Sunrise from our living room is stunningly serene when the settings are precise, as the golden glow of dawn designs a silhouette behind the temple’s majestic tower, and its landscape is reflected in the still waters of our pastoral pond.
My prevalent mood often persuades me to ponder over the solar star’s set journey for the day, equating a parallel with my own eight decades of expedition in life. The early rays of the baby sun offering assurance, changing to an imposing dominance of the scorching noon, as he gets mellowed into a soothing angle in the evening, and finally fading in a faint dissolution, align very much with the style and substance of my mundane modus called living. As my mind meanders through my life’s passage, from childhood to its present waning strides, a certain consoling calm embraces me offering solace and a sense of pacifying dignity. Glancing back into the long stretch of life that I have traveled, its terrains and fluctuating climates, its varied rides, and the experience that I have amassed through the sheer process of living linger as vague, vast, and illusory, and yet reassuringly rewarding anecdotes.
Taking periodic stock of life is essential for re-evaluation and revision. In hindsight, such earlier assessments should have been elemental, at least in my case, that could have adjusted my course, while keeping in mind that after all, life may be ‘pre-destined’. Identifying the ‘real self, of what we are and who we are, as well as accepting the reality with security and confidence, is fundamental to contentment. Attempting to create a false façade to project an image that doesn’t belong to us could be a burden to maintain while acting out without restraints is equally insensitive at the opposite extreme. To accomplish a balance of finding self-assurance and amicable alignment with others, is the essence of establishing a ‘harmonious ideal of living’. And while it is my understanding of what meditation can offer us, such a state of mind can easily be attainable through periodic contemplation and deliberation, by reaching into and taming our inner self.
I am fortunate to have a loving family, delightful friends and a contented life all along. Retiring after forty years of comfortable medical practice, I continue to be active in a variety of involvements and maintaining decent physical and cerebral health. I am eternally grateful to the generosity of that Higher Authority for being merciful, and blessing me with such a life. Basically, I am an optimist, preferring to dream on happy narratives. But what lies ahead is reality, obscure yet assured. If the mind is tempted to drag us in the direction of premonition, it would be harmful and futile. It is best not to take the ride of ‘how long is the stay, how hard is the journey, and what mode would be the exit’! But most concerningly, how much would I entangle others in the process?
I try to be rationally disciplined with food, exercise, avoiding excesses, and adhering to my physicians’ advices, staying engaged within my convenient reach. But our information has limitations, our control has constraints, and the future is an instinctively unfamiliar conjecture. Beyond all our observation and adherence to known disciplines, there are missing links, several of which remain outside our comprehension, even imagination. As science is constantly expanding with new evidence, correcting the old ones, we need to remain humble ‘to know’, that ‘we don’t know it all’. As we lose our dear ones, acquaintances and contemporaries who enjoyed ‘perfect health’ due to reasons beyond reasoning, the hypothesis of the ‘missing link element’ gets more convincing and credible as we age.
It is hard to be prepared for how others accept us or approach our old age; how seniors are acknowledged is up to the attitude of those they deal with. Our image may stretch from a ‘decent and respectable elder’ to that ‘grouchy, grubby goat’. It all depends up to an extent on how we behave with others. Practicing patience, acceptance, adjustment, accommodation and appreciation could go a long way as against expectation, assertion, compulsion, objection, or aggression. But once senility sets in, brain cells have plans of their own, and to many, that may be an opportunity to be who they really are.
Memories of childhood have remained the best treasures in my vault of perceptual possessions. Those savings shine brighter when the rest of me is declining and come to my salvage, as and when I get distraught or disillusioned. There are also sporadic guilt-trips that interrupt my strands of peace, scraping my conscience with bouts of ‘I shouldn’t haves’, ‘I could haves’ and ‘why did I’s’, creating hiccups in an otherwise tranquil setting. But with concerted effort and introspection, one could and must settle such conflicts applying our set codes of morality, resolving issues paying a penance, engaging with those we may have harmed or finding ways of clemency exercising our own conscience as mediators.
Old age depletes us of our authority, almost at every level, in every sphere which matters. To minimize the trauma that is bound to follow, adapt to acquire traits that may help – such as being docile, humble, grateful, contented, and calm. Attempt practicing ‘like and love’ without conditions.
Humility is not a weakness of submission, but an undeniable strength of assurance. And in old age, humility shall shelter us from humiliation.
I am not sure if anyone benefits from listening to another’s life. But if I were to leave just one advice as an old man who has lived a long life, it is – “Refresh your mind from all undesirable attentions, about people, past or the uncertain future; keep a smile deep in your heart of all the good things that came your way”.
Venugopal K. Menon, M.D.