If you chuckled or said “Oy” after reading the above, you are not alone! In the last few years, I have become very fond of uttering that oft heard phrase: “I’m listening to my body,” or telling everyone that I meet: “Listen to your body,” as if somehow, I have found a secret portal that allows me to speak directly to my flesh and bones…if only! And as we all know, “listening” is only 50% of the equation, the other half relegated to actually doing what your body is telling you to do and, perhaps even more importantly, not doing what your body is telling you not to do! Hands up if you have problems with that last one. Yeah, I thought so!
Perhaps a refresher on what all this means is in order. According to the “experts,” listening to your body “encourages an evaluation of what are bodies are holding and gives us clarity concerning what our bodies need.” Listening also encourages an “evaluation of what physically manifests from the emotional, mental, and physical experiences of our everyday lives. Now, all of these will differ for individuals depending on not only your age, but also a varying array of factors taking place outside your bodies, like the type of work you do, family, friends, activities, disposable income, etc., etc. What all of this really adds up to is an inner, reflective activity, a kind of personal indulgence to “get in touch with our bodies.” The first problem with all of this, at least as I see it, is that it takes a great deal of time and effort to do all of this, and when you are working, raising a family, and the many other necessities of your everyday lives then, as we all know, time is at a premium. The second problem is that when you retire and perhaps have the time for these reflexive activities to better understand what your body is telling you, it’s too late! The body that you could have, and most likely should have as you navigate your way through your “golden” years is, unfortunately, not the one you’re looking at in the mirror right now. Sorry, but this is yet another example of one of life’s cruel ironies.
There is a saying that has been around for quite some time, and it goes like this: “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” The phrase has been attributed to U.S. composer Eubie Blake, former baseball player Mickey Mantle, as well as many others. I have been known to use it myself on occasion! Of course, the key word here is “known,” which is exactly why life has often been compared to poker, as in: “Life is like a game of poker. You don’t get to choose the cards you are dealt, but it’s entirely up to you how to play the hand.” While there is a modicum of truth to this, there are times when things are not entirely in your control. The unalterable fact is that everyone ages, unless you have found some magic potion, in which case my number is…
Given all of the above, I thought it might help, perhaps not for us old farts, but those coming up the ranks, to frame the idea of “listening to one’s body” around the following five stages of life: 1. Youth; 2. Teens; 3. 20-30s; 4. 40-50s; 5. 60-70s. There is, of course a sixth stage, but since I am in the later part of stage five, I can only speculate about what’s coming next, and I would prefer not to do that!
Stage: 1 Newborn-Twelve
I highly doubt that in this stage your body is “whispering” to you, but if it is, it’s probably barely audible so you would not be aware of what it’s telling you, especially when you’re an infant and a toddler, and by the time you are a pre-teen, you are just beginning to realize that you might know everything there is to know, so why would you listen to your body?
Stage 2: Teens (13-19)
By the time you reach this age, the “whispering” is becoming a little louder, but you’re a teenager so you really don’t give a fuck! And by some miracle, if you were one of those teens that did listen to the whispering, then you’ll probably live to at least 100! What also needs to be considered at this stage, is that not only are you getting advice from within, but the external advice (which is most certainly ramped up from the previous stage), from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, teachers, and others, which can be overwhelming, so you navigate this endless stream of “do this,” “don’t do that,” as best you can. This does not bode well for listening to what your body is telling you at this point in your life. So, a typical response from a teen to that inner voice would go something like this: “Yah, I’ll get back to you. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Now, what was I doing? Oh right, let’s see if I can make this 100 foot jump onto that trampoline!
Stage 3: 20-30s
By the time you hit your late twenties, early thirties, you can certainly hear the voice quite clearly, and also what it’s saying to you, but by now you have mastered every way there is to simply ignore it and, what it is trying to tell you. Too bad, because this stage is really the optimum time to alter one’s “habits” in order to avoid the “screaming” that is just around the corner. Typically, you hear the voice, you think it might be telling you something important, then you think about it again and ponder whether you should be listening to it or not, and then say: “Nah, I’ll just smoke another joint.”
Stage 4: 40s to 50s
How many of you have heard that wonderful aphorism: “Life Begins at 40?” How many of you believed it? Yeah, me neither! The other, equally nebulous saying is: “It’s All Downhill From Here” and is usually uttered by people over 40 who have long since realized that life certainly DID NOT begin at 40, as the slow march towards stage five begins. By now, that voice is loud and clear, and believe me when I tell you the worst response to what your body’s voice is telling you is: “Yeah. I hear you what you’re saying, and I’ll deal with it at some other time!” WRONG! Now, I realize that some of you might think this is a little harsh painting everyone with the same brush, so in the interest of fairness, for some of you it may indeed be possible to ignore what you body is telling you at this stage of your life. And perhaps you are one of the few that actually listened to what your body was telling you in stage three, maybe even stage two, bravo! But for the remaining 99.9999% of us, welcome to the real world. The world where things that were once a “piece of cake” to do, now require summoning up every ounce of stamina you have left, just to think about doing those things. When you wake up in the morning, instead of leaping out of bed to get ready for that 6 AM Sunday run, (assuming of course that you ever did such a foolish thing!), it’s now 8 AM and all that is going through your head is: “Why do I feel the way I do? Well, I have news for you. You damn well know why you feel the way you do, and it is directly related to two things: 1. You did not listen to your body when you should have; and 2. Your body feels the way it does because of all the crazy shit you subjected it to in the previous stages. So, rather than moan and whine about, get out of bed and walk to get your latte and croissant!
Stage 5: 60s to 70s
Welcome to the “golden years.” I know you were hoping for platinum, but there is also silver and bronze, so let’s just take the gold and run…er, walk! By now that voice is at a decibel level over 500, and when you consider that in an apartment between 7PM and 10PM any noise that exceeds 50 decibels is considered a nuisance, what you are hearing is deafening! And while it may be too late to listen to what it is saying, mainly because it is not saying anything you haven’t already heard, it is most certainly not too late to lead a somewhat active lifestyle, just resist the urge to compare the same activities you did when you were 20, to the same ones you’re doing now at 70! For example, in my 20s I’d ski for 8 hours, and then party all night out on the dance floor, shaking my booty. At 70, I ski for three hours, go home and ice my body, have a late lunch/early dinner, and read for five minutes before falling asleep. Although I have acquiesced to the fact that I cannot ski like I did when I was 20, I have only dialed it back to around 35 because I am a firm believer in that “other” aphorism: “Use It Or Lose It,” and my favorite t-shirt has this to say: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy Shit…What A Ride!’” So put on that ragged t-shit that perhaps reads: “Don’t Mess With Old People: Life In Prison Is No Longer A Deterrent,” and go for a jog, a walk, a stroll, anything ambulatory, go a little crazy, but remember to later pay homage to the creator of Ibuprofen!
Stage 6: 80s to 90s
Los Angeles 2023