Aging Is No Joke–Unless You Want To Get Sick

aging stages cartoonI got sick when we showed up for a family Thanksgiving gathering in Oregon.  We had caught the coast just above San Francisco and stayed on it all the way until we turned inland to Portland.  As usual, it was a great drive, and I felt fine, enjoying being with Mary full time for an entire week of travel, eating fresh seafood every day, and scouting out quaint little coastal towns. 

But I began to feel cold symptoms as soon as we arrived at daughter Amy’s house.  I often catch a cold in the wintertime, but usually I nurse it in the comfort of home.  Now, a thousand miles from home, surrounded by family members who will not love being exposed to my germs, and having volunteered to cook much of the holiday dinner, I thought, “Shit!” 

Amy urged her home remedies on me, but the cold rolled over them and soon dominated my life, as illness will. 

I had all the major discomforts: fatigue, clogged nasal passages, coughing, sneezing, and general demoralization. 

I popped mega doses of vitamin C, took decongestants every few hours, drank a gallon of orange juice, and tried to stay cheerful.   

By the time we got back into the car for the drive home several days later, my nose was bleeding from constant blowing, and I felt like hell. 

My colds usually last 10 days—maybe two weeks.  This one was one week old by the time we got home and still in full bloom. 

And still in full bloom a week later.  Mary began pushing me to go to the doctor.  I’ve had pneumonia in the past, and she was worried about me.   

I stayed sick for another week.  Sick for three weeks now. 

One characteristic of aging is that we wonder if we will ever get well from our illnesses. 

At this stage, I’m worried that I will never feel well again.  What if this illness is opening the energy gates a crack letting death sneak in?  I’m tired.  I’m worried. 

I went to the doctor, who gave me a five-day regimen of powerful antibiotics, telling me that I could have some severe side affects for up to two weeks.  I said, “Well, why don’t we try something else?”  He said, “Because this works.”  I wanted him to be right. 

I took the five pills over the next five days.  I hadn’t worked out at the gym or done any other exercise for four weeks.  I don’t see myself as a healthy person right now. 

I finally began to regain some energy, but still felt sick after five weeks.  A friend said, “Oh, yes, lots of people are having a terrible time shaking off this virus.  It hangs on for a long time.” 

Good. I can handle a virus.  I hope I have a virus.  People get over viruses.  But it’s now week seven and I’m still not back to normal. 

How did I get sick?

I always assumed that we have quite a bit to do with creating our illnesses.  I tick through what I’ve read on the subject. 

Ah, Florence Shinn, in The Game of Life and How to Live It.         

            All disease, all unhappiness, come from the violation of the law of love. 

Just when I thought I had pretty much mastered poise and acquiesced to the law of love, I must have violated the law of love. 

But how? 

Then I remembered Robert Collier’s brilliant insight: 

Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives.

What had I been joking about that might have made me sick?  What had I been thinking, talking about, and imagining that made me vuinerable to illness? 

I have been joking about my own decline!

Ohmygawd.  For months now, I realize, I have been making jokes about my age and decline to Mary, friends and even acquaintances. 

Not that anybody has found my jokes very funny, but—suddenly aware that I have arrived at an age that I have always thought of as “old”– I have been amusing myself for months about how old I am, with examples of my decline, in this last quarter of life.  My not so funny jokes, often repeated, include: 

  • “Hey, when do I start getting the deference and kindness from you family and friends that old people get at my age?” in spite of the fact that most people think of me as youthful and energetic.
  • Shall we exchange doctor stories again today?
  • To my friends and fellow trash talkers (themselves in their sixties) when I beat them at pool, once again: “How can someone this old destroy you like this? It must be humiliating.” 

I have been very aware of my age in the past year especially. I don’t go off to work anymore.  I have aches and pains.  I have accumulated a folder loaded with medical data documenting the physical decline common to people of my age. 

All of my friends are over 60.  Nearly every member of my family of my parents’ generation is dead. 

I’m next. 

My way of adapting to this stage of aging has been a stream of jokes.  I really am light-hearted most of the time, and my natural predilection is to laugh at everything, including myself.  So I have been making jokes about finding myself in the last quarter of my life. 

My subconscious isn’t laughing

My jokes about my aging have been stories about decline that became embedded in my subconscious. 

After of few months of these messages to my self about my decline, I got sick. 

Naturally and inevitably. 

I see more clearly now that I will manifest what I think—especially if I get into a pattern of negative thinking. 

I may try to pretend that I am merely joking, but the jokes emanate from a set of negatives thoughts: 

  1. Old age is not an attractive or positive development
  2. My life prerogatives are narrowing
  3. My body is declining
  4. I am moving ever closer to death 

Florence Shinn again: 

The subconscious is simply power, without direction.  It is like a stream of electricity, and it does what it is directed to do; it has no power of induction.  Whatever man feels deeply and images clearly is impressed upon the subconscious mind and carried out in minutest detail. 

Well, my subconscious mind has been imprinted with my worries about aging and my assumptions about the decline that goes with aging. 

So, my body obeyed by getting sick.  Yikes. 

I lost my poise

All of this negative thinking about aging is a loss of poise:

I haven’t been sustaining a poised consciousness during the past few months that I’ve been joking about my age: 

  • I moved out of the present.  Instead I looked ahead and put a negative spin on an imagined future, a future of deterioration.
  • I didn’t stay connected.  I lost my usual connection to some degree with the wonderful life I have.  My life is blessed beyond belief.  I have everything I need for a fully realized life. Imagining a future life without these blessings is a fool’s activity. 
  • I haven’t been properly grateful as I joke about a future of decline and suffering.  Instead, I’ve been calling attention to myself and my challenges with aging.
  • I thought that my jokes were creative responses to the issues of aging, but they ended up creating something I didn’t want—illness.  Far better to take other creative approaches to the challenges of this time in my life, like saying THANKS FOR EVERYTHING every minute.
  • The apparent light-heartedness of my joking was simply masking a concern and worry.  I wasn’t really light-hearted. 

And what about violating the law of love?  Not sustaining my poise about the issues of aging, I lost access to my love—as we always do when we lose our poise. 

My humorous rendering of my experiences with aging was not a story of how I love my life.  The jokes were mild complaints about my life. 

Now, I’ll get to loving this aging life of mine—maybe even more than before I started making jokes about it.  I don’t have any time for crap.  I’m keeping my heart open at all times from now on.   

I love this last quarter of my life and everything I do from now on will have to reflect that love. 

I’m not joking anymore about decline

Discovering what made me sick has been a great discovery.  I’ve quit joking about decline. 

I still think that everything has a funny edge, including getting older.  And I can still find plenty that is funny about my aging. 

But negative jokes to cover up my worries about decline are a sure route to decline and illness.   

Better to be Jack Benny and joke about being 39 forever.

 

 

 

 

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About Gary

Gary Stokes is mapping the universe of poise. His book, Poise: A Warrior's Guide, charts the path toward a fully-realized life, a vibrant integration of presence, connectedness, gratitude, creativity, and light-heartedness. Gary Stokes has been a coach to leaders of transformational change and President of Mountain Consulting. He designed and conducted research to test innovative strategies for reducing poverty in partnership with national foundations, federal and state government, and local communities. As founder and CEO of Move the Mountain Leadership Center, he coached hundreds of leaders, among them Presidential appointees and other top executives in government, education and business. He has written and spoken extensively about the profound personal and organizational challenges facing individual leaders of large-scale change. Mr. Stokes lives with his wife and collaborator, Mary Morris, in Prescott, Arizona.

10 Responses to Aging Is No Joke–Unless You Want To Get Sick

  1. Elizabeth Kaites January 31, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Good introspection!!
    Our subconscious does not know the difference between positive thoughts and negative teasing! It only draws to us that which we have been thinking. So, if I joke about my age, even if it is really meaning, ” don’t I look and feel good…especially when you look at others my age”, I really am drawing the possibility of sickness to me.
    I’ve been watching the recent Abraham/Hicks DVD’s and discussing them with a group. The philosophy is in keeping with The Poise!!

    • Gary February 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      Elizabeth, Yup. I have always loved humor of all kinds, so I have found it difficult to convince myself that it can harm me. You remind me that sometimes I’m just trying to get attention. Gary

  2. eric nadelberg February 1, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    Gary,

    Thanks for putting these thoughts down where they are accessible for anyone to read and think about. Our coming death takes a central role in our subconscious thoughts and resulting actions, and yet we seldom talk about it in polite company. The most important subject of our lives is shrouded in taboos based on superstitious fears. Your personal account of confronting the normal range of fearful emotions our predestined death stirs up by embracing life ever more so is instructive. Feeling the warm sun, looking at the beautiful sunsets and loving those around you, (even our pets,) are just a few of the many things that can make the lurking idea of our mortality take a nice holiday deep in our subconscious. Carpe diem just for that reason alone.

    Eric

    • Gary February 4, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      Eric, Oh, yes, we are all going to die, and if we don’t use death as our backdrop we are unable to wake up to the importance, value, and opportunity of each moment. We have no time to waste. Gary

  3. Judy February 1, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    After I read the first few paragraphs of your latest, I had aged 20 years.
    Thank goodness, you turned it around and I popped right back to 77!

    Add some younger friends to that group of yours……….and keep that sense of humor….
    ……your neighbor from your EARLY years of livin’.

    • Gary February 4, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

      Judy, To be fair to my older friends, I have to acknowledge their sense of humor, which allows them to tolerate my constant trash talking at the pool table. Gary

  4. Amy Tremain February 1, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    Great article! One of my favorite Bible verses:

    “Death and Life are in the POWER of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21

    • Gary February 4, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

      Amy, Thanks for the comment. Even humor, as I’ve been learning, needs to be delivered with love, as the quote suggests. Gary

  5. Walter Zukowski February 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Hello, Gary.
    I dropped in to wish you well and to sip the spiritual waters you provide us readers. It’s 10:44am and I’m obligated to tackle today’s challenges.
    Walter

    • Gary February 11, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      Walter, Thanks for the good wishes. Blessings, Gary

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