
- How murky are the waters of my mind?
As time marches on I see my whole life coming to bear in the mirror. Things change. As the seasons pass, the metabolic fire turns into a whimper, like a Bic lighter gasping for its last breath. One slice of pizza causes a 5-lane pile-up in the gut. The digestive system decides, this is too much work. What the hell, lets expand out into the suburbs, shove the excess into the mid-section. The mid-life bulge is nothing but a lazy bedroom community.
I met a Rasta once who pointed to the Star of David and said,
“This represents man. Notice the shoulders are wider than the waist. A man’s waist should be the narrow point of the star. When a man’s waist gets big, it means there’s something wrong inside of him.”
Some people trick the clock. They glide right through their 40’s like slippery eel through a crab trap. My best friend, same age as me, looks exactly as he did 20 years ago. If I didn’t love him so much, I’d hate him so much. Genetics, sure. But genetics is just the screen-door key. After that, comes the pad-lock: Self-Love, sung by the artist known as Lifestyle. Lifestyle choices come down to one Master Key:
How well do I love?
“If you put your hands on this oar with me, they will never again lift anything to your mouth that might wound your precious land – that sacred earth that is your body.”
Every french fry, every cigarette, every drink, every bottled up resentment, every prickly-thorn of self-loathing eventually announces itself in the body. Just wait.
I was once a young guy, running, boxing, pumping iron, strutting up Broadway in little shorts and tank tops, an efficient camouflage, like that little white noise machine outside the therapist’s office. But as the years pass, every fear, every shame-filled regret, and every sadness finds a way to the surface.
You notice that “beauty” isn’t really a “thing” but is the gradually shifting colors in the sky during a sunset. Every new hue a different expression of radiance. Every time the sun drops a degree, a different reflection.
I’m sure the 6:30 p.m. magenta cloud never looks back at the 6:24 p.m. crimson red cloud and says, “damn, I wish I were you.” No. The 6:30 magenta cloud says, “How can I serve you?”
So I got to thinking, I’m gonna roll with this. I let the hair on my face grow. And its not “salt n pepper” anymore. Its white.
Who makes all these changes? I’m not sure I’m ready to join this tribe yet. Let Go or Be Dragged, said the Master.
Truth is, rarely have I met a white-haired person I didn’t admire. A world full of Elders and Crones would be fine with me.
There’s a correlation between aging and hair: as I let go of my attachment to old stories, and give up self-interest, some of the color drains out of my hair. In fact, forget color. Sometimes my hair just plain rolls over and jumps off the cliff. Yes, the form is changing. But that which is unchanging is becoming louder, like the colors in the sky as the sun begins dropping.
“Die before you die”, said the Prophet.
Then you can get to what is real.
What is real? Lao Tzu said, “that which is unchanging is real.” When a person refuses to yield to the changing seasons, he breaks his bones against the rock of himself. The longer he stays interested in self-preservation, the more brittle everything becomes.
Here’s something real: I’m changing. My face, my mind, my body are changing. The more I let go, the more I become something new. My world is changing before my eyes. The Tug o’ War is giving way to a dance.
The Guru Gita speaks of a thumb sized being, made of light, that sits in the center of each person’s heart. He who is able to let it shine appears like a giant. As I age, sometimes this giant steps out from within me. It’s bigger than “me”. Its better than anything I ever was. It takes the shape of Selfless Service. It turns out that The Holy Grail is none other than a willingness to surrender one’s life to creating some kind of beauty in the world.
I know who I am today.
There’s a power I couldn’t see when I was too busy admiring my own biceps. This is a different power, fueled by a longing to build, to create, and to serve. Sometimes you need a good smack to wake up this sleeping dragon. Sometimes you need to rediscover your power, like all things that get scrambled by chaos. But when a person finds it, game over. The Lord of Form is no match for a man who knows who he is.
Truth always trumps illusion.
The Lord of Form takes all prisoners. Sometimes we hand over our freedom. So it makes sense that we would hearken back to days of old. Be “suspicious” of that. Sand castles fall quickly. The form of all things withers, dies, and gives way to something new, like wind shaping stone. Only that which is unchanging remains.
There is an unmistakable light breathing through the process of this messy life. It’s not the form. It is that which is unchanging, and if we are wise men, that, and only that, is what we must turn our attention to.
That is freedom.
The times they are a’ changing.
Be suspicious of what you want.
◊♦◊VinothChandar/Flickr, Beard: NWABR/Flickr, Mirror: striatic/Flickr, Watch epSos.de/flickr, Daisy: paalia/Flickr, Heart Manu_H/Flickr