Big changes in politics lately seem to ask the question, should I get involved? If so, how best? I can’t think about marching in the streets since I hate crowds, and all my congress people already agree with my point of view. If these are uncertain times, what older people have is perspective. The older we are, the more we have seen it all before. The long view is easier when you can look back at the history of your own times.
Sometimes elders get preachy but they do have wisdom to share. Sometimes older people get grouchy when no one listens. So I think it is best to consider the form of the messages we have to share. No one really wants to listen to angry or upset people when they already feel unstable. So wiser and older folks can do one thing that might help: stabilize ourselves and become a non-anxious presence.
Getting to a peaceful place takes effort and attention. It requires that we be self aware, knowing what we are capable of. I may feel 18 years old in my mind, but my body needs me to pay attention to its ever increasing need for care. My mind may move more slowly, but that may be because I have so much more to process as new events play against older events.
The better we take care of ourselves, the more we can be a support to those who are scared and depressed. For me that includes quiet times doing what I love: painting.
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These are some funny ideas about growing old, but might further stereotypes about aging. Last week I met a woman who seemed to be about eighty who is full of energy and has much still to contribute to the world. She has a storehouse of unpublished photos of famous rock stars from the sixties, when she was a photographer. She dresses like a rocker chic and has many intriguing stories to tell about her colorful past. Her goal is to let the world see her work and hear her stories, so this is enough to keep her interested and moving along with excitement and joy.
I will address these amusing but stereotyping things one by one.
1. Children treasure their parents more as they get older, just before it’s too late. They have weathered life a bit they let go of resentments. Grandchildren often treasure their grandparents as a welcome relief from struggling, tense parents. They might empty their piggy banks to get Nana back.
2.This might be because keeping a wiser hostage who can comfort the others, and see life in perceptive. could get in the way of terrorizing.
3. But you can if you like, since almost all people can keep improving physical health as they age.
4. That might be a joke that old people retire early, but then they get up early for good reason: enjoying the early morning before hustle and bustle.
5. Most older people learn to accept physical issues, focusing on the positive. It helps prepare for death, which is harder for young people to think about.
6. This creates a calm mind that can be helpful to younger, more anxious people.
7,also many older people care less about acquiring physical possessions and enjoy the true joys of living.
8. Maybe older people just want to beat the crowds and enjoy their meals.
9. Although many older people still enjoy sex, some are happy to have less complicated lives with serenity and other pleasures. A sunset means more and more as you age.
10. And some older people relish the fact they can’t remember everything, helping them to focus on the present instead of the past or the future.
Older people are different for a reason, even if younger people don’t understand why unless they take the time to ask questions to overcome prejudice and condescending attitudes towards the elderly.
Just like the world is waking up to global warming, the world sees the increase in an older population coming over the horizon, rapidly growing just like global effects.
The tremendous waste of the resource of older people will not be able to continue as we need their wisdom and expertise more and more to solve the issues of the world. In addition, advocates for better living conditions for seniors are speaking up, including the seniors themselves.
Some cultures already make use of elders and what they have to offer, out of necessity. In the last century, the trend in the United States is to warehouse, medicate, and disenfranchise elders. The culture of youth has taken precedence.
But with elder population increasing, their voices will gain more power. New industries are already rising that help us understand, care for, and use the resource of elders more efficiently and effectively.
In the above podcast, which interviews experts on the subject, the point is made over and over that we have to somehow change our view of what it means to age. Only this will improve conditions for elders and those who either benefit from what they have to offer, or are being drained of their own strength by keeping the myth that elders are not capable alive.
You can make a difference by getting to know an older person and finding out what they still can and want to do.
I am looking to help aging (meaning everyone) people realize their creative potential. Then if they live longer, the life will be worth living.
Experts advise old people to lift weights to enhance bone density. Working muscles makes them stronger. But what makes our inner strength increase?
The older we are, the more set in our ways we can become until we start turning into an old curmudgeon. Some of this is good: we care less what others think of us and can be more comfortable in our own skin. But habits based in fear can petrify us like ancient wood.
Therefore, it may be good to try new things that seem daunting. Learning a new skill requires humility but it does not have to be humiliating. With the right guides, one can go from novice to competency. This in turn gives courage to try yet another change in our thinking about what might be possible.
The trick is to choose something you want to do, but that is not too scary, at least at first. The cliché of a bucket list – stuff to try before you die – doesn’t have to be filled with parachute jumping and financially risky activities. Look inside for a secret desire that maybe has waiting in the wings since childhood.
My friend who is in her eighties just took up piano playing. She found the right teacher. Another old friend dances the tango a few times a week. My students are often older, coming to see if maybe there is a slight possibility they have an artistic bone in their bodies.
I have the great joy of showing each and every one of them that yes, if you are patient and work hard, you too will be able to created original beautiful things. And the process will no doubt both keep you youthful, and feed your courage to try other things that seem a little out of your comfort zone. Just watching my students makes me have that courage in my own life.
One advantage of aging is forgetting. While irritating at first, eventually forgetting can be a friend and a tool. You can read the same book over or watch the same movie again with pleasure. You forget about old grudges and appreciate people whom you may have resented in the past. You even begin to forget about other people’s opinion of you and be who you want to be at any given moment.
For those who take up an art form later in life, forgetting can be an advantage. With painting, often a bad art education keeps people from being able to learn to draw and paint. They were told the wrong things by an ignorant teacher. Or the teacher had too little time and too many students to do a proper job. So it is great to forget that somewhere back in childhood you were told you were a bad artist because you painted a sky orange. When in fact, if anyone had looked out the window at the time, the late afternoon sky was a blazing orange. You began to mistrust your own eyes.
Aside from formal art education, the culture may have given incorrect concepts about what art is and how it is made. For example, that art can only be made by a select few that have talent.
I have encountered new artists in the latter part of their lives who managed to forget that they couldn’t do art because “they can’t draw a straight line” or “my sister was the talented one in the family”. They see no reason they cannot learn to paint or draw, or for that matter, dance or learn a new instrument.
If you catch young children soon enough before negative messages cloud their thinking, you can show them anyone can make art. But the difference between them and older students is that once the older student begins to make art, they have a lifetime of experience and memories that can feed into the process. Their memory of these things may be hazy at first, but the process of making art can actually bring memory back into focus, but with a wonderful flair based on the wisdom of old age.
Fashion and attention to our physical image may seem shallow and unrelated to important issues like finding one’s passion, or being creative. But there are many benefits to taking time to look not only attractive, but to cultivate a look that communicates who we are.
Also as we age, sometimes we give up and just wear what’s easy and comfortable. This is a look in itself. It says: I mostly like to relax and am not looking to expand my world. It may seem futile to try to hold back the effects of aging. But there are many examples of older people who have an interesting image. When you are older, you have more to express because you have lived longer.
If a passive attitude towards image is allowed to go on for too long, it can cause a few problems. You may not be as inclined to go out and look for new adventures. You may repel people who could have been interesting and helpful to know: people have to judge a book by its cover until they get to know the person. So it may limit life’s possibilities.
No need to go out and buy Vogue magazine or spend a fortune. First step is usually throwing out ninety percent of the items in your drawers and closet. Then you can see clearly the things that you own that make you feel good and express your personality. The creative part is putting looks together, and then figuring out what might enhance the impression you are giving. Perhaps you need a new haircut or glasses. Don’t go forward until you work with a friend or expert to fine-tune what impression you want to give the world.
Yes it will take time and emotional effort. But the rewards will be a new attitude towards the future and interest in going places or meeting up with friends. You will attract positive attention, which fuels self-esteem. It fights depression and enhances energy.
You can be your own work of art physically, which will in turn stimulate your inner creative force. It will give the freedom to try new things and build a larger world. It can even be fun, discovering who you are in new ways.
Although artists sometimes like to wear all black, it is usually a stylized look with significant details, to enhance an already defined image created by hair, makeup, or accessories. Not because they think black will make them invisible or thinner. Chic, hip, European, mysterious, and serious can all be done in black. It’s just better not to dress dowdy black.
Have fun thinking about your new possibilities! This place can help
With my students at Institute on Aging in San Francisco, I discovered how powerful art can be to help bring back a spark in mildly demented adults. One gentleman, who was previously not interested in art classes offered at the center, came to life when offered watercolors and conversation about various famous artists. A whole story came out about his days in the 50's when he was an architectural student. His paintings were sophisticated, and he kept working long after I had to leave. Another woman, who barely spoke, instead got to work on a small landscape and showed she had surprising ability to handle the media. Others were able to be convinced to give it a try, and started to have fun, while memories of childhood evoked, happy smiles, and beautiful little paintings emerged.
Every week I hear new stories from these long-lived folks, art being a conduit to so many other aspects of a personal history. While some don't remember me from week to week, once we get started the paint and paper form their own relationship with the artists, and while everyone is living fully in the moment, pleasant memories from the past are also uncovered and shared.
I visited the Institute on Aging - high on a hill in San Francisco: a place for elders, with medium to more pronounced abilities, to come during the day to enjoy the arts. A group was listening to a flute concert and the director of arts showed me wall after wall of art and quilts made by clients of this non profit place. They give conferences and host studies to show the effect of arts participation on elders, and are at the forefront of proving that the arts are an extremely important tool to help increase quality of life and prevent so many of the side effects of aging: loss of memory, depression, loneliness, and even pain.
It's about time we recognize the power of the arts in our fragmented society! Surely anthropologists already have noted that aging in other cultures is less isolating and that societies that integrate arts into their daily life have better outcomes for later life.
But how to convince institutions and individuals to try art? This is a problem, but a problem artists can help with. We can learn to adapt techniques of art making to whatever level is needed by beginners and people with lessened capacities. And as soon as artists are asked to do this, and given jobs that pay well enough for them to do it, we will improve the quality of life of our seniors.
Many people wait until later in life to pursue interests, especially so called hobbies like painting. So I often get retired people in classes, who have been hoping to paint all their lives. Although it can be harder to learn at older ages, art is something that one can indulge in no matter what drawbacks there might be including lessened memory, physical aliments, and even shame at not already knowing something. Very few people got a good art education without actually going to fine arts schools, so I try to assure new students that any level is a good level to begin with.
Patience, Practice and Persistence will enable anyone to get to a competent level of painting and drawing. No special talent is needed. Becoming an expert will take many years but being expert is not necessary to get the benefits of painting, which are escape to another world, relaxation, mind stimulation and community.
Taking the first step may be hard, but once done, a whole new world opens up.Time disappears and sometimes even physical and emotional pain. But time spent learning to paint better is never wasted time.