I’M growing a beard. Not that many people would notice, it’s only two single hairs under the tip of my chin at this stage. But I’m encouraging them and so far they look strong. I’ll admit there was a time I plucked them when I noticed them, but now I’ve decided I’ll keep them in the hope that more are inspired to sprout. They look like they’re working towards a modest goatee.
I’ve found myself sometimes gently grasping them to extend them to their full length, in the manner of the stereotypical Oriental sage while he carefully considers some important affair of state. I’m only thinking about what to prepare for dinner, or whether to plant broccoli seedlings among the emerging broad beans, but stroking my beard makes me feel very wise nonetheless.
It follows that I should accept the developing growth, just as I embraced my hair going grey and the lines etching themselves into the edges of my eyes and mouth, though there are other signs related to my age that I’m not so happy to accept. Nose hairs, for a start. I know they are visible to anyone close enough to be talking to me, so they have to go. Who would have thought that plucking a hair out of your nose could be so painful? It literally makes your eyes water for several minutes. Luckily, so far, I only have one or two that grow to a noticeable length, so it’s only eye-watering every few months
Stiff, aching joints could be another age-related symptom, one I’ve noticed some people seem to take as permission to stop moving altogether. And it’s certainly in the genes: Mum had two bionic hips and one or two siblings could probably use a new knee. However a couple of inexpensive foods consumed daily and continuing to exercise and stretch seem to be keeping my joints mobile. The muscles get pretty sore at times, and running in the cold mornings makes my eyes water too, but I don’t want to risk stopping anytime soon.
There are other symptoms of ageing that I’m even less sanguine about: for a person already prone to anxiety and the Black Dog it does seem to be getting harder to manage the ups and downs. This one’s not readily solved with tweezers or inexpensive food items, and the last few months of lockdown have really thrown a spanner into the mental machine that I thought I was keeping reasonably well oiled. Without a routine built around the gym timetable I’ve failed to maintain habits that must have been supporting me, even though I often cursed the relentless cycle of prepare, teach, eat, teach again, sleep, prepare, teach …
Thinking meditation might reduce the frequency of cursing, I had downloaded the Smiling Mind mindfulness meditation app a while ago, but only dabbled in it. But when they announced their Mindful Month for this June I signed up, realising that my mental state was deteriorating and affecting people around me, and I needed to do a lot more than dabble.
The meditation exercises offer various ways to learn to observe thoughts, notice where our attention goes to, and what emotions arise with different thoughts. Apart from the usual meditation form – sitting with eyes closed focussing on our breathing – we might be invited to write, to tune in to music or to sounds around us, or even to get up and walk, paying attention to how feet, legs and body propel us while simultaneously maintaining our balance.
Like every meditation newbie I’m still saying I’m “no good at meditating”, but I think I’m slowly starting to get the hang of gently observing what my mind does, rather than grumpily cursing it for taking off on tangents. Eventually, I might be able to catch myself before random thoughts become distressing ruminations about past failings or future fears. Who knows, I might even come to look at my wayward thoughts with the same curiosity and amusement that I look at my two beard hairs, and be equally untroubled by them.
Dan Andrews says gyms can re-open for face to face classes in about two weeks, which is happy news both for those employed by them and those who enjoy gym attendance. But have I got the strength to yank that spanner out of the mental works? I haven’t got long to find out, and while I’m desperate to reconnect with my colleagues and participants face to face, I don’t feel at all ready.
Well, I have a choice here. I could give up now and hope that resuming the work routine will sort everything out. Or I could accept that my mental clockwork is vulnerable, and likely to become more so, unless I do something about it on an ongoing basis. Something to meditate on.