Dear Donagh, I'm sure there's no answer to the problem of ageing, but one's attitude to it makes a difference I'm sure…. I'm looking back at 65, so it's becoming a very actual question for me. Could you give a few perspectives on it please? I find your web site very helpful. Miriam
Dear Miriam, You're right, there's no answer to the problem of ageing - except what Maurice Chevalier called "the alternative." From childhood to old age we never leave it alone. When we are young we want to be old and when we are old we want to be young. Time seems like a coat that doesn’t fit us properly. Not only does it not fit, but it seems to have no real shape of its own: our idea of age changes as we get older. Through the whole course of my life anyone who is about fifteen years older than me seems 'old', and anyone fifteen years younger seems a child.
What a mystery time is! When we want it to go fast it goes slowly and when we want it to go slowly it goes fast. I think it's the very wanting that makes it seem to do the opposite. Wanting always does that. Look at the verb 'to want': before it means 'to desire', it means 'to lack'. When I have a problem about the passage of time I have separated myself from time, as if it were something alien and apart. It appears to be over there somewhere while I am here. But time is oneself. (What do you give when you give an hour of your time to someone? You give an hour of yourself.) If so, then to be separated from time (wanting it to go quickly or slowly) is to be separated from oneself…. Yes, these thoughts make my head reel too!
Let's keep going, though! When yesterday was happening its name was not 'yesterday', its name was 'today'. When tomorrow comes, its name will not be 'tomorrow'; its name will be 'today'. Every day is today. I met an alcoholic who has never taken a drink since the day he saw a large sign in a pub, "Free drink here tomorrow!" It came to him not as a clever thought but as a blinding revelation: there is no tomorrow; there is no reality except the present. "'Tomorrow' must be the only word in the English language that has no meaning!" he said. Well no, there's also the meaningless word 'yesterday'. There never was a yesterday. No one ever lived though a yesterday. There is nothing to envy, we have lost nothing.
I've often thought that we use the image of 'stream' misleadingly when we think of time. We imagine time as a stream that passes by as we watch from the bank. This is the spectator's view. But we are not spectators of the stream of time; we are in the stream. Picture yourself in the stream, then. You are always at the source of the stream! You are always at the very place where the freshest water is rising just now from the source. There is nothing newer than now. Tomorrow hasn’t arisen, it's only a thought. And yesterday… yesterday is gone down the stream, away from you. Your childhood, in this use of the image, is the oldest part of your story! The newest part is just now. You were never younger than you are now! Don’t look back to childhood for your youth; it is here and now, where you are.
I have just now by chance discovered the following passage in Kahlil Gibran's Prophet:
"Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing.
Yet the timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream."
Meister Eckhart wrote, "Know then that my soul is as young as when she was created, in fact much younger! And I tell you, I should be ashamed if she were not younger tomorrow than today!" If you think thoughts like this, Miriam, you'll never get a day older! - except on the outside. And the outside, as we admit little by little, doesn’t matter very much.