Staying productive right into old age.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas

As you get older, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of feeling you have to take it easy and wind down the activities you were once doing. However, there are many people who feel they have to squeeze every drop out of life right till the end – for example Ed Whitlock, the Canadian who ran a sub-3 hour marathon at the age of 73. Another example is Sri Chinmoy, who at the age of 75, is still making eye-opening contributions in the field of poetry, art and strength fitness to show the world that, regardless of age, each one of us can still pursue our dreams to be a better person and work for a better world. He feels that old age only becomes a problem when one lives in the hesitating mind rather the ever-new heart: “The heart is always carrying newness, whereas the mind is carrying oldness.“, he says. “For the mind, there is no newness. By the second day, the mind loses all its enthusiasm because it feels that everything is too old, too old, too old. But for the heart, every day is new, like the sun.” [1]

He cites the example of the great cellist Pablo Casals, who still practised every day at 95 years old. Once someone asked him, “Why do you practise at your age? You have become the greatest cellist. Now you can rest!” Casals replied: You want me to rest? You do not want me to make any progress? Every day I am playing the cello and I have been playing for years and years, ever since my childhood. Every day I feel I have made some progress.”

This statement is very insightful, as it reveals some very important requirements to keeping (and even increasing) your productivity as you stay into old age:

  • Be a child at heart. “If you can feel that you are not thirty or forty or fifty years old, but only seven years old, you will be able to discard so many of your bad qualities in the twinkling of an eye…every day you will see your life in a new way and your sweet, sweeter, sweetest qualities you will be able to bring forward once again.” [2] Children have that wonderful quality of not nursing grudges or disappointments and seeing newness in everything. Think about it; how many times as a child you played with your favourite toy or watch your favourite videos; whereas as an adult we get bored of everything after one or two uses. Regaining these childlike qualities will help us have new and beautiful experiences no matter what age we are.
  • Keep up a sense of discipline. No matter what age we are, we still have to practise daily to reach our goals. With a doable learning curve and a well-thought out schedule, anything is possible. Again the difference in the mind’s and heart’s perspectives comes into play here: With the mind’s jaded viewpoint, it can be very easy to regard discipline as something painful and monotonous, but like Pablo Casals you can instead view it as a chance for progress.
  • Aim for progress rather than for success. Focusing on an external result (which might be beyond your control) can be frustrating if things don’t happen according to plan, whereas it is much easier to get joy from progress on a day-to-day basis. Success is often taken to mean a big result, whereas progress can lie in simple things like even persisting despite the odds.

References:

[1] New Adventures in Old Age, a talk published in The Mind-Jungles and the Heart-Gardens of Life
[2] From Sri Chinmoy Answers, part 6

Photograph by Pavitrata Taylor

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