There are myriad ways growing older benefits us, thinking we know so much is one way it does not. Think back to a time when you were young or simply around young people. What is the one thing nobody likes? A know-it-all.
Over time, we learn enough about the world to develop a model. Paying attention to everything all the time would be stressful, so our brain has come up with ways to attend to certain things while not attending to others. This can be very helpful, but it starts to hurt us when we think that we know or have experienced every thing.
When things no longer seem new, we question the importance of our lives, and begin to suffer from the disappointment of having nothing to look forward to. Mindfulness practice teaches us that this assumption is actually false. Your experience of all things is always changing. You never see the same color twice. You never hear anything in exactly the same way. Some parts of life are predictable, but no matter how predictable they become there are always some details that are different.
Before we get to the self-compassionate action, take the time to check in with yourself. See if this is your experience. Acknowledge the loss in feeling that you have nothing to look forward to. Make room for it. Wish yourself freedom from this suffering and well-being.
Now that we have made a little room, perhaps the old you will give itself permission to learn from the young you. Babies are brilliant. They are aware of things that you may have long since forgotten in a world stoked with so many social obligations, and perhaps the burden of appearing competent and knowledgeable a little too often.
Part of babies’ bliss lies in their ability to see the world in wonderment. Of course, your pessimistic side is potentially discounting this by saying that for babies the world is new. Well, most babies are happy, and if you give yourself permission to see the world a new perhaps you could be happy too.
To get to this wonderment, we will apply a little mindfulness. Based on mindfulness practice and research, we know that your experience of the world is ever changing, so give yourself the space to notice your experience from a sensory level. Let in the wonder of having these very experiences for the first time. Describe this experience to others if you have the opportunity. Excitement and interest are contagious, and will feed themselves. It makes sense, really. People love to have the freedom to experience things as they are without having to know how they will turn out or what needs to be done about them.
Give yourself the kindness of indulging in this practice when you can. You may miss the steadiness and sadness of being a know-it-all, but you will be well compensated by the self-acceptance and freedom that comes with getting to experience your life anew. Much like mindfulness or self-compassion, this is a practice in which you have to actively engage. If you think it will not work, then you are right. If you think that it will work, you are also right.
The truth is we pretend to know everything, but don’t. Another truth is that we pretend that nothing is new, but that is also untrue. There is nothing wrong with wanting the world to be predictable. Suffering is unpredictable, and it is with great kindness that we would like to know how best to predict and manage it. However, a great deal of happiness and what makes us feel most alive is also unpredictable.
Suffering and well being are two sides of the same coin. When suffering passes, it makes room for well being, and when suffering arises it reminds us how precious life is and where our energy should actually be invested: in love, in family, in meaningful life, and in the pursuit of our own self-compassion and acceptance. Do not seek out suffering or feel you must enjoy it, rather acknowledge its role in a meaningful life to be less burdened by it.
Experiencing the world with wonderment is one of our greatest gifts. Something we possess natural, a reality that we mastered in our childhood. Tap into that resource, and open up your experience to the joy of looking forward to life again, to evolving, and to having something really good to share with others. If it is too challenging to do with what you have at hand, do something that you have never ever done before and simply engage your experience with fresh eyes and an open heart. If there is one thing that I am sure of, it is that you won’t regret it.
Wishing you wonderment and wonderfulness, kindness and compassion, a reinvestment in your well-being and your life. You are never too old to change and be changed by the miracles of life. If you struggle to do this for yourself, then do it for the rest of us that wish you so much ease and vitality.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 45. In the Books.