In one's first half or so of life, when life seems still an open book with great hopes and promises and anything seems possible, our perspective and self-image is but an unwritten book. But in the later decades of life, we have enough life experience to gain a broader perspective on who we are, what we've gained, what we need to work on, and what's important to us.
I was chatting with a close friend who's about my age (you’ll have to guess), and we asked ourselves: “So, what’s different now? What’s this being 60 + really all about?”
But there's no lack of pluses to this stage of life. For example: I like the fact that I've lost a lot of commitment to personal dramas: mine, and yours! I find I can sympathize more sincerely because I feel less attached, whether to yours or mine! And by this point in life, one has seen many things by this point in life, whether yours or mine (they have begun to look suspiciously similar). Taking me seriously just doesn't "occupy me" quite the way it used to.
And you know what else is good? In many ways I am more productive and efficient than I ever was: and in fewer hours as well. Without the reduction of the internal friction that comes from my preoccupation with my likes and dislikes, my concern for doing a good job, pleasing other people and all of that "me" stuff that gets in the way of just doing the task at hand, I can plow through and get a lot more done. I find inspiration and ideas come more easily and, in the moment, I can be freer, kinder and more spontaneous than ever before.
As a life long devotee and meditator, I know that the truth, relative or absolute or whatever that is, is between me and my God (my guru, my conscience, my sense of right feeling). I am comfortable in this space which has already left at least some of the body and ego behind and below. I rejoice to see a flower, a white cloud and blue sky. Too hot? Too cold? Well, never mind, I'm still the same and I've been hot or cold many times before.
I don't bemoan what, if anything, I've lost; I rejoice in the wisdom I've earned and received, especially through my teachers (and there are many) and with the grace of God and gurus. Yes, I feel the pain of so much of the suffering and tragedy of this world but I've reconciled to the fact that, realistically and beyond my kind and prayerful thoughts and an occasional small contribution, there's nothing I can do about it. I recycle, too, but I know my recycling won't change the world very much. If I do something not kosher-green, well, I can say, "Sorry 'bout that, but look at the other good-green things I do. Besides, I LIKE trees."
I have found new priorities in my life, viz., my own consciousness. Whether I am efficient, proficient, liked or disliked, my highest priority is to remain centered, mindful, and living in the presence of God as peace, wisdom, calm joy and expanded self-awareness. I don't expect to have great visions but I am open to the possibility that my meditations could become ever deeper and that the miracle of life, which is God, will ever expand as the focus of my awareness and self-identity.
It has been well said by others that this time of life is characterized by self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is the first step in acceptance of others, and of the circumstances of one's life. That's a good thing because the "hope-springs-eternal" attitude which characterizes early and midlife has evaporated as the horizon line of the end of life appears in the not too far distance. I have to live in the present because the only choice is to live in the past and that's rather boring. (Ok, so I could live in a fantasy world of my own imagination, too, I suppose.....and many people escape to TV shows, novels, and imagination.)
I admit, however, that self-acceptance has also allowed me to indulge in "not suffering fools gladly," meaning people who waste my time or who don't listen. I think this is right to do sometimes and probably not a good thing other times. I am more likely to either say little or say directly what I think, with far little chatter in between.
In India this third stage of life (called vanaprastha) is described as being a hermit. I can't comment knowledgeably on Hindu traditions but to me it is only "hermit" in the sense that it is introspective, self-aware, and reflective. The purpose of such pursuits is, ultimately, to change from within and to bring to closure to the lessons of this lifetime. (The fourth "ashram" is sannyas - complete outer renunciation and breaking of all community and familial ties----even more extreme but certainly more obviously a "hermit" stage.)