Do you flinch when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake? Or surreptitiously keep the date hidden from your friends and colleagues?
You may have a touch of ‘gerascophobia’ – and no, it’s not a tropical disease, nor are you likely to pick it up on a Tinder date; gerascophobia is actually the fear of getting old.
Stereotypes tell us that aging is not something to look forward to. It leaves us depressed, lonely, dependent, comically incapable of using smartphones, and prone to boring everyone around the dinner table with outdated stories.
“There are plenty of reasons to fear aging,” says Thomas Moore, who lived as a Catholic monk for 12 years before leaving to become a psychotherapist. (There’s the) fear of losing health and physical ability, but also the sense of mortality that is all part of the process.”
Moore has long studied the emotional effects of aging, and now offers a fresh and uplifting vision on the fear of growing old in his new book, Ageless Soul.
Complaining about age is the first pitfall
We’ve all had those days where we’ve been hit with disbelief at the date on the calendar – but dwelling on a “dreaded” number will simply throw you into a spiral of negativity.
If you can see the wrinkles forming in the mirror and be at peace with it now, then you’ll be equally calm about it in five years’ time.
“Keep working against aging, and before long you will have lost the battle,” says Moore. “The secret to ageing is to face the loss of youthful beauty and strength, and from there use all of the resources we have to be creative, positive and optimistic.”
Aging is a verb
If you thought growing old didn’t require effort, you’re wrong. According to Thomas, aging is a skill you need to cultivate, and fighting against time prohibits you from learning it properly. “Aging is an activity,” he says. “It is something that you do, not something that happens. When you age – active verb – you are proactive. If you really age, you become a better person. We tend to see time as a line that inevitably moves along monotonously, like a conveyor belt in a factory. But life isn’t so mechanical.”
Accept your imperfections the Japanese way
The Japanese have a very handy word that’s good to revisit when you’re steeling yourself against the approach of a “milestone birthday”, or scrolling wistfully through legions of bronzed models on Instagram: it’s called Wabi-Sabi. “Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese aesthetic in which imperfection, age, brokenness, and run-down appearance are considered beautiful,” says Thomas.
“This is not strange to the modern eye, which also appreciates furniture that has dents, scratches, and layers of fading paint. We too may develop dents and scratches, and we too may be beautiful nonetheless,” says Thomas. “As we go through both the satisfying and unsettling experiences of our unfolding lives, it helps to keep a simple phrase in mind: ‘The beauty of imperfection’.”
Aging gives us a better vantage point
“I don’t worry about getting old – because I feel that my job is to respond to life, and not to control it,” says Thomas, who is now 77.
Writing his book helped him to focus on matters he hadn’t previously thought much about, he reflects. “I never thought so clearly before how aging makes us naturally equipped for contemplation, making art, and learning things that are outside the usual curriculum. I like the idea of following the signs that aging brings, to slow down and tell my story.”
Sadness is part of the learning process
Thomas says it’s okay to mourn the loss of youth and good looks.
“It makes sense that we feel sad about aging. We lose many good qualities and abilities, but it’s good to remember that we pick up new capacities gained from our experience and learning.”
So how can you keep a cool head about ageing?
Here are Thomas Moore’s 5 top tips for staying young at heart…
- Don’t surrender yourself to an ageist culture that can’t appreciate the value of experience and knowledge. Make a point not to fit in, and stand up for your age, whatever it is.
- Don’t live up to your culture’s expectations. Don’t retire if you aren’t ready. Pick up a new profession or skill in your older years. Don’t hold yourself back just to fit in with your culture’s limited ideas about ageing.
- Cultivate activities appropriate to your age. Slow down when necessary, but speed up the artistic and contemplative side of life. Teach, write, paint and be in nature.
- Stay close the youth that is always in you. Because you never fully lose your younger self.
- Use your learning and experience. You have a job to do, and that’s showing the younger generation how to get along and live happily. They would be lost without your point of view
Ageless Soul: An Uplifting Meditation On The Art Of Growing Older by Thomas Moore is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £12.99. Available now.