If you invited your future older self over for a cup of tea (or a lovely glass of wine), what would the two of you talk about?
At least twenty years ago, I began to cultivate an intentional relationship with my future older self. I invited my future older self to visit me whenever I felt like it. The first time I met future me was during a process of guided visualization and contemplation, and I was stunned by the solidity and clarity with which my future older self materialized in my mind’s eye. I recognized my embodied old self — there was no mistaking me! Though I recognized myself, I must admit to being quite surprised by and curious about certain elements of my imagined later life, and especially tickled to discover that my future older self quite likes herself and her life as an old woman. Over the years, as my future older self has continued to make appearances in my imagination (both at night and during the day, while asleep and awake, invited and not), I’ve made it a practice to attend to what changes and what abides in the time-travel story I’m living.
Perhaps you’d like to catch a glimpse of my future older self? Check me out:
I am preparing to go out and about – perhaps to dine with friends, or to go to a meeting, or maybe I am giving a book reading or presentation. Standing as close as I can get to the large oval mirror in the front hallway of my beach house (Hooray, I live at the beach!), I’m carefully applying deep red lipstick and checking my eyeliner. My hair is bobbed and shiny silver; I run a brush through it to smooth the top layer and wonder to myself if I should wear one of my many cool hats. After I make certain my make-up is just right, I slip my thick glasses back on and step away from the mirror so I can take in as much of my image as I can. I’m wearing a cool black skirt and boots, dark purple sweater set, and a chunky silver necklace. I look sharp! Now at the beginning of my 9th decade (I’m in my mid-80s), I’m a couple of inches shorter than I was in my middle years; as have other women in my family, I’ve grown smaller and shorter as I’ve grown older. Though I have some arthritis in my knees, hips and shoulders, my back is straight; I’ve always had pretty good posture and because I’ve continued to exercise throughout my life course – walking, yoga, and occasional kayaking have replaced running, cycling, and rock climbing in the past couple of decades – I can still get around pretty well on my own two feet. My vision has continued to grow worse over the years, though, so to someone observing me as I amble along I may seem a bit tentative, even clumsy sometimes. But I’ve been running into doors, tripping over sidewalk cracks, and holding the railings when I walk up and down stairs since I was in my early 40s, so what’s new? My hearing has also been growing worse, and now I must wear hearing aids if I want to be able to participate as fully as I can in conversations, or to enjoy a presentation, movie or concert. I am excited by my many projects – research, writing, and activism, as well as bird watching, cooking and gardening. I don’t have many financial resources, just barely enough to make my daily life work out okay and still be able to save some resources for the time when I might need in-home caregiving or perhaps must give up living independently in order to live in a communal setting. I also have a little bit of money put aside so that I can visit my daughter and her family or invite them to join me on a family trip every couple of years. I continue to be excited by the discoveries I’m making about the human journey, specifically about later life, old age, and being an old woman. Despite decades of working in the field of gerontology, thinking and writing about adult development and aging, hanging out with old people, and contemplating my own aging, I am totally stunned and surprised by what it is like, now that I’ve arrived in this land of old age. It turns out that what a couple of old persons told me when I was a younger gerontologist is true: you can’t really know what it is like to be old until you are old, and despite the “feast of losses” most of us experience as we travel into the later reaches of the life course, there are experiences I’ve had as an old woman, things I’ve thought, feelings I’ve felt, ways I’ve become more me that would have been impossible had I not made it this far in my life journey.
Would you like to invite your future older self for a visit? If so, here are some questions to contemplate:
- When you attempt to visualize your older self, who and what do you see?
- What age is your future older self?
- How far into deep old age are you able to travel in your imagination?
- When you try to imagine your future older self, how do you feel? What sensations do experience in your body (and where are the sensations located?)?
- What are your hopes for your future older self (and what are your fears)?
- How will you live fully in your older body, no matter the condition of your older body?
- What are ways in which you can experience enjoyment, freedom, and passion…in your aging body?
- Who are your co-creatures in later life? With whom do you spend time and enjoy life?
- What is the quality of mind that you bring to your aging experience? To being an old person?
- What do you see as your purpose in your later years?
- What new things is your future older self learning and experiencing?
- What changes in your thinking and acting do you need to make in your current life in order to have the embodied old age you envisage?
- What does your future older self want to tell your present self?
This is what my future older self tells me every time she comes for a visit:
The aging journey is the human journey, aging is living, aging is a lifelong process, and old age is its own wild land. Embrace your aging journey, wherever it may take you, whatever you may experience along the way!