Aging: a word that creates such distress in people, especially after a certain age, because with it come disease, weakness, suffering and death. It’s like a package that cannot be sold separately. If aging had no negative connotation, it would be a neutral and even pleasant word. I would be able to say “I’m aging” with the same insouciance than I would say “I’m relaxing”. Without any gloomy undertone, aging would simply mean “I’m evolving, I’m growing, I’m getting more experienced or I’m moving forward in life.” But in our reality, albeit illusionary, aging means the opposite. It looks like after a certain age, we take a dead-end street, an off life street. The smooth asphalt progressively turns into dirt, and the road gets bumpier as we continue driving right at the wall of death.
But what if aging did not exist? What if aging was just a mindset, not a reality but a mere belief? What if the change of course was just a matter of a mental switch? After all, the body renews itself every 7 years. All our cells are replaced by brand new ones. So what is it that makes the next set of cells each year less effective than the previous set the year before?
The scientific mindset explains that aging originates from a slow build-up of cellular damage caused by various elements: errors in genetic transcription, DNA mutation, free radicals, overactive metabolism, hormonal imbalance, cellular miscommunication, mitochondrial underactivity, vitamin deficiency, poor nutrition, urban lifestyle, stress, chemicals, pollution, bad weather… and the list goes on. For centuries now, we have been looking for external causes of the body’s decline, and experts have come up with a plethora of solutions to slow it down. But our intrinsic physiological reality has not changed much: we still get sick, age and die. The best we seemed to have achieved is life extension. But are we living healthier than the past generations? I doubt it. Maybe it’s time to explore other avenues.
More recently, modern psychology and neuro-science brought new pieces to the puzzle. They have demonstrated the substantial influence of the mind over the body. This concept is not new. The Greek physician, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), referred as the father of western medicine, already mentioned it. Chinese medicine has been treating emotions and physical ailments all together for over 2,000 years. For the past 30 years, a German physician, Dr Geerd Ryke Hamer, creator of the German New Medicine, has proved that nearly all diseases were psychosomatic – meaning they stem from the mind. He goes even further by validating that healing starts in the mind first before it manifests in the body.
If it is true that we create disease in our mind, is it possible then that we may also create aging from the mind? Following the same logic, we should, therefore, be able to reverse aging with a trick of the mind. An experiment conducted in 1981 by Dr Ellen Langer, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, seems to go along with this hypothesis, as the New York Times reported it on October 22, 2014.
In the fall of 1981, eight men in their 70’s volunteered to live 5 days in a converted monastery in New Hampshire. The subjects were considered in good health even though their bodies showed common signs of aging such as arthritis, weakness, decrease of their range of motion, lower vision, etc. Passing through the door of the building was like entering a time warp; everything inside the monastery was designed to conjure 1959, even the shows played on the white and black TV set. “They were told not merely to reminisce about this earlier era, but to inhabit it — to make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years ago.”, said Langer. At the end of their stay, the men were tested again and the results revealed amazing improvement of their health conditions: they were more supple, showed greater dexterity, sat straighter and their sight improved. Even some independent judges said they looked younger. We can only wonder what the results would have been if the experiment had lasted longer?
This experiment confirms the significant influence of the mind over the body in the aging and disease process. But does this mean that in order to reverse aging we should live in the past? Or does it mean that we should keep the spirit of our 20’s and bring it along with us all our life? I opt for the second option which is more compatible with the principle of evolution.
Now, how do we keep the spirit of our 20’s? The first question that arises is why we have lost it. Let’s go back for a moment in the past. What was the essence of our spirit back then? In my case, I had a conviction that life was ahead of me, and that anything was possible. I remember when I was 18 years old and had my first job. When my dad suggested I put some money in a complementary retirement plan, I bluntly rebuffed him. Retirement was an unimaginable notion. I could not conceive that I would get old and would not be able to sustain myself. Decay and death was simply not part of my reality; I was looking at the future full of enthusiasm and exciting projects.
I remember a sense of adaptability, openness, curiosity and limitlessness; a willingness to learn, to explore, a sense of adventure, an interest for the new and the unknown; a willingness to move forward, to progress and improve. I had some doubts and beliefs but they were not so rigid that they would completely freeze my actions. Recalling the younger me and writing those words triggered a warm feeling within me, as if my cells were awakening from a state of drowsiness. I realize that I often let myself be caught up in the lifeless rhythm of adult life and forget to stay fully alive as I was when I was 20.
This is where we let ourselves slip down to the grave. Somewhere on the road, something covertly shifted. At some point we covered our youthful spirit with a thick lid. When did it happen? Most of us cannot remember. It’s like a dream, in which I am driving my car, going anywhere I want and having fun. When suddenly, I don’t know how, I find myself sitting in a crowded train on the entrenched tracks of human conditioning composed of atavism, culture, education, religion and science. I have no clue on how I ended up on this train, but from this point on it’s the same trip for every one! If at some point I long for change, I can move to a different rail-car, but still the destination will remain the same.
Sometimes I have the impulse to jump out of the train, but I am stopped, frozen by my many fears. We touch the crux of the problem, the reason we lost our youth spirit: we became aware of death and locked ourselves within the walls of the survival program, which is based on fear. This has become our playground, our limited space of action; this is our train in which we experience life on this planet through a one way route, showing as little scenery as there are windows. From the time we are born, we are put to work building the iron railroad tracks of human survival. Our parents, teachers and mentors have conditioned us through sets of beliefs, values, rules, laws, traditions, protocols, and dogmas, which, as we grow older, we often crystallize to the point that they form thick and rigid mental walls. Progressively our free spirit, free of obstacles and able to see wide and far, is being fenced in by walls of fears.
Decline begins when I start limiting my evolutionary capacity, when I forget my real essence, that of being a boundless immortal being – my divine part. In his early age, the child is still connected to his intrinsic divine nature until this part becomes completely covered with the thick-mortal-fearful-adult coat. And decay inevitably takes its ground as I restrict more and more my vision and movements. It gets a firmer hold on me each time I feel like discomfort and suffering, and I refuse to break free from my suffocating cell. Indeed, I prefer to stay inside my walls where I feel somehow more secure and protected than to go outside and face my fears of the unknown. So, I use loads of morals and excuses to justify my inaction and, to feel even better, I tell myself stories like “After all, the trip is not too bad, I’m lucky to have a comfortable seat by the window. I should not complain!” And life goes on without fail to its final destination.
Progressively the fluid and creative movement of life slows down and gets trapped in a tedious closed-circuit path, deepening the ruts of dull habits and rigid beliefs. Mother (Mira Alfassa) said that death was an inability to progress. Indeed, the moment I set limits to my potential for evolution, I set foot on the deadly slope where death comes slowly (decline, disease, depression) or rapidly (cardiac arrest, accident, suicide).
This is what happened to a good friend of mine a few years ago. Karine’s story is the story of many men and women who succeeded in breaking free from the prison of human conditioning but got trapped again in the illusionary game.
Karine was 42-year-old and was living in a small village when I met her. Before her divorce 2 years earlier, she had a normal life for a woman of her generation. Married at 20, she had 3 children who were now teenagers and young adults. She was an exemplary full time stay at home mother until her and her husband started their own company where she became the financial and administrative pillar. She played a great part in the success of the business which inevitably developed her self-esteem.
Despite the joy of having children, she never felt happy in her marriage. She married because it was time; their two families knew each other, and the man was a “good guy”, a hard worker, responsible enough to build a family. The first 2 years after her divorce was the most difficult: her children refused talking to her and her family did not support her choice of breaking the family unit. During that time she started training to become a health practitioner, a profession which had always called to her. Her studies kept her busy enough to make a smoother transition into her new life. After 2 years, relationships with her family settled down and her children reconnected with her. As strange as it might seem, this is when her health issues started.
It began with mild and periodic joint pain that would go away after a few days. Then it would spread to all her joints in the arms, hands and legs which after a time became permanently painful and inflamed. It was worse in the evening when she was less active. She knew that as soon as she would sit in her armchair to watch television or read, she would hardly be able to get up and go to bed. That’s how severe it was. In the morning, she had to wake up earlier since it was taking her almost an hour before she could move easily.
What happened? After her divorce, she was full of life. A new life had opened up, full of projects and dreams she was longing to realize. But the guilt of having left her children and broken up the family took its toll on her. In our unconscious mind, a good mother does not leave her family for her own selfish reasons. So when her children decided to talk to her again, she jumped on the occasion to try to fix the damage she caused by resuming her role of the good mother. She put herself back on the tracks of praised human morals, sacrificing her own life for the good of her family.
It was very easy for her to go back on those tracks since the company she and her ex-husband had created was located right next to the family house where the ex-husband and the children were still living. So every day she would see her ex-husband at work, and in her spare time and after work hours, she would shop for groceries, stock the fridge with healthy food, cook the meals and clean the house. And, since she was already there, she would stay for diner with the whole family before heading home for the night. Everything was roughly the same as before her divorce except that she would sleep in a different house. Eventually, her plans to travel the world, learn to dance, open her own business were put aside.
It would have been in the best of both worlds if only her body was not screaming in pain. Every single day, her physical suffering was a reminder of how painful her situation was. The mind is able to conceal unease and frustration; the body, on the other hand, speaks loudly. Her dis-ease was expressing exactly the way she was feeling deep inside: stuck because she was unable to move her body and do the things she really wanted to do. Her body was the place where the battle, the conflict was taking place: she wanted to do other things in life but the fear of been rejected again by her family was paralyzing.
Eventually Karine realized the situation she had put herself in; finally she decided to break free again from the alienating family roles and face her worse fears. Step by step, she took significant actions, but this time she made certain to first inform her family. She came to realize that it was possible to deal peacefully with the family and still be respected in her choices. As she was building up her self-confidence and assertiveness, her symptoms progressively vanished. Today, 12 years later, she is still symptom free. She has been traveling the world, learning all the dances that inspired her, opened her own business and has been openly dating. The amazing thing is that, when comparing pictures of her taken 20 years ago when she was married with pictures taken today, she looks younger today than she did 20 years ago despite her graying hair and a few wrinkles.
Karine’s story illustrate the path of personal evolution, which is to break all our morbid molds of human conditioning crystallized in form of roles, beliefs, values, morals, rules, laws, traditions, and so forth. It’s about to transcend our millennial atavistic, religious, cultural, biological and survival programs in order to heal our paralyzing fears. Indeed, fear freezes us as much as death. Maybe fear and death are just one and the same, and aging is simply a slow cryogenization process. Can we conclude that once we will be free of fear, death will no longer exist?