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Aging: Flow Like Water

I watched plenty of people fight the laws of nature like water going uphill. Meanwhile, others resigned themselves to decline and slowly wasted away. And then there were the handful of wise sages who flowed like water. They did not resist or submit but instead charted a new course. These were the ones who inspired me.

When I hit my mid-fifties, I became acutely aware of guys who challenged the flow. I first noticed them in the gym. They had something to prove as they grabbed the heaviest weights and fought through pain. I lost count of the torn biceps, strained shoulders, popped tendons, and wrist strains I witnessed as guys took on Father Time in front of the weight bench and mirror. Invariably, they may have won a few battles, but always lost the war.

Their debilitating injuries were just the visible manifestations of their struggle. Something far more sinister rattled below the surface as their sense of well-being was upended.

From what I observed, being at odds with nature was a surefire path to physical and emotional pain. But thanks to football, this route was avoidable. I had twenty-five years of listening and learning from my body to prevent career-ending injuries and I discovered that these well-honed instincts did not turn off in retirement. The ‘don’t be stupid’ alarm bell was alive and well and saved me plenty of pain.

Another group gave up altogether as they detached from the natural flow. With youth a distant memory, they offered the old ‘screw off’ to life. The physical signs of these journeymen were the easiest to spot. Any self-care was a lost art and physical fitness was off the radar. Feeling crappy was the new normal as they slowly faded away. It was an unfortunate way to live out the last part of life and yet, far too common. After my divorce, I fell into this resigned state. I hated how my energy waned and my waistline expanded as I got a little too comfortable with my daily patterns and my desserts. Fortunately, I self-corrected before it got too out of hand, but it was a good reminder to stay vigilant.

Then there were those who flowed like water. They bowed to the wisdom of Bruce Lee when he said, “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.” Now these devotees, from what I observed, had this aging thing figured out. They understood that the river would never flow backwards, so fighting it was useless. However, they were not resigned to a particular fate. They treated life like an endless set of possibilities, letting their water flow on its own course, adjusting, and evolving as they aged. When joints got stiff, they picked up yoga or traded in a few weightlifting days for stretching. They did not seem to be afraid of these adjustments, and so given my options, I worked to flow like water.


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