Thursday, 7 March 2019

An idea about old age

In general, we stay alive for as long as there is something we need to (or ought to) accomplish - spiritually.

(So many modern people live so long mainly because they have chronically failed to accomplish even the basic minimum necessary during their mortal lives. They are kept alive in hope that - eventually - they will do what is required.) 

What is this spiritual thing - that we ought to accomplish - varies between individuals; so one task of old age may be to discern what it is that we should be doing. Probably, since mortal life is 'about learning', this could translate to: 'What we still need to learn'.

Since an old person has always experienced a lot; this purpose is likely to be something that they already 'know-about' in the sense they are aware of the facts; but a thing that they do not know.

Much of old age is about sifting-through memories and past impressions, things we already know-about, to discern what is important: to discover what we have 'missed' first-time-around. Often our priorities have been wrong, through our adult lives; and old age can be about re-ordering these priorities.

But what is vital is context! What is vital is to know why we need to do this. And the reason is because in old age we are preparing for what comes after death.

So old age should be less about the present - present concern often leading to an active quest for pleasure, or at least distraction - and more about the past and the future.  

It is failure to acknowledge the context of the life beyond biological death, that makes modern society utterly incapable of dealing with ageing... For modern Man there is Nothing Good about ageing - it is pure decline; just as death, for a materialist, is 100% loss of self, rather than a transition.

In old age, we may find that the inevitable negative development, the incapacities, may (properly understood) serve to keep us focused upon our necessary task. For example, the problem of not being able to concentrate on reading in the same old way, a reduced ability to 'fill' our minds with new information, may encourage us to spend more time on thinking about the information we have already accumulated.

If we follow-up the negative constraints of our own particular, personal experience of ageing, understand and go with them rather than fighting them; the ratio of thinking/inputting may thereby increase in a valuable fashion... which is probably something that we should have done much earlier.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Those synchronicity fairies! I came to this post just after writing about old age and death and "dying at the right time" as part of an article I am working on about the Wheel of Fortune.

Francis Berger said...

This post should be required reading for all of us, regardless of our age. What you offer here seems to be a variation of the bucket list.

Modern world's bucket list - do all the material, hedonic things you didn't do before you die. Get your kicks in before you kick the bucket. Hence all the depictions of old people acting like adolescents in films and adverts.

Your bucket list - focus on the spirit and the things you still need to learn so you can move on to the next life in the most optimal manner possible.

Needless to say, your bucket list is superior for it shows what older people really need to be focusing on.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I'll be interested to see what emerges.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - I've only come across this 'bucket list' phrase fairly recently - I had heard it said but hadn't bothered investigating the meaning. But I absolutely hate the whole idea! It amounts to a massive exercise in changing the subject, in distraction, in Not thinking about it. [Warning - Rant Alert!]

A few eeks back; I half watched (it was on, I was in and out of the room) a movie about an old lady who - for some psychological reason to do with being thwarted earlier in life, by a selfish *husband*, of course - wanted to climb a particular mountain (Suilven - suitably impressive, The single most impressive moutain in Britain - so good for the cameras) 'before she died', and her struggles to do so, and her satisfaction as it happened (that's how the movie ended, very old lady, collapsed but exultant on the peak - no doubt put there by a heliocopter). And this was supposed to transmit a message about the indomitable human spirit blah.

But it was just therapy. She had some kind of arbitrary obsession, a powerful desire; and - supposedly - by fulfilling this desire on the brink of annihilation, then her life was... what? Made worthwhile? But one millisecond after death annihilated her... so what? Why bother? Why not just give her a drug that cured her obsession, or a lobotomy...

A 'real life' example (i.e. in the mass media) that I personally found depressing was the writer Stratford Caldecott - who was a thoughtful writer on Tolkien (and cultural matters) from a Roman Catholic perspective. I had corresponded a little and was hoping to meet him while visiting Oxford - when I discovered that he had died, by finding this report. Make of it what you will, but I was disappointed by the whole affair - including the media involvement, and what the media made of it.

Francis Berger said...

I loathe the bucket list concept as well, especially the way it is depicted in the modern world. Basically, the bucket list is a compiling of all the things a person should do before they die. Of course, in our secular, materialistic world this amounts to nothing more than wringing every last physical pleasure one can out of life before the meter runs out, so to speak.

A recent soft drink advert is a good example of this. After tasting the soft drink in question for the first time in his life, a gentleman of advanced age in an old age home reflects on all the other things he never tried before. He then goes on to get tattooed, joins a biker gang, goes sky-diving, sings in a rock band, and surrounds himself with beautiful twenty-something-year-old women.

Your last chance at hedonic pleasure - that is a bucket list and old age amount to in our impoverished world.

Conversely, what you stated in your superb post IS what we really are meant to be doing during old age; your idea is exactly what old age is for. The points you raised are the essentials upon which we should direct our focus. THAT is the list we need to go over with the time we have left. Naturally, this is not what the mainstream wants us to direct our attention toward.

The link to article truly was depressing, by the way, but the insights you offered in this post have provided me an antidote to that kind of nonsense going forward. I thank you for that.

Seijio Arakawa said...

If only it was pleasure. This is the Ahrimanic Age, so you're not to do things for the pleasure. You're to do things because they are on the Designated Tourist Destination List. They are enjoyable by definition because they are on the List. This also surfaces as 'life scripts' meant to waste one's time *before* old age. Truly, the indomitable human spirit Blah reigns supreme at this juncture.

William Wildblood said...

Strange that you mention that Stratford Caldecott piece, Bruce. I had read a couple of his books and thought him a pretty good writer on spiritual things, albeit never seeming to want to take the step that really renounced fashionable worldly wisdom and see it for the illusion that it is. Then i saw this dying wish of his to see some Marvel film. I mean I enjoyed these comics as a teenager but grew out of them and the films are just Hollywood rubbish. ( I have seen 2 or 3 with my son). Is this really the state of mind he wished to be in to see his Maker?

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Seijio, that's exactly it! It reminds me of the Stendhal character Julien Sorel, who seduces a married woman he is not particularly attracted to simply because he feels it is his "duty" as a man of the world. Retirees who feel the need to go skydiving before they die are surely motivated by some similar feeling.

Seijio Arakawa said...

Also worth mentioning that taking care of the aged and presiding over the deaths of others is nearly as important an experience as aging and dying oneself.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Hmm ... having just turned 60, I feel that I am in the antechamber of decrepitude. Oh, there are some good things about my age. I like who I am better than I did when I was young and bubbling like a 2 litre bottle of Coke with a handful of Mentos dropped into it. I have a certain equanimity that I lacked previously, but I really don't like the frequent aches and pains of my muscles and joints, and while I can still do 20K with a 35 pound pack in the backcountry, I am not as robust, and my recovery time from injury is longer than I like. And as Bruce mentioned, mental acuity diminishes - along with reading comprehension and errors of grammar and spelling. Sleep patterns are more easily disrupted, and I am told my snoring resembles a cacophony for troll choir and buzzsaw.

Even so, I do like having time to reflect, to go for pleasant walks, and to not be fixated - as young men are - with procreative urges. I have no desire to get drunk, and even less for the hangover that follows it. (I do, however, enjoy a dram of good scotch, followed by drifting off into a hypnogogic space to the sounds of beautiful music.) I find that it is easier to recognize and appreciate beauty, and that my desire to own material things has diminished. I am more concerned with not leaving a mess in my wake for others to clean up, and in being prepared to exit the stage graciously, and definitely not drawn off as a bad vaudevillian on the end of a hook.

I admit that I love life: It has been very good to me, and I know it. If I were to die this night I would have no cause for complaint, only a few mild regrets, and a sense of gratitude for having had such a good run of it.