Premature aging: will you accept it as your fate, or become a cultural renegade?

An elderly woman was telling me last night that whenever she sees young folk, she reminds them “enjoy it while you have it, because when you’re old, you can’t do that stuff anymore, illness will prevent you”.

This reminded me of a central concept in ayurveda, the idea that like increases like. It applies equally well to the physical world (hot foods when eaten warm you up) as it does to the mental world (hang out with happy people and you will feel happier; watch depressing films and you will feel down).

Do we re-enforce our reality by the thoughts we surround ourselves by?

I remember my gran telling me that she had heard that in many tribal cultures, the older you are, the further you can run. She explained that human health and strength followed a lifelong curve where a rapid decline in healthy at the end of life is the norm as opposed to today’s gradual descent.

The idea is that you spend the first 10 % of your life becoming strong, developing; then spend your middle years in fighting form; then in the last 10 % of your life rapidly degenerating.

She explained that today, people start the downward slope towards ill-health and weakness well in advance of our natural potential.

It is often said by promoters of our western mainstream culture that we have never known better general health and longevity. This may be true when comparing the mainstream trends of third world countries, or of western pre-war, pre-penicillin civilisations. But it conveniently ignores the many worldwide examples of micro-cultures that despite relative simplicity, maintain the ‘green line’ of long healthy happy lives. Check out the work, for example, of http://www.bluezones.com – or type ‘blue zones’ into TED.com and watch the talk about all the different examples of cultural success stories where old men and women are strong, healthy and happy.

But getting back to the idea behind this blog, I wonder how much of this premature decline is due to unavoidable lifestyle factors, and how much is due to living up to the expectations of the cultural model we are playing out?

By seeing elderly people in a dis-abled state, and by hearing their words of wisdom confirm this as the inevitable way of things, is it not likely that we will more readily accept this as our own fate? What we see with our own eyes is hard to negate?

Has this early decline model become part of our modern culture, our outlook, and our beliefs? Do we pass on this concept to our children: a tradition of early decay? I think we do, though we don’t mean to do it. But I do think our modern western culture as a whole could be doing more to seek out and test alternative solutions, new ways of life. Inspiration can come from other traditions (such as ayurveda), or, we can invent new ones and test them out.

At university, I studied Evolutionary Design (ED) in the electronics engineering department. My supervisor was a passionate about this subject, and some of our classes were imbibed by his enthusiasm. This branch of engineering takes inspiration from biological evolution principles and applies them to solving engineering design problems. This method of engineering diverges from the classical method in one key way, it embraces the unknown, invites an element of randomness into its methods.

With ED, improvements to the current solution are arrived at by varying the solution slightly in a random manner, and mixing it with other slightly different solutions, then seeing which ones come out best. The best ones are kept and the whole process starts again until you decide to stop. The best solution is usually arrived at prior to other solution searching methods (such as exhaustive trial and error).

I am often surprised that while going about some menial task, I stumble across a better, more efficient way of doing the task by complete accident. Embracing this permutation as a new improved method seems natural. But it goes against the current of tradition for traditions sake.

Anyway, I think I have diverged from my original point somewhat, which was to highlight the inherent tendency we have to play out the roles that our culture dictates, to comply with the cultural norm.

The power of influence! Isn’t it incredible? Can I blog without offering some sort of tip? No! So here goes. keep an open mind, question your tradition, never underestimate the power of your environment on your behaviour; your friends and relatives, your colleagues, the TV, the radio, the news and the science reports.

I guess we all weigh up and live out the comfort and stability that tradition offers verses the possibility of improvement that exploring new realities can bring us; the known verses the unknown. Living between these two forces of inertia and change is the spice of life, the flux of the magnetic field between opposite poles. But then knowing that that flux, and the poles came from wholeness or a singularity, and that ultimately, the whole thing is perfect as it is, an infinitely complex interrelated happening. Thinking of this lets me sleep at night, it lets me let go of being too caught up in the whole drama.

OK Alex, that’s enough rambling. Get on with something useful!

P.S. To those of you who have commented on this blog, or written to me; thanks for your encouragement.

Cheers, Alex.

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