The ‘aging badly’ category

On Longevity and Forest Bathing

April 11th, 2017

Forest bathing

Forest bathing in the Wasatch

Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.
― Yoko Ono

I am constantly feeling like I’m dying, mainly from sleep deprivation but also from the inability to get enough fresh air, exercise, and vegetables in my diet. 

I came across this awesome Ancestry.com article called “What did people eat in the 1800s?” and was fascinated by the details about the simplicity of life two centuries ago. My Yankee ancestors in New England were chowing down on locally grown, non-GMO corn and beans and cattle and dairy from nearby farms. Most of them (four out of five) lived right on the farm in the first place. But they were also dying at 39.

At 45, I’m already 6 years past my white lady life expectancy in the 1800s, and I obsess about the inevitability that I will get cancer as a result of my shoddy lifestyle and all the stress. Recently I had a dubious spot on my arm and I was convinced that this was it: the cancer. I am not really a hypochondriac as much as I am a big giant chicken. I was dreading the medical procedures to follow, starting with the fairly innocuous biopsy in the derm’s office that I’ve been feeling queasy about ever since—but more than anything I was freaked out about motherless daughters.

Forest bathing

Forest bathing in the winter

Thankfully, it was benign (just gross). Still, I was 43 when they were born, so if I manage to live to the average life expectancy of a woman in the U.S. these days—which is 82— that means they won’t even be 40 when I die.

Getting old is weird. The definition of young, I think, is a pervasive belief that there is still time to do anything, be anything, and most of all, become better than you are now. The entire self-help industry is based on this. But at some point, that higher attainment becomes an impossibility. Your eggs dry up, your skin sags, you are genuinely too old to be a ballerina or even a decent blogging sensation. Entire industries exist because of our refusal to admit the inevitability of aging — plastic surgery, Viagra, fertility doctors. Most women I know dye their hair at the first signs of a wiry gray renegade.

I aspire to age gracefully, like Helen Mirren or Susan Sarandon or Annette Benning. (Please don’t ruin it for me by telling me they just have really good plastic surgeons.) I’m letting my gray grow out and embracing all the storytelling wrinkles and scars and the belly that will not die. I’m scoring about 50% at this effort.

Forest bathing

Teaching the little ones to forest bathe while young

I’ve been reading with bitterness about this new trend in Japan called “forest bathing” where you basically just go for a chill walk in the woods. I used to do that nearly every day when I lived at the base of verdant Mt. Tam in California, without it being quite so precocious of an endeavor. Still, it was certainly something that infused my life with life. One day, when I manage to get more than a minute of sleep a night, and when some space opens up in my days, I will revive the daily constitutionals. 

For now, I’m basking in the humility that comes with aging.

 

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