I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make people’s older years better, especially since I first began writing my new book, I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years. There’s many aspects of life to consider—relationships, self-esteem, spiritual fulfillment, and much more. But I always come back to the same thing as most important—the brain. Nothing else affects health and happiness more, especially for older people who face the possibility of cognitive decline and rapid changes in life circumstances.
So, I’ve wondered, “What is the one thing that every elder should do for their brain?” Of course, there are many things you can do to help make your brain healthy and happy, but one thing stands out to me as most important: learn to shift your perspective of your experience of solitude. Seniors sometimes find themselves a bit lonelier in life as work relationships cease, children grow up, and friends and loved ones pass away. Of course, it is natural to feel some sadness because we miss these things, but I recommend also looking for the gift that these life changes bring. More time to ourselves is a gift that allows us to become quiet within ourselves and to grow closer to our authentic self.
Solitude Opens the Door to True Elderhood
Too often, we celebrate the vibrancy of youth and define “older” as inferior and undesirable, when in fact both deserve to be embraced. The wisdom of elders, which comes through life experience, is a much-needed missing element in our human societies. Solitude, I believe, is the key to transforming that life experience into true wisdom, the wisdom of elderhood. Time spent alone in quiet contemplation allows us an opportunity to see the big picture of life, beyond our simplistic biases and closed-minded worldviews. To make solitude effective, though, we must be sure that we are becoming deeply calm within ourselves and connecting to the natural wisdom of the universe.
Solitude Helps Us Experience True DowntimeSolitude brings with it the opportunity for deep rest. For most of our lives, we have been busily trying to accomplish goals and to gain status in the world. Of course, I would encourage you to have goals in your later years, but it is also important to find time to relax deeply. It’s like we’ve been breathing in forever, and now we finally get to breathe out. This time of rest allows us time to heal from the struggles we have faced through life. As we quiet ourselves, we can become deeply calm, right to the center of ourselves. Through this deep mental calmness, we can reflect upon the meaning of our life experiences, which is the key to transforming the suffering of youth into the wisdom of age.
Solitude Deepens Our Connection to Nature
Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” I believe this is very true, and you don’t have to be a physicist to do so. In fact, you are better of just going there to be there, not to study it or to learn all the names of the plants and animals. Instead, go out into nature, quiet your mind, and just experience it. Simply being in nature will expand your understanding of life, especially if you can find time to be alone in nature. As an elder, you already have a deep knowledge of life that comes through everyday experience. Time in nature can accentuate this understanding because it represents the universe in a raw and unadulterated way. Our human society cannot escape the universal truths of life, but we do a lot to shelter ourselves and to distract ourselves from these truths. Going out into nature puts you right into the midst of life, with the birds, trees, insects, and flowers all playing out their drama of yin and yang.
Solitude Empowers Us Grow Beyond Who We Are Today
As I see it, solitude is the foundation of a healthy, happy elder’s life. Of course, there should be much more than just solitude; relationships with others are critical, too. Life cannot ever be an entirely solitary affair; we are all connected, always. But it is important to take time to listen to ourselves and to our inner voice, away from the distracting, noisy elements of life. I encourage you to deliberately seek out time for quiet contemplation, perhaps in nature or in some other place that is sacred for you. Solitude is a way of staying at the quiet center of this storm we call life, a way to grow beyond the limitations of who we are today and toward who we can become tomorrow. Through solitude, we can know ourselves better, and we can see the wider meaning and context of our lives, which is the foundation of true wisdom and fulfillment as a human being.