I’m celebrating my 51st birthday this week. The best thing about turning 51 is that I’m not fifty anymore. Turning fifty and being fifty sucked. For you forty-nine year-olds, you have been warned. For those turning fifty and dreading it or hating it, there’s hope.
Leading up to my turning fifty, I was pretty pumped. Then came my birthday and, for what seemed like the rest of my life, all I could think of was how much time I had left. It was like God set an oven timer and I couldn’t stop looking at it every few minutes to see if it was ready to go off. The glass changed from being half full to half empty. I found myself involuntarily thinking about how much sex, long runs and careers I had left.
Don’t ask me why, but fifty-one is different. I tell people, with some level of confidence and dignity, that “I’m in my early fifties.” I feel like I am less resistant to the realities of aging. I’m using my awareness of the impermanence of life as a way to enjoy my life more.
The Buddha taught that we are all on fire—that everything is constantly changing form and we are always dying many deaths to make way for something new. He said that concepts like beginnings or endings are illusions; there is only constant change. As I reflect on this wisdom and notice my attempts to control the inevitable process of change, I know I have work to do. Work to let go of regrets, resentments and illusions.
When I stop fighting with reality I’m free to appreciate what’s happening right now. It’s easy for me to get lost in the fear and sadness of my kids loosing their innocence and leaving home or me loosing my perfect vision or my parents getting old. My emotions are real and I welcome them but I don’t want to get so lost in emotion that I miss the opportunities I have right now to connect with those I love and do the things I love to do.
Ironically, the work I do every day to stay present makes me see the glass half full again or even to not see a glass at all (I know, I’m starting to sound pretty Zen – or maybe this kind of thinking kicks in when you hit your early fifties). Sitting quietly for 20 minutes every morning and letting go of my attachments and denial of change brings me present and stokes a fire inside of me.
This fire fills me with gratitude, empathy and a passion to serve. I get excited about new possibilities—not to build more towers but to enjoy my relationships and my passion for, among other things, writing, making music and playing golf.
How hot is your fire? What do you need to let go of in order to feed it?