As we grow old and enter the twilight of our life we are naturally inclined to know whether or not we have fulfilled the purpose of life through our existence.
Are we leaving behind anything worth recalling or remembering? For some the search may be fairly simple: It could point to their children and grandchildren as a legacy they had helped to create.
But there are others – and their number is far more - who feel deeply disturbed that perhaps they hadn’t really contributed anything significant to life, as they had never considered that life had meaning until on their deathbeds.
Someone laments if only he could have seen that he was wasting his time on fb and Instagram while the other laments if only he could have known that he was not focused on studies at the time it mattered. “If only I could see that I could have done more than what was expected of me” laments yet another.
“If only I could see the real faces of few people” regrets someone else. Somebody wishes that he could have seen that he didn’t have awareness in his life and if only he could see that people were just using him. Some feel if only they could have seen that it was too much to tolerate and quit while someone belatedly surmises if only he could have seen that he was more powerful and intelligent than he thought. A pious soul grieved if only he could have seen people who had unconditional love for him in their heart. But as Arthur Gordon would say, “The trouble with ‘if only’ is that it doesn’t change anything. It keeps the person facing the wrong way - backward instead of forward. It wastes time. In the end, if you let it become a habit, it can become a real roadblock - an excuse for not trying anymore.”
Those of us who even at this ripe age are undecided as to whether theirs has been a purposeful or even a successful life, would do well to dwell upon what Ralph Waldo Emerson said decades back while defining success:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”
By this yardstick most of us have reason to be happy to have lived a purposeful life. In this age, there is no need to look in trepidation at growing old. Of course, sometimes we are unsatisfied with our life, while many people in this world are dreaming of living our life.
Just as a child on a farmhouse sees a plane flying overhead and dreams of flying, a pilot sees the farmhouse and dreams of returning home. Well, that is life! Let us enjoy ours…even at this stage.
As we grow old, we come to understand that ageing starts with the heart. The kind of stagnation produced by the constraint of established experience, the sophistication forged by dealing with the world, and the dusty heart - these are the real effects of aging.
Even though the skin may look young, the heart may be full of wrinkles, which fact will inevitably flow and emit from the corners of the eyes, the tips of the brows, the writing, the fragments of the speech, every movement, and every corner of life. The desire, however, should be to die young as late as possible.
If wealth were the secret to happiness, then the rich would be dancing in the streets; but only poor kids do that. If power ensured security, then officials would be walking unguarded; but those who live simply, sleep soundly. If beauty and fame brought ideal relationships, then celebrities should have the best marriages.
We should be happy that we lived simply, walked humbly and loved genuinely. That is why all good came back our way. We hardly have a reason to regret.
True, our brain is no longer as fast as it was in youth. However, it has gained in flexibility. Therefore, with age, we are more likely to make the right decisions and are less exposed to negative emotions.
The peak of human intellectual activity, they say, occurs around the age of 70, when the brain begins to function at full strength. Over time, the amount of myelin, a substance in the brain that facilitates the rapid passage of signals between neurons, increases.
Because of this, our intellectual abilities increase by 300% compared to the average. Also interesting is the fact that after 60 years, a person can use two hemispheres at the same time.
This allows us to solve much more complex problems. Professor Monchi Uri, from the University of Montreal, believes that the old man’s brain chooses the path that consumes less energy, eliminates the unnecessary and leaves only the right options to solve the problem.
A study was conducted involving different age groups. Young people were very confused while passing the tests, while those over 60 years of age made the right decisions.
The director of the George Washington University School of Medicine argues that the brain of an older person is much more practical than is commonly believed.
At this age, the interaction of the right and left hemispheres of the brain becomes harmonious, which expands our creative possibilities. That is why among people over 60 years of age we can find many personalities who have just started their creative activities.
With the kind of bounties bestowed upon us by nature, it is far better to contemplate the meaning of life when we actually have some time left to work on the question. “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.” This quote by Joseph Campbell emphasizes that we must put effort into creating our own meaning from our existence.
Living in the present moment has become a common catch phrase these days, but it is a necessary component of a life of meaning. Too much focus on the past or the future prevents us from experiencing life as it is happening right now.
Meaning exists in this moment as well and we must be able to bring our attention to bring meaning to life. “Stop and smell the roses” for that beautiful fragrance will remind us of the simple joys of existence. “You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward.” (Soren Kierke)
Once we take a proper view or review of life (and death) and accept that our time is limited, we need to understand and fix our own priorities. As our resources of time and energy are limited, we must invest these wisely in things that matter most to us. There is no room for squandering or throwing away our precious moments of life.
But identifying what matters to us requires some thought, because our values change as life progresses. By choosing to carry out a specific activity like journaling, meditation, yoga, prayer, mindfulness, exercise or a combination of some of these we serve our present moment that requires us to be calm to help us create opportunities for deeper contemplation leading to a greater sense of meaning in our life.
In the process if we realise having lived our dreams and served humanity in whichever little way, we should feel twice blessed to have realised the basic meaning of life. To be remembered for our good deeds is a welcome bonus.
Life is a gift from God and living in constant gratitude of Him, is something we should never ever forget. God has a purpose for everything. Everything, whether good or bad, happens for a reason. If we understand this, finding the meaning of life becomes a lot easier.
Let us all be guided to find our own meaning in life by contemplation. Whatever happened is good, whatever is happening is good too, whatever will happen will also be good. After all, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” (Steve Jobs)
Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.