I turned 64 yesterday. My mother, a vibrant 83 years young, sent me a birthday card that read: “no matter what, don’t act your age.” She reminded me to follow that advice during our phone conversation later that day. What is acting your age? Is it true we get better as we age? If I didn’t know how old I was, how old would I be?
I hope I grow old like my horse, Nautic. He is a gorgeous, grey Dutch Warmblood, sleek, muscular and elegant. He lives in bliss, running around a huge pasture with several mares chasing after him. No one believes that Nautic is 25 years old; that’s about 75 in human years. Only when you look at his teeth can you tell his chronological age. Nautic doesn’t know how old he is. His brain doesn’t work that way. His life is an expression of how he feels. If he had suffered neglect, been abusively trained or had poor nutrition he’d look and behave differently. He appears to be timeless, enduring the years with grace, flexibility and vibrancy.
Our chronological age tells the world how long we have been on Earth. Our energy, how we express who we are in body, mind and spirit shows how we have been experiencing life. People who consciously care for their minds, bodies and spirits develop a timeless affect as they grow older. Conversely, neglecting the daily condition of our mind, bodies and spirits results in a withered soul-friends, relatives and clients with an exhausted and disappointed-with-life expression on their face. They move like they’ve been carrying a heavy burden for way too long. Somewhere along life’s path, they got trapped in a past trauma, old limiting beliefs or shame: lovely beings whose authentic selves are buried under layers of “I’m not enough,”“I don’t get enough love,” “the world is a dangerous place.” They look and act much older than their chronological years.
I’m not sure how 64 year olds are supposed to behave. At the very least, I expect to have developed a high enough level of emotional and spiritual balance and wisdom that keeps me from repeating the same mistakes. I want my friends and the world to experience me as a timeless, loving woman. Yet, sometimes, under stress, I react to problems with the same defensive anger I had when I was eight years old. My spiritual balance and wisdom get hijacked. I’m out of ideas and insist things go my way. No longer in the flow of being timeless, I feel crotchety and old. My soul begins to shrink. How can my 64 year old self get my inner eight year old to step back and let the wiser, adult Me come forward? How can I move through the world with an open, loving heart? How do I quickly self-correct? I found some of the answers to these questions reading Deepak Chopra’s concept of the three levels of awareness: Constricted, Expanded and Pure Awareness.
In a nutshell: Constricted awareness is the authentic self being blocked by unresolved anger, sadness, anxious thoughts and behavior, depression, defensiveness, raging and all of the other negative emotions. Your emotional and spiritual flow stops. These emotions are experienced in our bodies as physically and emotionally constricting, blocked, congested, feeling heavy and hard to breathe. We feel sadness in a different part of our body than anger or fear. For me, when I feel old shame or fearful thoughts my inner eight year old surfaces. I feel her in the center of my chest: hard, heavy and squeezing the air out of me. She’s mad, secretive, harsh, critical, judgmental, holding back emotion and affection, very slow to trust and expecting disappointment. There is no problem solving happening, just fearful defensive thoughts. In this constricted state, my authentic self pulls into its shell, like a tortoise pulling its head and appendages into its protective armor. The spiritual flow of authenticity is shut off.
Expanded awareness is the collection of positive emotions: happiness, gratitude, joy, love, compassion, understanding, empathy. These emotions lead us to creative solutions, open us up (expand) to find answers, listen to our intuition, knowing what to do in the moment. Your body feels, moves and looks lighter. Your spirit expands as you take deep breaths and releases negative tension as you exhale. It’s who I am after meditation and prayer, when I’m with my grandson or resting in my husband’s arms. Fear is gone. You face life with calm courage; the Bible calls it,“Greeting trails as friends.” Your soul is restored, energized and full. You reach out to the world. I am timeless spiritual energy.
Pure awareness is being in a state of love, bliss, open, and vulnerable. My grandson is the epitome of Pure awareness. At two and half he greets every day with joyful anticipation, arms wide open, knowing he is fully loved and protected from harm. He hasn’t, yet, been socialized to worry about what other’s think, or whether he is good enough or lovable. Everyday, his focus is to play and receive all of the love and gifts coming his way. I have had moments in a state of pure awareness; when I was praying and experienced total healing from chronic pain; when I fell in love with my husband, Frank, and during a conversation I had with my Dad two days before he died. I am reminded all the time that this state is only achieved when I am utterly vulnerable, childlike. I become timeless.
I move between the three awareness levels all day long. When I get hijacked or stuck in Constricted Awareness, I self correct by feeling the negative emotions that surface and let them lead me to my expanded self. Being able to quickly redirect my inner third grader happens when I acknowledge the old pain. Being angry and lashing out is how I survived my childhood social environment. It kept overly demanding adults away. Defensive, negative energy helped me get through some very rough scary times. Now, 56 years later, those defenses aren’t working for me. Using childish defenses blocks my ability to receive love from others, prevents me from finding creative solutions because I keep seeing “problems” as attacks on my soul. I want to grow up and stop suppressing and ignoring my negative feelings. I want to move from constricted awareness and expand my emotional life, breathe, love and open the door to the power of my spiritual energy.
Spiritual flow of energy teaches that my anger is signaling me to set a boundary or repair some past wound in my emotional life. My sadness tells me a memory or old pain needs to be released. Negative emotions are not bad things. They are important teachers. But, holding on to them, letting them dominate my life, shuts off the message they are trying to give me. I can feel my negative emotions because as an adult, I can handle them. Sometimes my emotions are overwhelming; I sob, scream, rant, collapse and surrender. I allow both my old, suppressed grief and recent pain surface. I have no control over what comes up. My tears release the emotional pain and cleanse my soul. Unblocking my feelings, allowing them to be expressed moves me into expanded awareness. I take a deep breath, exhale, feel lighter, freer and start to live again.
Pure awareness is reserved for animals, children under three years old and adults. Only adults have the experience and courage necessary to do the emotional work required to repair the damage suffered from the negative socialization that began in preschool. I crave Pure awareness. It is bliss. The more trusting and vulnerable I become, the easier it is for my inner eight year old to settle down; no longer needing to jump up and slay the emotional demons that only grown ups can handle. She can rest, her vulnerability is protected. Her grown up has summoned the power of her spiritual energy and is in charge now, acting her age. I can rest in the freedom of knowing I’m lovable, worthy and enough. Like Nautic, free to run and play in the world as the authentic, loving being I am becoming.
“In pure awareness the universe is your playground.” Deepak Chopra