WE ARE frequently led to wonder why it is that at a certain period of life, that portion lying between the ages of forty and fifty, changes, which we term middle age, begin to appear in the body. Further, we wonder why those changes seem to be progressive and why they are followed in a few years by the condition of decrepitude that we call old age and then by the death of the body. These changes have been observed and studied for many, many years, but we are still unable to give any scientific reason for the appearance of aging and of death. Autopsies made on the bodies of those who pass away at very advanced ages frequently show that every internal organ is in perfect condition. Neither physiology nor biology has been able to throw light on this subject. It is true that we find an accumulation of poisons in the cells that are becoming senile, but this is not the primary cause of the process. It is merely a symptom and is due to the failure of the powers of excretion, which is itself one of the signs of senility.
Many people believe that aging and death are in accordance with divine law, and they quote, as proof, from the 90th Psalm: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” Against this we may place the fact that at about the time when the Psalmist wrote, or perhaps much earlier, Hindu philosophers were quoting from the laws of Manu to the effect that a man should live to be 116 years of age. Manu also decreed that the first twenty-four years should be spent in study, the next forty-four as an active man of family and affairs, and the last forty-eight in the forest as a philosopher and teacher. In other words, Manu held that a man should begin his real mental work at about the age when the Psalmist said that he should pass away.
There is such a discrepancy here that we may say at once that aging and death cannot be by divine order. It seems that in each case the average age reached by those who escaped accident and who lived a full life was taken as the standard. Since we find in Genesis 6:3, “Yet shall his days be a hundred and twenty years,” we must conclude that between the time of the author of Genesis and that of the Psalmist there must have been a great decrease in the average length of life.
That all these writers and teachers were wrong in setting these limits is shown by the well-known fact that many persons have lived far beyond these prescribed ages. The Old Testament and other ancient scriptures contain accounts of men who lived into the hundreds of years. Although we are inclined to look on these records as legendary in character, they must have had a foundation in fact. From the large number mentioned who lived to be three, five, six hundred, or more, we must conclude that at some times some men must have reached ages very much greater than the average.
If we turn to more recent times, we find many authentic instances of men who lived well over a hundred years and retained to the end their mental and physical activity. Out of the large number of such cases let us pick three for brief mention.
Thomas Parr was born at Winnington, Shropshire, England, in 1483 and died in London on November 15, 1635. Here is an authentic age of 152 years, extending through the reigns of ten kings. He became blind when 133, but retained his other faculties to the end. Death was undoubtedly due to overeating during a visit to London. He took this trip at the request of the king, who was very eager to see so old a man. By order of the king, Sir William Harvey, the famous physician and discoverer of the circulation of the blood, performed an autopsy. We have his authority for the statement that the body and all its organs were like those of a man in the prime of life. Dr. Harvey was of the opinion that Parr would probably have lived many years more if he had stayed at home.
Another old man was Henry Jenkins, who died in 1670 at the age of 169. He remembered that at the age of twelve he was sent, with a horseload of arrows, to the rear of the army at Flodden Field. This battle was fought September 9, 1513. His age at that time taken with the date of his death gives his total age. In 1667 he appeared in court as a witness of events which had occurred more than forty years before, so we may conclude that his mentality was good up to within three years of his death.
So that it may not appear that all who have attained to great age were men, we may mention the Countess of Desmond, who was born in 1464, and died in 1604, at the age of 140. While writing this I have just come across a newspaper account of a woman living in Oakland, California, who this year celebrated her 105th birthday by taking an airplane ride, her first. “That was more fun than I’ve had in over a hundred years,” she said on landing.
Since we have before us examples of many who have lived to great age, we should all try to emu-late them. In order to do this we must try to find whether there is any cause for aging that we can overcome.
Attempts have been made to show that aging is a disease, but no proofs of this, in the ordinary acceptance of the term, have been found. The changes found in the arteries, skin, glands, and other organs during the aging process are symptoms of approaching senility, not causes. Others have claimed that growing old is due to habits of life, to faulty diet, to drinking, or to lack of exercise. But many of us have known men who lived to very advanced ages, although they broke every man-made rule of eating, drinking, and living. While it is true that many old men have exercised, they have done so in moderation according as their strength would allow. Too strenuous exercise may strain the heart, and athletes are not usually long-lived.
Thus far we have not found a real physical cause for the process of aging. By eliminating the improbable causes, we find one that is probably the real basis of the trouble. It is not physiological but psychic. That is, it is a bad subconscious racial habit. To discuss the possible ways in which this racial thought originated would take too much space here, but if we wish to consider what is keeping it alive we have not far to seek. For over three thousand years Psalms 90:10 has been preached to us as a law. In addition, the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, with its marvelous description of senile decrepitude, has been held before us, if not as a model, still with the suggestion that that end is inevitably facing us. These two negative habits of thought are enough to account for the habit of aging. Put into the subconscious mind the idea that man must die at approximately seventy, and the subconscious mind will unfailingly work out the suggestion. The premonitory symptoms, which we call middle age, will begin to appear some thirty years earlier.
Another contributing cause is the habit of retiring from active life, either when a person has made sufficient money or when he has reached a certain age. Personal observation of old folk shows that when a man gives up his active interest in life, life has little further use for him, and he soon fades away. Life is motion, continuous motion, onward, and it seems to be a law of life that we must keep up with the procession or drop out entirely. The loss of active interest in life is one of the greatest causes of aging.
Many persons, when they reach forty, or earlier, have a tendency to become set in their ways and to refuse to advance farther. They even try to hold others back. This cannot be done; the onward motion of life is too powerful to be held in check by any man or group of men. Those who try to do this and those who refuse to budge out of their set ways very soon discover that life, in its progress, has left them far behind. So they proceed to “grow old grace-fully,” and very soon they leave us that we may go on our way without them. This “growing old grace-fully” is another negative thought that we all have heard many times.
Many business concerns have made it a rule not to hire men over forty years of age, no matter how fit they may be. This seems strange, because when I was a boy age and experience counted for something. A young man expected to begin at the bottom and work up. Today young men seem to think that they should step in at the top, ahead of experience. In the age of the patriarchs age and wisdom were sup-posed to go together. To a certain extent this is still true, insofar as experience brings knowledge; but when age refuses to learn more it ceases to have wisdom.
Other companies retire men at sixty-five or seventy, no matter if they are in the pink of condition. Policies like these start depressing thoughts. The man who encounters such policies begins to think that his usefulness is really over, and his subconscious mind carries out the belief perfectly. I have known several men who retired from active life at sixty-five or seventy, although they were in perfect physical condition. Every one of them aged rapidly and died within a year or two. I must mention one striking proof of this mental cause-and-effect: A man was retired by a corporation at the age of seventy-two. During the next year he went downhill rapidly. Then he found an occupation that kept him busy four or five hours a day. Within a few weeks he began to look younger again, and he lived to be over eighty.
Since we find that the cause of aging is mental we should be able to suggest a cure, or at least a preventive. Like the cause, this preventive must be psychic, for man is not a body possessed of a mind, but he is mind clothed with a body over which he should retain control, and this control functions through the exercise of mental power. We find that an active interest in life keeps one young and active. When a man thinks that it is time for him to grow old he will do so. Here, then, is the prescription for preventing old age: Think young thoughts and live up to them. Deny that the race thought of aging can have any influence over you.
Since continued activity, mental as well as physical, seems to be necessary, do not stagnate mentally. Keep up with the times. Read at least one new, constructive article every day. Think at least one new thought each day. Don’t waste time dreaming over a dead past of forty or more years ago, but keep your thoughts on the bright today, which the Father has given us that we may do His work. Think of the new day as a young man thinks of it, with faith and hope. When one loses hope and faith, one is indeed growing old.
Keep up an active interest in life. A passive interest will not suffice. Activity is needed. Keep the subconscious mind so busy that it will not have time to lie down on the job and fall into the rut of old thoughts. If you have no regular occupation to keep you busy, take up some hobby, and keep at it faithfully.
Joy is another thing that helps one to remain young. I never knew a person of considerable age who was not cheerful, unless he had reached the stage of hopelessness and had given up the battle. So, whatever you do, put joy into it. Smile while you are busy. When you were young you probably hummed, or whistled, a tune while at work. Try it now. Don’t be afraid that people will think you undignified if you laugh occasionally. A hearty laugh is good for anyone. It aerates the lungs and stimulates the heart. Besides, smiles are the best wrinkle eradicators. A person cannot help feeling younger every time he laughs, while a scowl makes the face appear older, and it makes the wearer feel older. Spread love and praise. I know a woman who is engaged in business. Happiness, love, and praise radiate from her at all times, and few people will believe that she is ninety years of age.
Mingling with young people, taking part in their amusements and their tasks, is one of the best ways of keeping the thoughts young. Such association keeps the mind active, and while we have active, healthy minds we will have active, healthy bodies, for the mental attitude is reflected in the physical condition.
Don’t find fault with the young. This is an age-old habit of middle-aged folk. When they become set in their ways and feel that they are too old to get any more enjoyment out of life, they feel that nobody else should do so. When we were young, our elders thought that we were doomed, and so it goes, back to the beginning of time. Each generation thinks that the next is headed toward destruction. But each new generation has managed to survive. Each new generation more and more breaks away from the domination of harsh, rigid elders. It is a good thing. It is in line with the continually changing motion of life, always going forward, with which we must keep up or drop out. The younger generation has its faults. Who has none? But the young people of today are far healthier, happier, and freer from hypocrisy than their parents were at the same age. I know, for I grew up with their elders, and I have had many of them as patients. The young people may shock their elders at times. (Well, we too shocked our elders.) But at least they are not storing up a lot of repressions to act as painful complexes at some time in the future. If we older ones do not clear our minds of some of our old, moss-grown beliefs, old memories, dead hopes, and the like, and take an interest in the new things of life, the great movement will leave us far behind and forgotten. We will be left dead to bury our dead thoughts.
In a word, keep young mentally, if you would keep young physically. God has appointed each one to some task. If you have found your work keep at it joyfully. Doing the Father’s work is never hard. Keep going, without ever thinking of stopping, for when you think of quitting you begin to age. To prevent aging is far easier than to cure it.
As regards the body, don’t let it rule you. You must retain your God-given mastery over the body. Attend to its needs, and take good care of it. Remember that it is the temple of God, but it is not God. Therefore rule the body. If you think young thoughts and keep your mind, your true self, constructively occupied, the body will soon show results in more youthful appearance and vigor.
I know that right here someone will ask, “How about diet ?” Well, during the last thirty years I have seen every possible kind of diet suggested and tried, and each one has been a failure so far as pro-longing life is concerned. Why should dieting of itself be expected to do that which needs mental treatment? From my own observation of elderly people I should say, “Forget all food phobias, especially those founded on advertising. Eat in moderation. This is all, except that you will find that many things that you think that you cannot eat will agree with you perfectly if you will only stop thinking indigestion with every mouthful.” This rule might also be applied to every age and condition, for food fears are the cause of a great deal of invalidism.
I am Spirit, and Spirit cannot grow old, consequently I am young in thought and activity. The race thought of old age cannot affect me. I go about the Father’s work each day with hope and faith, and I will continue to do the Father’s work according to His will. All that He gives me to do I do in the love, joy, and youth of Spirit.
Try this affirmation every morning and evening, also when any thought of old age intrudes itself, or whenever someone repeats the negative statement “Well, we are not getting any younger.”
While you work at whatever the Father has given you to do, work with a smile, with a heart full of love for your fellow men, with a song of praise for the good things of life, and with never a fear of old age. Above all, do not set an age limit for yourself. Remember that God always has been, yet He is never old. Let Him live life through you. Forget age. Think youth.