I have a most excellent friend who lives near the bay in Rio. Once a day, like clockwork, the long shadow from a church steeple in Ipanema passes slowly over her house. It’s the sort of timepiece I like, regular and soft-edged, like the wake-up birds singing in the trees at dawn or the break and roll, break and roll, of the ocean waves that coax my breathing to let go of the load it’s been carrying. Because there is so much external pressure in the rapidly increasing swirl of daily events, my internal mechanisms constantly need these reminders that there is indeed a gentle, relaxed rhythm that I can sway back into.
As my grown children, eyes forward, embark on their own lives, I find myself looking more closely at the aging processes that effect me. Indeed, I see there is a natural aging process, where all form – sycamore and sparrow, my grandfather and my father, mountains and suns – conforming to veiled and enigmatic mandates, dance only briefly with the stuff of existence, first becoming, then forming and growing, followed all too soon by a diminishing ebb and finally, transformation. Me – or better – what I think is me, ceases to be. The wise ones among us have said that this process is a holy mystery, an ideal opportunity infused throughout with hidden love and guidance.
I can surely see that there are other aging influences that aren’t natural; they aren’t normal and are behind what might be called premature aging. War, violence, injustice and other such peculiarities of this planet are undeniably unnatural, and all these aberrant forces age me in some obscure way. And, of course, there are the daily stresses and anxieties pummeling down on everybody’s head like a hard rain. What’s my responsibility in all of this? How do I handle the story of my life? My form body, the cells constantly re-organizing themselves into this thing I recognize in the mirror, flows effortlessly down this river of life and death as natural as laughter and thunderstorms. But there’s another part of me (my unseen body, if you will) that struggles uselessly – in other words, my reactions, my attitudes, my opinions, my postures towards life. I’m finding that these are the real culprits behind premature aging. If I’m brutally honest, I can only conclude that I am responsible for a certain amount of my unnatural aging . . . . I age myself.
It was in Rio, looking down a side street in Copacabana, that I got my first big shock regarding unnatural aging. All I did was look down the street. An indelible snapshot sketched itself on my nerves; the tempo, the rhythm, the sensual beat of people walking, shopping, talking, eating. Here was visceral proof that the pace of American life – my life – is relentless and furious. I mean these people, all of them, were moving through their day at about half our speed. My friend was patient with me, she had seen this before with Americans, she knew it would take several days for this unmindful velocity to drain out my feet.
Later, back home in California, I approached my Capoeira mestre with my current worries. I had studied this Brazilian martial art for many years and was at the time feeling low and dejected. Mestre, a decade older than me, is kind but resolute, a fighter raised in the raw back alleys of Bahia, tempered by the healing music and rhythm of Capoeira. A master musician, his heart is as big as his country. “I’m old and slow,” I moaned, “these young people are leaping over my head like fleas! I don’t know if I can continue my study.” Mestre chuckled and put his bear arm around my shoulders. “Let’s take a walk,” he said. He said there was a secret and that it was simple. “Young people are strong and quick, so us old ones must be sneaky!” His face was one big contagious grin as he said this.
Given all this background, Grateful Body has advice for natural and unnatural aging. For the former: use our products. For the second one, for unnatural aging, here is our counsel:
– If you have dry skin, you must sing. You can start in the bathroom but eventually must graduate to other rooms of the house. Dancing in the rain is a plus, so is writing poetry with your eyes closed. Every now and then, make a mess, then go outside and giggle.
– If you have oily skin, pretend that birds are calling specifically to you. Answer them. Reach your arms to the sky and spin around 3 times before doing the dishes. If there are dust bunnies under your bed, count them carefully, then make yourself some tea. Make wishes. Keep flowers in your bedroom.
– If you have sensitive skin, skipping is excellent, so is telling a good joke. Throw things indiscriminately out the window – you can retrieve them later. In the morning, alone in your bedroom, close the door and dance in your underwear, OMG, Ginger Rodgers!! Wave merrily to the neighbor you’ve been avoiding. And, every other Tuesday, wear mismatched clothes.
– For all skin types, give a few of your neighborhood trees names (you can use your favorite Beatles songs as a guide). When the wind blows, realize that it is trying to play with you. Have a room where spiders are allowed. Take baths with candles. Keep a certain type of smile on your face so that people think that you’re up to something. And finally, look in the mirror, take a pinch full of your cheek, and say, “Thank you, old friend!”