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Aging, Beauty, and Grace

Monday, September 8, 2014

We live in a society obsessed with youth. Children long to grow up into young men or women as quickly as possible. People on the other side of the youth slot try to cling to it by every possible means. Those who are in the slot live in the illusion that time would stand still. Time is one of the most abused concepts in daily life. We say time flies, time passes by, time runs out etc. But time does nothing of the sort, time just is. It is we the objects in space that pass in time, forced to go only in one direction from moment to moment. We cannot go faster, we cannot go slower.

We also have this persistent illusion of associating beauty with youth. But beauty is not only physical, it has other aspects to it. There is beauty in walking, in smiling, and in fact in everything we do. That is what used to be called grace, when grace was still an admired concept. There is beauty in poetry, in music, and in any kind of self-expression. And that beauty is not affected by time.

It is the physical beauty - the outward appearance that changes with time. We see this happening in nature all the time. Everything in the universe has a life span, some long, some short. Flowers, for example, bloom and fade away in a matter of days. Their beauty is ephemeral but in that short time span they impart grace and serenity to the world. There is more to the beauty of the flower than its physical appearance. In William Blake's words one can "see the heaven in a wild flower".

There is another form of beauty that reflects the whole personality. It is grace and pertains to movement, expression, and general behavior. There was a time when grace was an admired concept and a necessary adjunct to physical beauty. It seems that glamour has now taken its place. Grace is not affected by age, it may even get enhanced.

Life itself is a process of aging. We do not recognize it as aging until we get to a certain stage, because we are conditioned to think in terms of growth and decay. But it is a continuous process and it is irreversible; we don't have any control over it. Yet many people don't accept this fact and do everything possible to look younger. Looking younger and being young are two different things. There is no product in the billion-dollar burgeoning cosmetic industry that can shave off years from one's age. However, feeling younger is something that has nothing to do with the body and is within everyone's grasp.

The key to truly understand the aging process is to realize the significance of the expression 'my body'. The word 'my' implies possession and anything I possess is different from I. So the body is my dwelling just as my house is. Each one of us is a tiny part of the universal consciousness that is the substratum of all that exists in the universe. Consciousness is eternal, it is not born and it does not die. If that realization comes, one is beyond aging.

However, just as we have to take care of the house we live in and maintain it according to our aesthetic tastes, we have to take care of the body as well. Here again the individual choices come into play in deciding the relative importance of how others see us and how we see ourselves. In the final analysis though, what matters is our own satisfaction with what we are.

 

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