Staying Young

I’m staying young at heart, of mind, and body. No facelift or dyed hair for me. Instead there is an image in my mind of an 82-year-old woman riding a horse.

From Palm Beach to Miami the ‘snow birds’ come each year to escape the cold winters of the north. Most of these ‘snow birds’ are retired elderly people who arrive en masse to fill holiday resorts and restaurants. The memory that stays within my mind – even after twenty years – is seeing their struggle to get out of cars to shuffle stiffly along the sidewalk to a restaurant.

Watching them each day made me think a lot about what we do to our bodies. I was working at a health ranch at the time and my back was mending too slowly after a car accident. Months of chiropractic treatment hadn’t helped much and I became aware that I was holding onto some long-standing emotions that were not allowing my back to heal.

So the following year, while the snow birds flew south, I drove north to spend several solitary months in New Hampshire’s snowy winter, where I began to get in touch with those long held-in emotions. During this time of solitude I read Dan Millman’s Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior, in which he stated:

“I now understand that the physical symptoms I had experienced back home – the infections, the aches and pains – had been my Basic Self, crying for attention like a young child; it wanted me to express all the feelings inside. Suddenly I understood the aphorism ‘The organs weep the tears the eyes refuse to shed.’ And something Wilhelm Reich had once said came into my mind: Unexpressed emotion is stored in the muscles of the body.”

It was a long and often agonising process trying to discover the source of my pain, but my efforts paid off, for after a few months I awoke one morning with no pain. It was startling, akin to a constant noise ringing in my ears for years, then silence.

Since then, each time my back muscles ache in pain without any obvious cause, it has become my habit to ask what other emotions I am storing there. By working on healing my mind, combined with exercise and meditation, I release the pain that can sometimes be disabling, leaving me feeling like one of the many people I saw in Florida hobbling along the street, or stooped over as if the whole world was sitting on their shoulders. And I think, “It need not be like this.”

When you consider that radioactive isotope studies show that we replace 98 per cent of all the atoms in our body in less than one year, that we make a new liver every six weeks, a new skeleton once every three months and so on, you may well ask, “Why does the body age and become diseased?”

My answer to that question would be a combination of all the accumulated and unprocessed emotional baggage we carry, constant worry and negative thinking, lack of regular exercise, too little sleep, being unable to contain stress within non-toxic levels, and eating food that clogs our system instead of food that keeps it healthy and running in peak condition.

It is easy to take something to numb the pain, or to have an operation to remove an offending organ that is filled with disease. Yet, when the mind refuses to look at the painful and sometimes traumatic memories hidden within us and come to peace with them, we are robbed of both energy and peace. It can create dis-ease or a stiff and crippled body as the years go by. Even our mind can develop a rigid or unbending attitude that further works against optimum health.

Yes, it can be difficult to get in touch with and resolve painful emotions, but I learned that the flip side of the coin that says ‘pain’ is ‘joy’. I discovered that the deeper I went inside myself to address the pain, the more joy I was able to feel on a daily basis. Another ‘reward’ for all this hard work was that I also began to experience an inner peace that had eluded me all my life.

Beth riding Jackson over the poles. At seventy, Beth rides twice a week.

Now as age leaves its more visible signs in the form of greying hair and a few wrinkles, I want to create an image in my mind of myself as supple and healthy – without the expense of a facelift. I remember how, as an avid horsewoman in my 20s and 30s, I decided that I wanted to be able to ride forever after being inspired by an 82-year-old woman competing in the equestrian events at the Olympic Games. What better way, I think, of replacing the ‘snow bird’ image than with a woman riding a horse at eighty.

And now I have other people who inspire me to hang onto this dream to stay young and fit in mind, body, and soul. New Zealand’s Mark Todd is one, who at 56, rode to win bronze in the equestrian eventing team event at the London Olympics just weeks ago, and is seriously considering competing in the next Olympics, when he will be sixty.

My friend, Beth, is another inspiration. She turned seventy this year and celebrated her birthday riding a horse. She rides twice a week and I have witnessed first hand how it keeps her young at heart and her body supple. In turn Beth has inspired others, for when the story about how she went riding on her seventieth birthday was published in a newspaper, a woman of seventy-three decided to begin riding again. “If she can do it, so can I,” she said, and she now rides each week with Beth.

What image of yourself could you superimpose upon the ‘snow bird’ image I described?

I have a way to go before I get to eighty, but here I am at 63 riding Sophie, an ex-racehorse.
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