Aging is really just the process of accumulating experience. Day after day, we collect what life gives us. Those experiences, and how we respond to them, shape who we are.
One thing is for certain, the longer we get to live, the more those experiences will include pain and loss. Healthy aging is learning to let go of the painful parts, allowing them to be transformed into something that will help us grow in compassion and kindness. We all know people who hold on to to their pain; we have been those people as well.
But we reach a day when we know. We know that if we don’t stop collecting proof of our sorrow, then our identity will embody that pain. And if we don’t transform it, we will leave traces of it wherever we go.
Transformation isn’t a naturally occurring process, however. It is a creative and intentional process; it is art. Learning to let go is really at the heart of the art. It is about learning the art of survival.
When asked his definition of success, Leonard Cohen once replied, “Survival is success.” When we hear the phrase “survival,” we can think of someone just eeking it out. In reality, it should be elevated to something much higher. The Latin root of that word means “living above.”
We “let go” so that we are able to live above our little scenarios. Yes, we’ve had loss, we’ve been hurt, we’ve been betrayed. Most definitely, our lives don’t look like we thought they would. Letting go is the process by which we can say, both to ourselves and those watching, “It’s gonna be alright.”
The story we tell ourselves is the only story that matters. Our brains act like obedient goldendoodles, always trying to please us. They will find all the evidence they can to support our stories. We need to make sure they are supporting the right thesis, the one that looks beyond the so-called facts. That’s where we get to be creative. We want our story to point to the goodness in our lives.
A couple strategies to help us practice this “art” of survival:
WE RECOGNIZE THAT WE ARE THE AUTHORS OF OUR OWN STORIES.
Sometimes we focus on what is not enough, not present, not as good as someone else’s. But it’s our story and we can tell one that includes abundance, value, and the grace to embrace what is while learning how to go beyond it. That story doesn’t come scrolling through social media or binging Netflix; it comes in stillness as we meditate, practice gratitude, and refuse to accept the story that wants to push itself on us. We are the artists, and we have the power to tell the story our way, even if it means we need to get VERY creative.
WE LEARN HOW TO ENCOURAGE OURSELVES.
If anyone I loved were to bring me a situation that felt negative or hopeless to them, I would listen and show compassion for how they were feeling. But I would always try to affirm them and let them know they were doing a great job of maneuvering through a tough situation. I would let them know that they are valuable and loved. Why would I do anything less for myself?
WE REMEMBER THAT FIXING OUR MINDS ON THE POSITIVE AND GOOD IS HARD WORK.
I can be shocked and discouraged by the number of times a comparative, negative, or critical thought crosses my mind. But we’re only responsible for what we do with those kinds of thoughts. We become aware of the thought and allow it to pass through without judgment. It may be too difficult to do anything about it in the moment so we agree to allow it to come and go. Perhaps a little later, we can replace that thought with one we have been rehearsing. It might take a minute to get there, but when we are able, we change the thought.
How am I posturing myself for this day? I’m going to remember that survival doesn’t mean scraping by and accepting whatever life brings. Survival as an art means I will find a creative way to live above it all, and gain a perspective that includes acknowledging what is, crafting a story that goes beyond “facts” to include goodness, and being grateful for the opportunity to do this another day.
We don’t have to settle for living in the middle of life’s challenges. I believe the happiest and most fulfilled people are those who understand the great art involved in survival, the creative practice of living above.