Coming to terms with ageing

Representational Image

Representational Image 


A statement, reading either “best before…” or “date of expiry…”, usually appears on the outside of the bottles or boxes containing things such as medicines or food stuffs, which have a fixed shelf-life.

A statement, reading either "best before…" or "date of expiry…", usually appears on the outside of the bottles or boxes containing things such as medicines or food stuffs, which have a fixed shelf-life. The idea is to inform the consumer that the contents are best when consumed before the indicated date. After that the stuff inside can either become stale or ineffective or harmful.

Have you ever wondered whether it is not a similar situation that obtains about us human beings? There are definite stages in a person's life at which physical fitness declines, and a gradual deterioration begins to take place in the sharpness of mental faculties. The physical part is not difficult to handle. Regular physical exercise, and sensible eating habits, are usually enough to slow down, even slightly reverse, the process of loss of muscular strength and tone. It is the handling of the impact of ageing, on the working of the mind, that presents complex problems.

A gradually increasing difficulty in the recollection, of names, faces or places, is usually, the first sign of the onset of a failing memory. At times, one meets a familiar person and, no matter how hard one tries, cannot remember his or her name. Similarly, a name is mentioned in conversation and, despite one's best efforts, one cannot remember the face corresponding to it.

At other times the difficulty may be about recollecting a well-known quotation, or the person to whom, or the context to which, it is attributed. Another common manifestation of the phenomenon is the failure to recall a thing that needs to be done.

Clearly, failing memory, associated with the process of ageing, is something natural and is nothing to be alarmed about. Only, it may call for a certain amount of management.

So far as daily chores are concerned, I have found, over the years, that the preparation of a "to do", or "reminder", list helps a great deal. I owe this good habit to P.V. Rao, a senior service colleague, whom I had observed using it in the late 70s, I have always maintained such a list ever since. Anything that needs to be done enters that list (which, nowadays, is usually stored in the memory of my smartphone) and, systematically, every morning and night, I review the progress of the action taken. Those upon which action has been completed are deleted, and the others left in. Fresh entries are added, as and when something new crops up.

I remember how, in my childhood, my mother used to knot her "kongu" (the free end of a woman's sari worn over the shoulder and wrapped around the back) into a small ball, so that a look at it reminded her of something needing to be done.

After physical fitness, and mental alertness, the stability the emotional apparatus assumes considerable significance as one ages. Prayer or meditation is the best route for attaining mental peace and a state of tranquility for those who believe in God. True faith is the foundation for acquiring a sense of harmony with the environment, the ability to count one's blessings, derive pleasure out of helping others in need, and feel contented and cheerful. For atheists or agnostics, there are methods such as yoga or meditation to relax and feel tension dissipating.

The craving for material possessions such as a car or a house, a bank balance or shares, also, with the onset of age, gradually gives way to the desire to acquire qualities such as wisdom, balanced judgment and peace of mind. The relative importance one attaches to daily activities also changes significantly.

One will find, for instance, that the time taken over the early morning ablutions gradually increases. The amount of sleep one requires, to feel fresh and rested, similarly decreases. One also becomes much more resolute and determined to make sure that small pleasures, such as the daily crossword puzzle in the favourite newspaper, the mid-morning cuppa coffee or the evening drink, occupy a prime place in the schedule.

Having said all that, it can hardly be gainsaid that ageing is an irreversible process. It inevitably takes toll of body, mind and emotional equipment. There is that much, and no more, that either natural practices, or therapeutic interventions, can achieve. To put it somewhat plainly, one cannot grow any younger! Like the third law of thermodynamics, which defines entropy, (the amount of disorder in a system) the number that represents one's age can only increase.

Growing old however, is not such a bleak prospect as the preceding analysis suggests. While the effervescence and vitality of childhood and youth can only decrease with increasing age, the loss is more than made up, by the wisdom and experience that accrue with the efflux of time. There is a balance ordered by nature between the erosion, over time, of physical and mental attributes, and the compensation offered by the advantages of enhanced maturity, and equanimity, that the passing years bring.

As the saying goes "what you lose in the swings you gain in the roundabouts!" In my own case, I could never have imagined, in the months before I superannuated from the civil service, that so many more years filled with excitement, reward and fulfilment awaited me in the future. Yes, there was fulfilment of one type in the bygone years. The loss of that, however, has been more than adequately compensated by activities that I took up after retirement. What I am doing now would have been difficult, if not impossible without the experience, and wisdom, that came with those years.

In other words, the process of ageing is to be regarded as an investment in the future. It should not, however, be forgotten that everyone ages, but not many grow up! The ultimate state of achieving wisdom, mental peace and emotional stability is the state of 'sthitha prajnatha' as described in the Bhagawat Gita, a stage when contentment and calmness descend over one; when wisdom alone dictates one's actions.

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh) 

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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