“The afternoon knows what the morning never expected.” Had I heard Poet Laureate Robert Frost ‘s wise words in my teens or 20s, I would have been filled with dread. In high school, I was so resistant to the idea of aging that I secretly hoped that at the age of 29.9 I would simply fall asleep and never wake up again. It wasn’t that I was suicidal, but aging was modeled as something to avoid. I remember my grandmother’s beauty creams, but most of all, the facial exercises she practiced to prevent wrinkles–very entertaining to a teenager.
Now, the great poet’s wisdom fills me with sweet anticipation. Granted, I am only 45, which to some is as young as to others it is old. Age is relative. But what I already know to be true is that each year that passes is filled with pleasure and pain, gains and losses, victories and regrets. And just as the joys are cumulative, so are the disappointments.
The term “bereavement overload” describes what happens when we experience cumulative loss: we are not able to cope with the grief of one death before another happens. One thanatology professor of mine suggested that bereavement overload is often mistaken for depression. Caregiver overload is not uncommon either, and has its own set of physical and mental health complications.
Let’s dwell on the cumulative joys for a moment. All of those things that make you happy–raising children, a successful career, volunteering, feeling a connection to friends and family–foster a sense of well-being and gives us a sense of meaning and purpose.
Mindfulness meditation can help us cope with the lows and savor the highs as we age. Not only does mindfulness cultivate equanimity–a sense of calm no matter what is happening –but it can help fortify our body and brain against the natural impact of time.
Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation On Aging
Research has shown that the benefits of mindfulness meditation on aging range from improved attention and memory to decreased anxiety and depression. One groundbreaking study found that mindfulness practitioners have longer telomeres–the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes–which helps prevent cellular aging. Another research article illustrates that the practice of mindfulness meditation is an intervention for chronic pain not only reduces pain itself, but improves sleep and a increases our sense of well-being.
While we cannot control what life throws at us, we can use our mindfulness meditation practice to support our mind, body, and spirit as we age. Mindfulness is our greatest ally throughout the life span. I will keep practicing to my 90’s, should I be graced with as many decades ahead of me as I have behind me.
I hope you will join me! May your “afternoon” be filled with peace.
Research Articles on the Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation on Aging
- Increase in Grey Matter in the Brain – Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging (191:1, 2011)
- Anxiety & Depression In Older Adults – Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (15:2, 2010)
- Slows Cellular Aging – New York Academy of Science (1172, 2009)
- Coping with Chronic Pain (pain reduction, improved attention, improved sleep, and achieving well-being) – The Journal of Pain
- Stronger Immune Responses – Psychosomatic Medicine (65:4, 2003)