I’ve been experiencing fear over becoming 60 and it’s making it challenging to embrace this new decade of my life. I get fulfillment in my life from my accomplishments, relationships, and mentoring work but there’s still a part of me that’s afraid.
Afraid to say “becoming 60”. Because 60 is OLD! Me turning 60 is old. Yet when I think of other people being 60 it doesn’t seem old at all. Clearly my discomfort is a sign that something is getting in my way. How do my thoughts and stereotypes about becoming 60 contribute to my negative feelings/perceptions about my own aging? How would challenging those thoughts impact my perceptions? choices? opportunities?
The irony hiding in this fear is that as I get older, I keep taking on bigger and tougher challenges that I would never have imagined tackling in my younger years.
And these are just athletics pursuits. I’ve built stronger relationships, a deeper definition of self, and a more satisfying professional life. I see the evidence that I keep getting better, that I keep finding more! My times are improving. My courage is growing. Though my actions defy aging and its stereotypes, my thoughts get caught in the aging mindset. Being sick this winter left me feeling frail. Were my days of finding more-in-me over?
As the years have passed and my endurance sport experience grown, my approach to life has been, what’s next? What else? A belief that I’m infallible. Unstoppable. Through learning, practice and a community of like-minded people, I can tackle any athletic challenge I choose. I can tackle any life challenge whether I choose it or not.
Then boom. Torn retina. Pneumonia. Both lungs. Sick again. Skin cancer. All in the six months prior to turning 59. Are my days of finding more in me a thing of the past? Pneumonia took hold of me in unfamiliar ways. It was the boss of my recovery, not me. I’m used to recovering quickly from endurance events. I’m as conscientious about recovery as I am about training. Feeling helpless in speeding up my recovery from pneumonia was new and scary. The pain in my lungs just wouldn’t seem to go away. I had to be careful running because I could feel the exertion in my breathing. My middle grew thicker and my mood grew heavier. Moving is my mantra and I could do very little of it. Or so I thought.
I turned to my yoga practice to help with strengthening and healing my lungs through breath work and chest opening postures. Attending Amy Weintraub’s LifeForce Yoga for Mood program at the Kripalu Yoga Centre reminded me that yoga is so much more than physical movement and how much intentional breath work combined with mudra (hand gestures), mantra (sound) and visualization influence our well being. Having completed Amy’s training a number of years ago, this refresher was literally a breath of fresh air! I could indeed move — my breath, my voice, my hands and ultimately my thoughts. The intentional movement inherent in yoga brings an internal stillness that allows for a deeper awareness of subtle shifts, like the subtle lessening of the pain in my lung from a knot to a niggle. Discomfort became my teacher.
A few weeks later I went to the Wilder Running and Writing Retreat in Oregon. A spacious nurturing opportunity to explore discomfort further. I was nervous because I was with 36 other women and didn’t know how well I could keep up. For our Sunday long run, we had a choice of a 5, 10 or 14 mile run. I wanted to do the 14 miles. But… what if I was too slow? Or not able to go the distance? Frailty was chirping in my ear. Yet the present moment awareness during the retreat and lots of writing to process my thoughts allowed me to hear the other voice wanting to be heard. “You won’t know if you don’t try. You have options. Be present. Run your pace. It’s not a race. You’re used to discomfort and the unknown. You have the opportunity to run 14 miles on the trails on Mount Washington. How great is that?!” Being present teaches us to trust our inner wisdom and regular movement teaches us to trust what our bodies can do.
I opted for courage and I had the best day!! I was the last to finish but I didn’t care. I stopped to take pictures along the way. I focused on being in the moment, drawing energy from the gushing river and singing with the birds. Pausing to practice bellows breath for lung capacity and chanting ‘so ham’ to help keep me present. It really was a best day. Not only was the experience terrific, I also found my mojo again. I felt ready to take on anything, mentally, emotionally and physically. I found me again! And more in me!! My energy bubbled and the niggle of pain in my lung had evaporated. My thoughts about what was possible shifted.
Ellen Langer says our potential is unknown and unknowable. If we keep trying new things, and being open to possibility, we can tap into our endless reserve of potential. I’ve come to believe that discomfort is our cue for accessing this potential. Discomfort is opportunity knocking. Stepping into the discomfort is how we extend and move our boundaries to find more in us. Because there’s always more. Sometimes the body leads the mind and other times the mind leads the body. Our breath connects our mind and body helping us navigate the discomfort of the unknown.
Never stop being willing to step into discomfort and explore it. We are the creators of our thoughts and our thoughts affect our energy, our mood and belief in what’s possible for ourselves. Choosing our attitude makes all the difference. Discomfort, fear, frailty — let these be your cues for which direction to take your first or next step. Because that step —regardless of how tiny— moves the imagined boundary you’ve set for yourself and opens up possibility.
Every little step opens up exponentially greater possibility.
I’ve decided to make this year of becoming 60 a year of adventure, challenge and learning. A year of transition that I will remember fondly. Willingly stepping into discomfort, fear and frailty to discover more of my potential. Because my potential is unknown and unknowable. So is yours. You have more in you and so do I! Let’s have fun moving together to find more!
Where can you step into discomfort in your life? Develop your discomfort capacity? What are you willing to explore to develop your unknown potential and find more in you?