Searching For Self
I recently watched a mature woman being interviewed on a morning news program who had endured a terrible year with a divorce and a death in the family. It was truly very tragic for her. A year after all of the tragedy, she had felt that she had overcome her pain thanks to a face-lift and cosmetic dental work.
She seemed happy and said she felt more confident. Perhaps she was, but can altering the outside actually help her better handle these very serious life challenges?
Aging and appearance has become such a peculiar issue in our culture. With mass media's worship of the young, nubile and wrinkle-free, getting older has become almost a character flaw -- to be delayed and, for many, denied whenever possible.
It's hardly a surprise, then, that the popularity of plastic surgery and cosmetic techniques has soared both among the young and, more to the point, the old hoping to look young.
This troubles me, frankly, but not because I am against cosmetic fix-ups. I worry that all this attention to the outside prevents us as people, from looking at what is happening internally. Masking the symptoms, ingrains the cause for all of us.
I took these concerns to life coach Lauren Zander, of The Handel Group (www. handelgroup.com), for her insights. Lauren first pointed out that this focus on appearances reaches beyond cosmetic changes, "Many of us today are primarily focused on the outward appearance of our lives."
Rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses, we are trying to be the Joneses. We show off the "quality" of living that we have achieved through things; We point to our homes, clothes, cars, vacation choices, even the restaurants we patronize -- all kinds of external factors that make us feel like we are worthy.
Yes, attention to living a nice life is important and can be rewarding as well as fun... but when attention to physical or material measures takes priority over the emotional and spiritual aspects of life, it becomes dangerous -- it is now an attempt to draw meaning from things that are not intended to provide it. Things that cannot provide it, only confuse real meaning with an exterior presentation .
This brings us back to the potential problem with plastic surgery, says Lauren. She is completely in favor of cosmetic surgery if, she says, "it makes people feel better about a specific trait that they feel has held them back or gotten in their way of relaxing and being fully confident."
"But if the goal of surgery is to paint over feelings of not being good enough inside, the "solution" will be feeble and short lived; the emotional problems will soon rear their head again, because their real causes are being ignored in favor of the superficial."
Indeed, when we fixate on cosmetic changes -- or for that matter any external alteration or possession -- as "The Answer," we are courting trouble.
For example, a woman might decide she needs a facelift to make herself prettier so that her marriage will be better. She is now stuck in the idea that an external change is the answer, which prevents her from looking inside where she is likely to find a real (however scary) solution to her unhappy marriage.
The Beauty Of Aging
This perversion of focusing on a youthful appearance permeates the aging issue. Aging and all that it entails happens to everyone who lives, but some of us attempt to sneak away from the feelings and fears by fixating instead on the youthful looks the surgeon, hair dresser, new clothes, or sports car can give us.
"We focus on how great we look and this grants us, we think, permission not to experience the feelings about getting old," says Lauren. With our identity now centered on our external presentation, the question becomes, what are we missing in our internal relationship with ourselves? Are we afraid to be with ourselves? Do we not like what we see?
Are we afraid of what we see? In our determination to stay "young," are we throwing away the opportunity to grow and to develop a depth, meaning and purpose, so we can begin to truely accept ourselves, whatever our age? And yes, dying is a reality for all of us and we need to come to grips with it.
FINDING A WHOLE NEW MEANING OF SELF
Aging offers us the opportunity to find new and deeper meaning in ourselves and life. Without the familiar reassurance of looking as we did in youth, we are forced to decide whether to make ourselves miserable about our lined faces and sun-blotched hands, or to go deep within ourselves, to investigate and develop a real sense of self-worth and personal identification.
It is an opportunity to stop looking in the mirror and instead reflect on the accomplishments of our lives... the sense of self-who we are and what we've become... the people we've touched... and the big and small ways we have impacted the world around us.
No one else can decide that for another. Everyone must venture into the deeper feelings and inner happiness and the experience the meaning of being alive and yes, of getting old.
As a society, we have backed ourselves into a corner on this outward appearance of self-worth thing; we are hiding behind exteriors, to deny a little while longer, the reality of accumulating years or in the case of the woman on television, perhaps hiding behind her fears of being alone or of dealing with loss.
It is time for us as people, to come out into the open with inner self; fix the problems there and stop worrying so much about presenting an outward image, says Lauren.
Getting old is part of the cycle of life and can, indeed should, be a spiritual experience. Self-Aging is a rite of passage and the challenge before us as we grow old is to explore the personal meaning of that rite of passage -- to live it, to work on it and to fully experience it.
This motivational article sure made me go ouch, how about you? Not to worry, life is a process. We are farther along today than we were yesterday and we will be farther along tomorrow than we are today. You are in my prayers and I hope I am in yours...
Have a great day!