Can We Let Go of Our Feelings of Vulnerability as We Get Older?
A recent sidewalk malfunction left me face down on the pavement.
Though little time elapsed between slip and splat, I saw my life – past and future – flash before me. The past looked, well, like the past. No surprises there.
The future showed up as a stormy prediction of life in an assisted living facility: a tornado of wheelchairs, stretchers, nurse hats and syringes flying through the air in front of me in post-tumble apocalypse.
Embarrassed by Vulnerability, Captured by Worry
The sidewalk mishap pierced only my pride. However, it dropped the idea of worry into the existential bucket of my concerns about aging.
At 65, am I already on the slippery side of the aging slope?
A few weeks ago, a friend within spitting distance of my age tumbled backward while gardening. While reporting the incident to me, she said, “As I fell toward the ground, I saw the inevitable end coming at me: the broken bones that lead to a broken life.”
Not an unfamiliar story. We’ve seen evidence in our own families and the families of loved ones.
The dreaded fall can, indeed, lead to a foreboding end. But do physical and/or mental vulnerabilities come attached whole-cloth to the territory of aging?
The insightful poet-philosopher David Whyte writes, “Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without. Vulnerability is not a choice; vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state.”
David Whyte might be accurate, but we should not allow vulnerability to lead us around by the proverbial nose.
In other words: falling is not inevitable!
I Age, Therefore I Am Vulnerable
Age has never been more than a minor distraction for me.
50 and 60 breezed by without notice. And as I jettisoned past 65 – an age generally considered a harbinger of significant life changes – vulnerability seemed a far-off concept, lingering at the distant edges of my life.
But that morning’s pavement mishap left me wondering if vulnerability was my new BFF!
Are You a Worrier or a Warrior?
I’d position myself somewhere in the middle of the worrier/warrior spectrum.
The worrier in me wrestles in advance with the consequences of another fall. The warrior believes it won’t happen again if I’m more attentive, more aware of my surroundings.
Still, the statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are startling. Every 11 seconds, an adult 65 or older is treated in an emergency room for a fall. Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
It would be negligent to avoid steps to lower the risk of another topple. (Here’s a place to read about preventative measures).
Antidote to Vulnerability: Mindfulness
Vulnerability can be a damaging psychological piece in our lives. They cause us to second-guess how we walk down a street, step out of the shower, or navigate a freeway. It can lead to under- or over-compensation on safety issues like speed, reaction time or rational decision-making.
On the other hand, vulnerability can be a reminder to open ourselves up to that generous benefactor: mindfulness.
Traveling through life with mindfulness offers a more realistic view of our surroundings, optimum support for the senses and an awareness backdrop against which to make solid decisions.
Like so many of life’s yin-yang relationships, vulnerability and mindfulness can peacefully coexist on the same spectrum. Being mindful might not eradicate vulnerability, but it can lessen the impact of what David Whyte calls our “natural state.”
And I’m okay with that.
What do you consider to be your personal degree of vulnerability? Where are you on the worrier/warrior spectrum? How do you practice mindfulness? Please share your tips on dealing with vulnerability.