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  • teresamckee

How Old is Old Enough?

dna, double helix

I was reading an article this morning that really caused me to pause and reflect. It was on anti-aging research, but way beyond just slowing down the process. It went all the way to living to be 1,000 years old and even the possibility of achieving immortality. Science is making huge strides in identifying key components of aging through gene research, and investors, including the founders of Google who established a biotech company called Calico, and Unity Biotechnology, which Jeff Bezos invested millions in, are working to slow down or even reverse the aging process. That’s not what got me thinking about mindlessness, however. It was that a couple of hundred people have already paid to preserve their bodies (at $200,000) or just their decapitated heads (for only $80,000) in liquid nitrogen at a Scottsdale, Arizona facility, hoping that when scientists figure out how to stop aging, they can be reanimated. That’s about as mindless as you can get, literally, since you kind of need a head in order to be mindful!

How do you feel about aging? I know a lot of people who do not like getting older. They don’t like what happens to their bodies, they don’t like feeling old and they don’t like how society begins to treat them. I’ve never had an issue with getting older, but a lot of that is because I think it’s better than the alternative, which of course is being dead. At least that’s the alternative right now.

I am not immune to turning to anti-aging solutions, such as moisturizers and serums, supplements, and paying more attention to my body’s needs. The beauty industry alone makes billions off of us trying to stave off wrinkles and other side-effects of aging. Cosmetic surgery is a booming industry. Vitamin and supplement sales are the highest they’ve ever been. Hip and knee replacement surgeries are huge profit centers for clinics and hospitals.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, unless the motivation is external. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, but simply as an important component of our self-esteem. If we don’t feel good about ourselves, we can’t find joy in life. So if you look in the mirror and you think your reflection is a mismatch to how you feel, I think it’s healthy to make changes to align the two. It could be as simple as a change in diet or more exercise, or it could be a little nip and tuck, here and there. But, if you look in the mirror and your concern is what other people think, that’s where we go off the rails a little.

I have lots of wrinkles and I know why. A) I’m getting older. B) I spent the first 40 years of my life worshipping the sun. And C) I laughed, a lot. Most of my wrinkles reflect all of that laughter. Crows feet. Laugh lines on the sides of my mouth. But some of my wrinkles reflect my stress and sorrows, like the wrinkle across the top of my nose and the lines in my forehead. Someone suggested I try Botox a few years ago. The thought of having a paralyzing poison injected into my face does not appeal to me, nor does the idea of losing my facial expressions. But I know many people who look years younger than they are and if it makes them feel good about themselves, that’s their prerogative.

So, yes, I have wrinkles. But my face to me is a reflection of my life’s history. I wouldn’t trade the experiences that created those wrinkles or the wisdom I’ve worked hard to achieve. I also never wish I was younger. I was pretty ignorant for a long time. I don’t want to go back to that! I presume that looking in the mirror doesn’t bother me too much because I am grateful for my life and it’s reflected in my face.

That’s how I feel now. My outward appearance and my inward feelings about myself are aligned. But maybe they’ll get out of alignment in another 10 or 20 years. So I never say never. I don’t judge people for seeking procedures in an attempt to look younger. I am concerned, however, for people who do it that are only focused on outward appearances. While celebrities give us the best examples of this, and they frequently have a legitimate reason to look 20 years younger than they are due to ageism in the industry, there are a few clear examples of going too far. I won’t name names. I’m sure you can think of a famous person who looks like they’re straight out of the wax museum.

But lots of non-famous people do this, too. They need other people to admire them, compliment them, even envy them as a way to boost their self-esteem. And that just doesn’t work. Which is why I assume some people keep returning to the surgeon’s office for more and more youth-enhancing procedures. There have been cases where even doctors have refused to do more surgery and have been sued for denying the patient their services!

Self-esteem is an inside job. Good health is an inside job. Perhaps before we have anything artificially altered, we could pause just long enough to reflect on why we feel we need a procedure at this point in time. Are we striving to align our outsides with our insides? Perhaps we had a previous health issue that we’ve corrected, but remnants of that health issue still show on the outside, so we want to look as healthy as we feel. Some medications alter our appearance, so maybe again, we’re just trying to look how we feel and reverse those side effects. But if the sole reason for modifying our bodies is to look young because we need other people to see us as young, the results of those procedures will be short-lived. Just as with anything we think will bring us happiness from the outside, a new car or a bigger house, the happiness is fleeting.

Which brings us back to reversing the aging process. I confess that some of the places technology is taking us scares me a little. Artificial Intelligence is one such area, and age-reversal is another. Technology is now merging those two areas. It’s not that I don’t think these technological marvels aren’t interesting and amazing. It’s the human factor that causes me the concern.

Progress is not good or bad. Progress simply means to move forward. And I frequently see mindfulness lacking in progress, as the goal is to just keep moving, not move in a mindful fashion. How far is too far?

The aging issue is enormous. There are over 75,000,000 baby boomers alive right now that are or will become elderly in the near future (depending on your definition of elderly). The health costs related to the elderly are staggering. Retirement has become a challenge on both the economic side of the equation, as well as the purpose-of-living side. We’re living longer, but what to do with that time? There’s already a problem in the workforce because fewer baby boomers are retiring, preventing younger people from being able to get jobs or move up in companies.

The quality of life for so many elderly people is not enjoyable and so if scientists can find a way for us to live into our older years healthier, and more comfortably and productively, I think that’s great. But to push the envelope to say that there’s no reason for any of us to die, well, that’s a little disturbing to me on multiple fronts.

If we can live to be 1,000 years old and in good health, no less, what do we do for a thousand years? If scientists eliminate dying, what do we do for eternity?! When I read this article claiming no one needs to ever die, my first thought was actually the planet. We’re already running into resource problems to support so many people. If no one ever dies, where do we put everyone? One of the scientists working on this issue claimed that we would change based on our longevity, including having fewer children to compensate for having so many living adults.

For many people, having children is the most meaningful event of their lives, so it’s hard to wrap my head around a world where that doesn’t happen. I think that’s my challenge with this whole immortality notion. We can get through the struggles and hardships of life because we find meaning or purpose in what we’re doing. We’re motivated to get up in the morning and face a new day because we know our time here is relatively short. Time may be a human construct, but it’s the thing that helps motivate us to do anything. Think of how many times you procrastinate about something. What if you had forever to do that thing? Would you feel motivated to do it now, or would you think it doesn’t matter? If you have forever do get something done, why push yourself now?

If we lose meaning and purpose to our lives, what’s the point of living 1,000 years or more? The shear boredom I imagine after a couple of hundred years of being on this planet is somewhat overwhelming. While time may not be real, there is a cycle to life. It runs in phases and seasons. And every other natural thing on the planet eventually dies.

Darwin said that life is the struggle for existence. Human surpass that by pushing themselves to find joy and love, by trying to solve the world’s problems, by finding meaning and purpose. And I think for most, by having faith that there is something more than just being born, struggling for existence, and then dying. Maybe that’s where the dividing line occurs. Many scientists do not believe there is anything after this life. If I believed that, maybe I would have a bigger fear of death and want to live forever. I don’t know how that would feel, but I’m grateful that’s not what I believe.

It is currently estimated that the first people to live to 150 or 200 years old are already on the planet. Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea, but as technology continues to advance, I’m excited by the prospect of living a healthier, comfortable life in my old age versus the suffering my grandparents went through. Beyond that, I have to wonder though, about progress for the sake of progress. Progress without mindfulness eliminates the human factors of motivation, purpose and meaning. Maybe it’s that old adage: just because we can do something, should we?

old woman taking a selfie

I’ll continue using my creams and serums and supplements. I’ll gratefully accept a hip replacement if I ever need one. But I’m pretty okay with the natural order of things and look forward to whatever comes next once this body is finished here. And I accept that I must be getting older since I’m having trouble adapting to new technology, at least on this topic. How about you? Would you want to live forever?

~ Teresa

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