Older Folks, Let Go Already: Why This Isn’t Ageist

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” This is one of many wise mantras in the epic poem Desiderata.

Too often, when we make a compelling case for older folks to embrace the value, and wisdom, in letting go, we are accused of ageism. This accusation silences what could otherwise be a productive conversation. I’m not falling for it. As a death doula, I see what happens, every day, to people who never learn how to let go.

It’s horrifying.

Clinging is the root of all suffering. And dying while clinging to life is emotionally painful and uncomfortable – for everyone.

Similarly, older folks clinging to “the things of youth” – decades before death – is just as horrifying. It prevents new ideas from taking root. We cannot play the same role at 80 that we did at 50. Insisting that we can, denies younger generations their agency. As a result, they understandably feel a kind of bitterness and resentment that hurts everyone.

We need wise elders to whom we can go for guidance. A generational tug-of-war prevents that kind of cooperation. It shows up to our children and grandchildren as fear – fear of change, fear of evolving, fear of growing old, fear of getting sick, and fear of death.

Fuck that.

Letting Go Takes Practice

I know it’s not easy. But learning how to let go now, while you’re alive, helps you live in a way that’s dignified and honorable. Embracing impermanence also brings peace and joy not only to yourself but to your loved ones as well. It sets a good example for them to follow.

We can stop the cycle of clinging in small ways throughout our lives. This includes when we:

  • Become empty-nesters
  • Retire
  • Want something and it doesn’t happen
  • Experience the death or loss of loved ones
  • Fail
  • Survive broken dreams

At the time, these experiences certainly don’t feel like opportunities. But that’s what they are. Opportunities to practice letting go for a better life and death.  

10 Ways to Let Go Every Day

This takes work. Many clients nearing the end of their lives want, more than anything, to just fall asleep and not wake up. For most of us, death won’t be that easy. So let’s not wait until we are old and dying to do this work. That’s too much pressure to put on us at the end. Instead, let’s start now.

Here’s how.

1. Meditate 

Find time to sit quietly and focus on your breath, every day. Some people compare it to praying. However, when you pray, you ask for something. Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, isn’t a request. You sit with yourself, in the present moment, and breathe.

It’s simple and powerful.

Some people prefer transcendental or lovingkindness meditation. While mindfulness meditation focuses your thoughts on the present moment, transcendental meditators seek to transcend thought itself and experience a state of pure awareness. Lovingkindness, or metta meditation, involves mentally sending kindness and goodwill towards others. These, and other practices, increase feelings of peace and calm reassurance that the universe is unfolding as it should.

There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Even if you only sit for 3-5 minutes, it helps you look within and let go of anything not serving you. Eventually, you learn how to let go of everything. In return, you feel truly free.

women in saree burning candles at a traditional festivity

2. Find a Symbol 

Symbols evoke profound feelings and fuel our imagination. They remind us of what we hold dear and enable us to explore different aspects of our existence in ways that nothing else does. Kinda hard to cling while that’s happening.

A few years ago, visiting Tibetan monks hosted a sand mandala event near my home. For several days, they created a beautiful mandala made from colored sand. When finished, the monks took it to a nearby river and, in a ceremony about understanding impermanence, discarded the sand.

That’s a symbol.

They also made and sold Vipassana Tibetan impermanence bracelets and I bought one. Made from animal bones and carved into skull heads, this bracelet reminds me about the impermanent nature of everything every time I wear it. It symbolizes how my world, body, and self are in a state of constant change.

Find something to wear or hold that helps you accept the reality of growing older and facing death when words do not.

3. Focus on the Here and Now 

Be aware of when you’re looking back or forward. Then, without judgment, remind yourself to stop and focus on the present. Do this every day. Notice what is happening all around you. Too often, when we feel sorrow or anxiety, it’s when we focus either on memories or an unknown future.

Gently reminding ourselves to return to the here and now can help alleviate suffering. Like everything else on this list, the more we do it, the better at it we become.

4. Explore Plant Medicine                                                               

Some people have great success in learning to let go with the help of psychedelics. Do this with mushrooms, ayahuasca, and other sacred medicines. With the right set and setting, explore the root causes of what scares you. Then practice letting all that go.

Plant medicine allows you to work through sadness without feeling sad. Isn’t that amazing?

It’s incredibly therapeutic to experience the death of your ego before it happens at the end of life. Experience the joy, peace, and transcendent power. With daily integration, you take that experience and use it to live with less fear or anxiety.

5. Help Others 

Helping people, especially mentoring younger folks, reverses our tendency to cling to outdated ideas. It broadens our minds.

Whenever I hear people saying a version of “Kids these days…” I think about Socrates and how he was the original “grumpy old man.”

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

– Socrates

Sound familiar? OK, boomer.

Get to know the youth of today. They are wiser, kinder, and smarter than you realize. Get outside yourself and don’t be surprised if you feel inspired and hopeful about the future, making it easier to step aside.

They got this.

6. Forgive 

Staying angry at someone is easier than forgiving them. That’s probably the first clue that “mad” isn’t healthy.

Let go of anger rather than cling to it. Do this for you, no one else.

You will have a more enjoyable existence and then a more peaceful transition from this world if you’ve forgiven the people in it.

7. Make Meaningful Amends 

Have you had a relationship end because of something you said or did? Then say you’re sorry in a meaningful way. It will help you forgive yourself as well.

healthy woman relaxation garden

8. Appreciate Your Body 

You are meant to slow down and take your time, putting some thought into the words you choose and the wisdom you give.

Your face is meant to wrinkle. Your body is made to sag. This isn’t easy to watch or feel. But freedom comes after the surrender. Part of that includes feeling grateful for your body, and everything else you love about your life, before letting it go.

9. Make Time for Sadness  

You’re allowed to be sad. It’s hard to lose what you love about life or people who’ve meant so much to you. Change is hard. Cry it out.

Allow yourself time to mourn, even if it’s just a few minutes each morning or evening. And then get on with it.

10. Control What You Can

Remember you have very little control over what happens to you. You are of nature to grow old, get sick, and die. But you can control how you handle it. You determine your destiny when you choose how to respond to the ups and downs life throws your way. That’s where your power lies.

Wouldn’t it be great to use that power for good? It not only helps you, but those who come after us, to find peace in this incredible journey. Let’s show ’em how it’s done.

Practice Makes Better

If you practice letting go of the smaller stuff, you’ll find it easier to let go of the bigger stuff, too. This allows us to enjoy the act of living, and everything that comes with it. It also teaches the next generation that we trust them, we trust the job we did raising them, and they have our confidence to continue without us one day.

Why not go out with a song rather than a sneer?

Contact me at Anitya Doula Services for support today.

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