We tried a contemplative exercise on age identity in my Embodiment in Later Life seminar a few weeks ago.
I asked students to stand in front of their desks in a circle.
Then to be still, eyes closed, feet firmly planted on the earth but body as relaxed as possible.
Then, in an unforced way, to begin breathing, sending their breaths down into their bellies and then gently back up through their nostrils.
And, after awhile, I invited them to begin silently counting their breaths…1, 2, 3…
And, after twenty or so breaths, I posed the question: “What age are you right now at this moment, standing still, breathing deeply”?
After a few minutes of silent reflection upon this question, we opened our eyes, sat down, and engaged in a round-table discussion about our experiences.
Some of the questions we explored:
Where does age reside?
In the absence of and in addition to the concept and structure of chronological age, in what ways do we categorize ourselves and others as an aging person?
In the absence of social feedback – signals from others – how do we know what age we are, that we are aging?
In the absence of embodied feedback – signals from our bodies that we’ve come to associate with aging and age – how do we know what age we are, that we are aging?
What can we describe about the phenomenon of aging, of growing older, from an experiential standpoint? What is our capacity for using words to describe our experiences? When we reach the edge of our capacity to put experience into words, what are other modes for expressing our experiences?
Some of the insights we shared:
The profound lack of solidity of the inter-related phenomena of age and aging and being old. They are concepts, they are experiences, they are social structures, and yet, in the stillness of breathing, eyes closed, they are without form and substance.
The paradox of the simultaneous experience of disembodied, timeless consciousness, on the one hand, and the embodied mind, the materiality and time-bound nature of consciousness, on the other hand.
The extent to which our experiences traveling through the life course are shaped by social constructions: about the nature and passage of time; the meaning of chronology; phases and stages of the life course; what we expect to do, and when (and what society expects us to do, and when).
And the stories we tell to ourselves and others about our embodied selves.
What stories do you tell about your embodied self?
When you stand still, feet firmly planted on the ground, body relaxed, eyes closed and your gentle attention resting on your breath, what age are you?