Looking Younger or Accepting Life Experiences that come with Age?

young and oldEvery year each one of us grows older. Some try to avoid this by using every product possible for looking younger. But, what about the knowledge and understanding we have gained through life experiences? Is it more important to look younger or accept the wisdom that comes with age?

As a society, we spend billions of dollars every year in attempts to restore our youth by looking younger. We do it externally through lotions, supplements, gym memberships and even through plastic surgeries. We do it internally through meditation, psychotherapy, and even church membership (“returning to a state of grace.”) Countless people have spent their lives in search of the fountain of youth.

The dictionary definition of restoration is “to bring back to a former condition.” The definition of rejuvenation is “to make young again or restore youthful vigor.”

The problem, or the salvation, is that it does not work…

There is nothing you can do that will restore you to a former condition. There is nothing you can do to make yourself five years younger. The reason is simply that you are older and there has been living in between.

I use the word “salvation,” because the true message is one of hope. Although we can’t restore ourselves to an earlier condition, we can recycle ourselves.

I invite you to visualize a giant spiral. It is wide at the base and becomes tighter and tighter as it coils upwards. However, there is no endpoint; that is, the spiral continues upward indefinitely.

The spiral you have just visualized is a metaphor for life. The base of the spiral is the beginning of life, when we begin to acquire information and experience. We go around and around the spiral, climbing higher and higher throughout life. Each go-around produces more information and experience, and a greater, more rounded understanding of life. Each time we recycle ourselves through any aspect of life, we find we have grown since we last visited that place.

At eight, we had a more advanced understanding of arithmetic than we had at four. When a relationship comes apart at 40, we have a much deeper connection with the hurt, the meaning and our potential futures than we had when our first true love left us at 16.

The loss of a loved one at 60 is not the same as the loss of a loved one at 30. It is just as painful, but seasoned with more life experience, and hopefully, with wisdom that has arisen from reflection on that experience.

As human beings, we do “bounce back,” but each time we recycle ourselves through any type of life experiences, we find we are on a different plane. As we recycle through the great variety of life experiences, we do so at higher and higher loops of the spiral.

As we move up the spiral through life, we gain understanding of and appreciation for the cycle of life. Each go-around has produced more information and experience, allowing deeper understanding and more profound reflection.

Over the course of life, the journey may have become more internal than external, thereby allowing increased joy, compassion, acceptance, peace and sense of connection. We have, and always have had, the potential to be bigger, more expanded beings.

Reflection on our life experiences, knowledge and understanding is, of course, the substance of wisdom. Only the quality of our reflection and the length of our lives limit our growth in wisdom. It is always possible to become wiser; that is why there is no upper limit to the spiral.

The longer we live, the more opportunities we have to recycle ourselves. As we befriend and get to know our true selves more intimately, we become increasingly aware of our connection/participation with everyone else and with the universe.

As we get older and older, life gets better and better, until at last “we have shuffled off this mortal coil.”

An “Addictive Personality”- The Alcoholic’s Convenient Myth

Dentist

People addicted to alcohol drink compulsively and often claim to have an addictive personality. It is a convenient myth.

I heard of a dentist who approached his dental work with compulsive attention to detail. His crowns had to fit perfectly. He was fanatical about bite adjustment and his workspace cleanliness was impeccable—all things I like to see in a dentist, because I do not like pain… or recalls.

Unfortunately, when his compulsive cleanliness extended to his front office and the waiting room, he could not keep his staff. His marriages didn’t last, because he imposed his compulsive orderliness on his family.

Compulsively doing things is a way of handling underlying fear. In other words, a compulsion is a fear-based urge. It is an ego defense mechanism just like rationalization and denial. We all have some degree of compulsive tendencies.

At one end of the continuum are compulsions that are innocuous, or even, on the surface, positive. For example, punctuality is generally a good habit. However, if being a minute late for any appointment makes you anxious, being on time is probably a compulsion for you.

At the other end of the continuum is the person with the psychiatric condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Recall the Jack Nicholson movie, “As Good As It Gets.” A very small percentage of people ever qualify for that diagnosis.

The Chandler dentist I mentioned above illustrates how compulsive tendencies can be both beneficial and harmful. Joining a gym, signing up as a volunteer, starting a book club, gardening or even DIY teeth whitening could be examples of positive alternatives. However, he would not come even close to meeting the criteria for OCD.

Compulsive behavior can take many forms: compulsive drinking, TV watching, coffee drinking, chocolate eating, working, exercise, gardening or sex. Some of these compulsions are reframed as addictions, making the person an alcohol addict (alcoholic), chocolate addict (chocoholic), work addict (workaholic) or sex addict (sexaholic).

Alcoholism is compulsive seeking and consuming alcohol. If the functioning alcoholic stops drinking, the compulsion often shifts to something else. The stories of the amount of coffee consumed at AA meetings are legend. That and other observations about compulsive drinkers have led to the term “Addictive Personality.” Functioning alcoholics now add “addictive personality” to their litany of excuses for continuing to abuse alcohol.

In fact, unless your compulsion happens to be drinking, no one would think you had an addictive personality. Since the use of the term, “addictive personality,” is dependent on the object of the compulsion, not on the process, it explains nothing.

However, since you can shift compulsiveness from one object to another, like from alcohol to coffee, and can harness it for beneficial purposes such as dentistry, why couldn’t you redirect the power of the compulsion to drink?

The compulsion to drink might be harnessed, for example, to pursue compulsively a new hobby or new business. If you could harness the compulsiveness of alcoholism for volunteer work, for example, think of what good could come as you phased out the addiction.

Could a harmful compulsion be redirected to self-improvement? I have seen it happen.

The shift from a bad compulsion to a better one, of course, is not an end in itself. However, it could be an important step in leaving a bad compulsion in the past, doing something positive, and in ultimately achieving a more balanced life.