I feel wonderful today. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself saying this on the day I turn 40. Growing old was just one of the many fears I struggled with, and my age-obsessed self then could not see any reason to go on existing beyond the age of 29. I remember cringing at every birthday, feeling myself sapped of life, as if another building block to the structure that held me together was being pulled out. Now I know that it was an illusion maintained by a practice of constantly looking out for bad things.
The fear of growing old is an easy one to develop as it has been cultivated by the media and used in advertising to reinforce a feeling of lack in people to make more sales. For someone who lacks confidence, it’s easy to buy into this fear since the message is reinforced around us that we need to be young to be happy. Back then, I was insecure, depressed and had low self-worth – and growing old became a threat beyond my control: how could I fight time, which seemed to be moving towards me without my having any say in it?
Today, I have learnt to work not against but with time, to ride along in its progression and gain more power on its back. Time is a vehicle but it is only one of many dimensions; it does not have the power to define life and death without other dimensions coming into play as well.
Meanings, Associations, Symbols
On 1st of January, I remarked to a group of people how great I was feeling. Caught in a celebratory and capricious mood, I had said in a rather whimsical, new-agey way, “I can feel the new year energy and it feels so positive!” Someone then solemnly asked me, “I’m wondering if there really are special forces during certain events… I mean, how is today different from any other day?” A very good question, I thought, and answering it reminded me of how far I’ve come.
Was the energy of that day better just because it was the first day of the new year? Maybe, maybe not. But nowadays, I look for opportunities to feel good. In the past, I would always look for evidence that life is shit and people are cruel. Walk on the same trail and you will find whatever it is you are looking for: do you look for ten ugly items or ten things of beauty?
I have a different mindset now. I used to look for reasons to feel bad. Now I look for reasons to celebrate. This new mindset has changed my whole outlook on life and also my world.
One of my colleagues is fond of saying, “Life instrinsically does not have any meaning until we give it meaning.” That’s right, we have to look for the meaning in life. To assign meanings to what we come across in life. We have the freedom to make life whatever we choose and it is something we can control – we assign negative meanings and it becomes negative, and vice-versa.
If someone gave you ten dollars, what does it mean to you? What do you want it to mean? That they’re being kind to you and so you must be someone worthy of being treated nicely? Or that they’re feeling sorry for you and therefore you are pathetic and worthless? We make associations like that all the time, triggered by signs to which we’ve pre-assigned meanings.
Certain associations aren’t made by us individually but by the collective, and we tend to adopt these automatically to shape the greater meaning of our life. Some are helpful, like sunsets being associated with spiritual beauty. Some are damaging, like snorting coccaine being associated with glamour. As long as the association is attractive to us, it will draw us to that thing. If we want to stay away from it, we need to change our association to it to something that repels us. Negative association like this can be used in a positive way, such as in stopping an unhealthy habit.
Imagine having negative associations to most things in life, where everything you see is a symbol of bleakness, hopelessness and horror. Who would want to live in a world like that? My world was very much like that, and no wonder I constantly sought to opt out of life.
Today, as I celebrate my 40th birthday, I feel myself filling up rather than being depleted. I feel more abundant than ever, as if life begins on this day. Am I tricking myself, trying to convince myself that I feel good to cover up bitter feelings about growing older? You know, I genuinely feel this good. Is it manufactured? In a way, because I no longer choose to make myself feel bad every opportunity I get. I choose something else. Looking for opportunities to feel good has become second nature that feeling good is now natural.