Half a dollar. Rapper. Half a hundred. Shades of gray.
Number of states in the United States. Natural number following 49 and preceding 51.
Nearly my age.
I’m moving toward the great celebration of being in this body for fifty—count ‘em, fifty—years. We humans like to assign meaning to things; and while I find myself fighting against that impulse, well, apparently I’m still human… so here I go.
What meaning do I want to assign to this moment, to this “marker”? I could endow it with wisdom, according to some assumption that with time comes a form of knowledge beyond intellect, something that fills me with grace from the inside out. I could brood on aging and the loss of relevance in an age and culture that deifies youth and beauty. I could list the things I’m capable of doing at nearly-50 that I couldn’t do at 20 or, conversely, the things my body could do at 20 that it simply doesn’t want to do now.
But then, all of those reflections seem so… human-centered.
So instead, today, I look to the natural world for examples of time passing without the superimposition of judgements, calculations, meaning. Just a quiet letting-be. This apparently absolute acceptance of the process of life and its journey from birth to death is what inspires me.
It rarely seems, for instance, that animals express any need to be somewhere other than where they are. And this is precisely what yoga speaks of so often in the teachings: honing our awareness of the present moment, our capacity to be RIGHT HERE—even when “right here” is uncomfortable, or tedious, or painful. The teachings suggest that our resistance to what IS is the source of our suffering (dukkha), and advocate for a relationship with the present akin to the one I see in the natural world.
And here’s the thing: In those moments when I can find myself fully in the present, paying attention to nothing but my breath, to the sounds emerging and fading, to the way my hands move over objects or my feet move over the ground, time slips away. “Fifty” means nothing to the present moment. Age means nothing, nor does accumulated wisdom, nor does any idea of how my changing body “measures up”… because in the present moment, there IS no “changing” body. There is only a body that is.
Certainly, I don’t look the same as I looked at 40, at 30—at each of those other decades we like to mark. The person who stares back at me in the mirror today has a different shape, a different tone, different skin. Science offers words like “degeneration” to explain what’s happening. And yet, each time I look in the mirror, the eyes I look into have seen more, the body I look at has wrapped more whole-heartedly around my children and loved ones. The hands I see have embraced, grasped, rescued, caressed, pushed, pulled, and let go… and they’ve done all those things since the last time I looked in the mirror.
Degeneration? Maybe. But my experience is one of accumulation.
Now, when you take the mirror out of the equation, oh, it’s just me. Visual markers of time are less evident to my eye; and I simply awaken to another day in this body. And here I am, experiencing the next present moment—and then the next—greeting each breath as a gift, as a chance to live more deeply, more fully, in this experience of embodiment.
I witnessed my father leave his body at the age of 45, and there was something bittersweet in “out-aging” him when I turned 46. I witnessed my step-father leave his body at the age of 50; now, here I am, approaching that number. It feels nonsensical.
I am human. The comparisons are there; the numbers sometimes seem to matter so much. So, is time relevant? My experience is: Yes. Does age matter? Well, maybe not to the present moment. And so I move, between time and timelessness; sometimes 49, sometimes ageless.
This is the sweet experience of being in this body, in this practice.
So what will I do to mark this time—to honor the road I’ve walked, crawled, danced, run, biked, surfed, practiced on? Bells and whistles? Some big party? Curl in and go quiet? What I’m choosing to do on my birthday is to teach yoga. To offer the teachings as I best understand them, to continue to breathe alongside those of you who want to be as awake as possible on this life journey—whatever age you happen to be.
You’ll find me doing what I do on each and every birthday: showing up to teach and be a student of this life.
Of course, then I’ll run off to an island in Europe and dance with my children and friends, then head up into the sky of the Himalayas and invite perspective—again—on age, time, and impermanence. I’ll remember the earth as a regenerative power that gives me everything I need to live, and consider what more I can do to protect her grace. And between all this, you’ll find me on my meditation cushion, sitting, going quiet, listening and then placing my forehead to the floor in wonder at it all.
How do you honor and mark time, age, experiences?