Mind Over Aging

“It’s a disgrace in this life when the soul surrenders first while the body refuses to.” —MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 6.29(*)

I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I began this writing exercise, and indeed, one of the reasons I do Ask Leo!, is to keep my mind as sharp and active as possible as I age. To force me to reflect, focus, think deeply, and perhaps as a side effect improve my writing skills along the way.

I’ve taken, and continue to take, steps to try to improve the chances my body will last, but there’s no doubting that as I age its capabilities will slowly wane.

I’d prefer my mind not follow the same path.

There are two aspects that I consider important: physical health and attitude.

My father developed Alzheimer’s in his later years, and while I can point to a number of things that I hope correlate to his situation and not to mine (such as a 70+ years of smoking), it remains an ever present concern. I suspect that the same is true for many my age as the disease, now recognized, gets ample notice and publicity.

Unlike his smoking, remaining mentally active is one of the things my father did that I do want to emulate. He was a mechanical engineer, and even at the beginning of his decline he was designing and experimenting and purposefully “puttering around,” attempting to accomplish various tasks. I believe that this continued activity – both physical and mental – actually delayed the effects of the disease somewhat. Had be been less mentally active I’m fairly convinced that he would have shown the symptoms much earlier.

Put more clearly, I believe that mental and physical activity contribute to overall brain health. (This is also supported by the information provided in Younger Next Year – though I do wish that book had included more citations rather than simple anecdotes or story telling.)

As important, and more to the point of the quote at the beginning of today’s post, is attitude.

I think we all know people that have given up as they age. People that, for various reasons, have turned into stereotypical “grumpy old men” (and women). They’ve lost their hope, their enthusiasm, their interest in life and often also in the people around them. They’re often easily recognized by being so thoroughly unpleasant to be around.

I’m not criticising them. Often they have life stories that completely explain how they might end up in such a state. Ours is not to judge.

However, I know I don’t want to become one of them. I don’t want my soul to surrender while my body carries on.

So I return to this writing exercise, and my fascination with technology.

Technology, because there’s something new every day. There’s something to learn, something to get excited about, something to enjoy, something to wonder at, every day.

Every. Single. Day.

I’ll happily admit child-like joy at new discoveries, and I fully intend to embrace that attitude until the body wears out completely.

I’m finding that the writing exercise, is forcing me to truly think through my attitude. As I mentioned a couple of days ago it’s easy to fall into a critical mindset. Too easy. My exercise is helping me to remain self aware, with the intent that I choose a better, more positive path.

All of this requires a level of self awareness that, to be blunt, I’m not convinced most people have. Too many are living their “lives of quiet desperation” (that each are likely dealing with problems we know nothing about might be a topic for another day). That’s sad, but ultimately it’s not something I have control over.

The best I can do is be aware of myself and choose my path accordingly.

(*): Throughout this blog quotes from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are in all likelihood provided by one of Ryan Holiday’s books on the subject. Today’s is from The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.

T-257. Grateful today for modern medicine that, among other things, allows me to control my blood pressure. 🙂