Beautiful young people are acts of nature;
Beautiful old people are works of art.
Many of us are enjoying longer, fuller lives. Our population will soon include 75 million people over the age of 60, and recent reports by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show the average life expectancy for U.S. men is 76. For U.S. women, it’s 81.Certainly our extended lifespan is cause for celebration. But it also poses important questions: How can we live longer, better with improved physical and emotional vitality? How can we work against a cultural bias that favors youth and stigmatizes older age? How can we treat death with candor and compassion?
Certainly our extended lifespan is cause for celebration. But it also poses important questions: How can we live longer, better with improved physical and emotional vitality? How can we work against a cultural bias that favors youth and stigmatizes older age? How can we treat death with candor and compassion?
Researchers and gerontologists are hard at work on the wellness piece of this puzzle, and are making progress. An exciting revelation came in 2009, when Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., and two of her colleagues won the Nobel Prize for medicine for their work concerning something called telomeres, which protect each end of a chromosome from deterioration or fusion with other chromosomes. Telomeres naturally shorten as we age, but it is now believed that this process can be slowed, and telomeres extended. Blackburn’s work concluded that lifestyle changes—like those we promote in Natural Awakenings, such as committing to a plant-based diet, avoiding stress, and participating in meditation and exercise—can influence telomeres positively.
Replacing outmoded ideas about what it means to be living into sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth generations requires a shift in collective consciousness. Zen teacher Norman Fischer offers, “We need living examples of old people who really are old people and who really are vital and admirable… And we need to understand what aging is, and what it is for.” In the months to come, Natural Awakenings will feature profiles of older members of our community. Our hope is to address misconceptions about the senior years, break down the walls between “us” and “them”, and work toward constructing a new, positive paradigm through which we can understand old age.
While we are honoring life and longevity, we must also honor death. We
explore in this issue myriad ways that people are working to make the process more personal, peaceful and sacred.
Thank you for taking this important journey with us.
This and every month, we are “Making the Awakening” together.
Karen G. Meshkov