For whatever reason, when we hit that troubled age in childhood, where our physical awkwardness strikes, like many kids, I began to look in the mirror and struggle with the image looking back at me. A voice took over at that time which, unfortunately, did not pass when it should have. Instead of saying “you’re ugly” and then eventually saying, “huh, I’m not so bad looking,” only the first expression echoed. Then, one day, in my late 20’s I was looking at childhood pictures and started to cry as I saw the beautiful girl I was and could never appreciate. I asked myself, “what was I thinking? What was I seeing?” I then felt a deep loss. What a shame it was to have experienced myself that way for so long, that my perception was so off kilter and how, on some level, it kept me from being all I could be. But, with that awakening, there was healing and a new path. At the risk of sounding cliché, over the years, I have come to truly appreciate who I am, from the inside out. I now look in the mirror at night and actually like what I see. I often smile at the reflection staring back at me in appreciation and gratitude. What a difference. But, what is it I am really seeing that I didn’t see before?
The other day, I was at work washing my hands for the hundredth time between clients when I looked in the mirror and had one of those reoccurring moments of recognizing that my body, as much as I like it now, is going to keep changing and not in the ways I necessarily want it to. My skin is going to wrinkle and increasingly show the marks of age. My muscles won’t be so tight or look so toned. At some point soon, I will be one of the middle aged women walking down the street. At another point further off, if I am so blessed, I will be the older woman walking down the street. With those realizations comes the very human fear of becoming invisible, unrecognized, insignificant, of fading away (And, this fading away is our ultimate fear, isn’t it?). Then comes the fight, a digging in of my heels and a voice in me that says, “no, I don’t want that!” But, as soon as that voice let itself be heard, another wiser voice gently asked again, “Jean, what is beauty? How does it show in a person? Can what I see so easily now in myself truly disappear?”
There is a higher place within that lives far above the concerns of appearance and age, and ultimately of the fears of our mortality. Remembering this calms me like a gentle wave washing the sand from my feet at the edge of the shore. That voice tenderly reminds me to concern myself with growing in presence, kindness, compassion, wonder. There my true beauty lies and reveals itself. This radiating presence can’t be ignored or overlooked. This place knows of something greater; it recognizes my part connected to a much larger place in the world that goes way beyond this particular life. This place isn’t concerned with what I look like or do, but with a certain aliveness, what I emanate and how I relate to myself, to other people, animals and things. It is a rich existence. It is what truly matters to me and why the practices of mindfulness, beyond the word’s current trendy use, are at the center of my life. I can only fade away if I resign my gift of taking in this life with gratitude and joy and stop seeing the beauty that is everywhere. I share the questions with you…what is important to you, knowing you are changing every day? In what ways can you see yourself in a greater form, one that doesn’t fall apart at the thought of this unstoppable change? And, if the thoughts produce fear or discomfort, is there a way to find tenderness, compassion and love in the search for yourself and for what matters to you? Something no one else and no physical body can take away. It is a serenely powerful place.
So when these fears of aging arise in me again, as they will surely do, I can remember this deeper place of understanding and breathe easily again, at whatever age I find myself. And for right now, when I remember to tap into it, I will savor my current state. I will enjoy my limber and agile body, my skin, my ability to run and feel sexy, my ability to hold too much in my head at once and respond with clarity. I can also experience the changes as they gradually come along with that ever-growing sparkle that youth can’t possibly know. And, when it is time to let go of my spot on earth to make room for another, I’ll be taking that inner beauty with me as I take my last breath. And, my body, in all its outer beauty, can rest after all the tremendous joy it gave me.