I am 58 but how does it matter if I live to 85 or 95 or not? What changes between now and then, will the quality of my life improve and be better than what I have lived so far? A longer life does not necessarily mean a better life. The current world focuses on living longer and not necessarily better.
What is a good life? Unfortunately, we have been doctored not to know that, we are kept busy and given no time to think about it. We consume constantly and we are consumed, like bigger fishes consuming smaller fishes.
If a traditional spiritual thought – of contentment and leading a simple and virtuous life – is followed by the world, the world economies will go out of the window and the world powers will crumble.
Capitalism feeds the current, materialistic order of the world. We are expected to consume constantly through all our five senses – eyes, ears, mouth, nose and touch. But the older age is characterised with sans teeth, sans eyes, sans ears and sans memory, with weak knees, ankles and spine. So, the capitalistic market, through aggressive advertising, drives people to maintain their faculties in a good working condition so that their consumption of a never-ending stream of material consumables remains unabated till end.
Capitalism and materialism imprisons and subjugates spiritualism to keep the economies alive. As herd animals, we allow it to happen; we let ourselves be attracted to materialism.
Advertising industry thrives on consumerism and consumption. Economy takes priority over the quality and wellness of human life. Paradoxically, however, economy is linked directly to the human population and its consumption. Humans are expected to live like robots, longer and all consuming. The more the human population, the higher the expected consumption of goods and services, with higher flow of money and, therefore, a better economy as a result.
The world that I am currently living in will potentially see more severe effects of the ongoing climatic change, largely due to unabated global warming; frequent armed attrition due to an increasingly complex and a precariously positioned geo-political world, causing greater misery amongst humans and mass migrations of humans; more epidemics and pandemics. The human population will possibly increase to around 10 billion in the next couple of decades or so, exacerbating the current human issues, as demand for commodities will constantly outstrip their supply.
Thanks to an ever-growing population, causing a growing attrition between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the weak, between the privileged and the unprivileged, many humans will continue to be exploited, marginalised and discriminated based on their colour, race, religion, gender and class. The world will be increasingly divided between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Nationalism and autocracy will be an accepted normal of the day. Democracy and secularism will be seen as things of the past and disadvantageous by the rich and the powerful. Many threatened communities will possibly tread a regressive path for self-preservation. Minorities will constantly live in an increasing fear. War will always keep looming, as the weapon industry will keep feeding it with a greater aggression. It will not be a happy or stable world after all, it will be a world characterised by fear, strife and discord.
What will possibly happen to me if I live longer?
In all probability, I’ll suffer from a range of age-related health issues or, if not, from a constant fear of suffering from some or all of those health issues, which will distract me from living life full or focussing on the real purpose of life.
At home, I may be admonished regularly and proactively discouraged from speaking unless asked to do so. My family members, especially my children, may not like to listen to me. Possibly, therefore, I shall be living a more subservient life, without much autonomy. In my downgraded hierarchical order, I’ll be ordered to do ‘this and that’ or not to do ’this and that’, and expected to comply with all directions and follow all orders like a ‘good boy’. Picture that owl sitting silently in a corner!
My relatives and friends will constantly bombard me with unsolicited personal and social media messages on how to avoid age-related diseases and live longer. I’ll be constantly reminded to eat a healthy food and pushed to make many lifestyle changes. I’ll forced to forsake the foods of my choice, accompanied possibly with my expressed or implicit bitterness and resentment, and consume a more bland food, with lesser or no salt, oils or spices. I will be encouraged, or even coerced, to reduce or stop altogether the intake of traditional cereals (wheat and rice) and instead consume a variety of interesting seeds that were unknown to my ancestors in the past. I’ll be reprimanded for eating potatoes, especially potato chips, fries and wedges. Oils and spices will become the (bad) things of the past. Let us not talk about sugar – sugary delights and soft drinks and juices and ice-creams and bakery!
The focus will be mainly on living longer but not necessarily on living a happier, good life. Living a longer life will be the main objective of life itself and misinterpreted as happiness or wellness.
I’ll need to keep a constant track of my blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, prostate gland, kidney function, colon and heart. My bones will become brittle. A variety of tablets, as my daily medication, will be my constant companion, even a blood pressure machine will stay by me side. I’ll need to be prepared for suffering from cancer, heart attack or stroke. A catastrophic fall in the bathroom — due to a stroke or a sudden blood pressure variation or just an imbalance of the body or a slippage on wet floor — can be fatal or make me disabled, paralysed, immobile or bedridden for months or years. Hearing loss, cataract (in the eyes) and loss of teeth will become relatively more acceptable health issues.
What is my incentive, therefore, to live a longer life, carrying a body which is going to deteriorate anyhow due to constant fatigue and a range of age-related diseases and frequent sicknesses? Even my short-term memory may possible start fading and completely forsake me after sometime. I’ll increasingly become a burden on the world, initially on my family and, finally, on the government and the taxpayer. My existence will not benefit anyone except the medical industry as well as the retirement village developers. Finally, if I am too difficult to be maintained or looked after at my home, the authorities may be contacted by my family and transferred to a facility. Won’t it be a horrible physical and mental existence for me when that happens?
In short, as I grow older, I’ll be living in an increasingly unhappier, stressful and unstable world.
This article may appear to present an unsavoury and / or pessimistic view of life to some readers, so my sincere apologies to them. But add a dash of charming materialism to it and it may appear to become more palatable and savoury. Most of us choose to adopt an optimistic disposition of the older life and / or bury their head in sand in a complete denial of the truth about the difficulties of an older life. Does it really take much to take a careful glance at older people around us who are currently in their eighties and nineties and correlate this article with them? Be assured, we too are going to be like them in not too far into the future but on the proviso that we are able to survive the current pandemic and any physical accidents – at home or on the road – or war before reaching that age.
Coming back to the question? What is a good life? A longer life or an independent life, filled with contentment and largely within our control? There is nothing great or glamorous about living to a ripe old age. Let us live now before it is too late. Living and existing are two different things.
The lure of living to an older age
It is generally a slippery slope all the way after one lives past half a century or so. Old age is not for the fainthearted. Not only your personal pain and suffering, but the loss and suffering of your loved ones will also torture you. For some unfortunate souls, that torture may far exceed their personal pain, making their personal pain(s) relatively insignificant.
If you still want to live to a ripe old age, please do so by all means. You have right to live long, as long as wish to live but be informed. Despite carrying a shrunk and wrinkled body, with sagging muscles and a rickety frame, a bow-shaped back and tremor in your hands, you will be able to see your grandchildren, and possibly your great grandchildren, being born, raised and married off. But remember life is not a bed of roses, never ever has been, nor ever will be for anyone. Although watching your progeny thrive and prosper will give you unbound joy and perhaps fulfill your innate cravings and longings, you will also have to witness their ups and downs. You will have to be a part of their joys and sufferings, successes and failures. In essence, with each one of your children and grandchildren, and possibly great grandchildren, you will live an additional life, complete with the full package that life brings. Be prepared about the possible pit falls of life that may lurk around the corners.
The all-important spiritual aspect
A great positive of living a longer life is the chance to evolve spiritually. You must break free from your silos and let your spirit breathe free and expand unbound. You must transcend to humanism, i.e. develop and show sincere care, empathy, compassion, respect and love for all humans irrespective of their colour, appearance, race, gender, nationality, class, religion or caste. You must feel and think like as a global citizen, where you recognise all humans as your family members, i.e you experience a sense of belonging to them and they belonging to you. If you intend to embark on this spiritual journey, then you do justify your life and your will and desire to live longer. You may be deemed to be blessed and awakened.
As your body weakens and shrinks, your spirit must strengthen and expand to justify your existence. For that, however, you must unlearn many a thing that may have limited your growth and filled you with anger, anxiety, hate or fear.
Our bodies are our vehicles to grow spiritually in the path of self-realisation. If we don’t use our bodies for our spiritual expansion, we justify the tag of being called another herd animal. There is nothing great about breeding and consuming alone, even mice do that.
‘Who you are’ and ‘why you are here’ are the two most important questions that you must seek answers for during your life journey, everything else is secondary.
To conclude, there is absolutely nothing delicious — sugary or savoury — about old age! One becomes an unwanted burden on oneself and on the entire world, including one’s own family! Nothing justifies it except one’s spiritual pursuit. Otherwise, old age is ridden with losses — of lives and faculties — of oneself and of those closest to us, regrets and disappointments. A life that is not lived now — materially and spiritually, both — is a life never lived!
Life is a blessing but only when it is lived in the present. Don’t let it pass, unloved and without soaking every moment of it. Money is valuable but only to the extent it improves the worth and the quality of life, otherwise it is trivial.
This article outlines opportunities presented by living into an older age as well raises as its challenges. Tread carefully, be informed about what possibly lies ahead. Most importantly, live without much expectation. Be prepared.
… Bill Koul (19 March 2021, Perth, Western Australia)