TLDR: Yoga will not save you from aging. As your body ages, don’t take it personally. Reflect & live.
Yoga & back pain
A few years back I was at a dinner with a friend who is six years my senior. She complained about back pain. She said her bones and back was hurting everywhere. My immediate thought was that she wasn’t doing enough stretching or yoga. My belief at the time was that yoga will save me from such ills when I grow old. Fast forward four years today, I texted her to tell her I know how she feels now. I am at an age where I can’t identify with being young, and I also can’t identify with being old (yet). I realised I am stuck between youth and ageing – commonly known as middle-age.
I have never grown old before. I don’t know what it will encompass except the hardening of joints and muscles, weakening bones with various names given to these conditions.
I now realised that I have no control over my body. Being young, we are duped into thinking we have control over our body when we could do more physical work and exercises with it. Now, a lower back pain from sitting too long could affect the knee and pull the upper muscles of your body downward. I guess this is what gravity does. I remember the times in my youth when I had joked about how our skin and muscles will succumb to gravity, without thinking about the gravity of the matter literally.
Being young, we are duped into thinking we have control over our body
The aging disconnect between mind and body
The physical deterioration of the body made me reflect a lot lately. Do I have a phobia of aging?
In terms of health, it pours instead of rain when we grow old. I see my father with his body getting stiffer by the day. He is now in his 80s. I have not heard him complain like my friend or myself about having body pains and aches. He has not accepted being old or being ill and has to suffer from it on an ego level. Many people around my age told me ageing is a number and a mindset. I don’t know if they are denying ageing. I see many elderlies in my estate. I think to myself they probably don’t relate to being old in their minds, except the body telling them so.
The path we all move towards
So, I’m now in the middle of youth and ageing and a bit reluctant to go further to find out what else is in store. It doesn’t seem to affect my friends much though they too feel ageing’s effects. They are older than I am. They are still pretty much drawn into the things offered by the world – such as food, travelling, learning to invest, being quite involved in their daily work.
For me, I am also learning new things to catch up with a world which has changed quickly from when I was growing up – from liberalism to growing nationalism, from analogue to digital. I am not as interested or absorbed by the work I have to do, but just doing what I need to do daily to fulfil my duties. Deep in my mind amidst activities, I constantly think about how I can strengthen my mind on this path we all move towards, which is the end of life.
I’ve read many books on the end of life to past life regressions. From these books, I understand there is nothing to fear about death but fear itself. Many encounters of death related by those who experienced it briefly, said it is a relaxing feeling. I guess it isn’t so much that death bothers me, but the body’s reluctance to listen to my instructions and the discomfort it causes as I age.
Have you seen your one way street?
The truth is, life is a one-way street. We may fall in love with our body and life, but it eventually becomes an unrequited love.
We can’t marry it and sign a contract for it to last forever. For the encounter with death to be relaxing I figured I have to learn to relax with whatever comes my way and in all that I do. I also had to ensure I do nothing to cause regret or guilt that weighs down the mind.
do nothing to cause regret or guilt that weighs down the mind.
There is no assurance in our heart as we have no certainty on what happens after death. I think this is what causes fear. But the mind is a powerful tool. A confused mind tainted with wants and guilt versus a trained mind free from guilt or expectations make a difference in one’s life as well as in death.
I dare not say I have a totally relaxed mind that is free from fear. But I decided that no matter what I do in my daily life, I resolve not to take it seriously or personally. Although I feel I am overly focused in work sometimes more than I would like to. How I work now compared to when I was young is that I no longer think far or have any dreams or expectations in its results. My only focus is to learn to relax and not hold onto anything by having expectations of life or anyone. Interestingly, I am happier now compared to when I was younger despite an ageing body.
Deep in my heart, I understand there is something that is permanent within all of us, that stays stable despite our ups and downs in life. I only hope that whatever time I have, I will be wise enough to spend time knowing this part that is elusive from thoughts and only accessible by mindfulness.
View ageing (white hair, wrinkles) as a process to understand rather than challenge
Use ageing as a reminder to seize the ever diminishing resource we have – Time
TLDR: Learning to see life in death requires courage. It is a great reminder to live life well and see joy even in the downs of life
We all know that our loved ones and ourselves will pass away someday. For the majority of us, however, this isn’t something we normally bring to mind – that is until circumstances make this a reality in our lives.
For me, this reality came in late-2017 when my close uncle (Tiuo Tiuo) passed away from Leukemia. Tiuo Tiuo was almost like a 2nd dad to me, and he was by my side through my various life milestones all the way until university. From Tiuo Tiuo, I learnt many life lessons – and the lessons continued even until his last days and beyond.
“There will come a year when we will have 1 less person (at Chinese New Year) compared to the previous year. It will be really sad and the memories of that person and his presence will certainly be missed. I also felt sad looking at Ah Ma’s picture on the wall. It is the first time I see a familiar face of someone on a wall like that…”
29-01-2017 (Chinese New Year)
Tiuo Tiuo was someone who enjoyed the simple pleasures in life! One of his greatest pleasures was to pluck in his earphones and immerse himself in the music on his handphone. However, he was never good with technology and often required help loading up or accessing his music. The job to troubleshoot his phone when it malfunctioned often fell to me – and honestly, it wasn’t something I enjoyed all the time (especially after a long day at school)!
“So Tiuo Tiuo’s leg has been troubling him these past 2 months, but more acutely these past 2 weeks. Old age and sickness indeed.”
Looking back, however, memories of these small acts of service give me the greatest joy. There is little regret in my heart, knowing that I overcame my laziness to help bring minor conveniences and joy to Tiuo Tiuo. Since then, I made it a personal principle never to turn down requests from my loved ones as far as possible – we never know when that might be the last time we can help.
From Tiuo Tiuo, I learnt that being of service is a blessing.
“I brought Tiuo Tiuo to A&E for his full body check up… Was informed that he was diagnosed with Leukemia, which is essentially cancer… It is hard looking at Tiuo Tiuo suffering – not just his physical pain, but his mental expectations that this would be a short one.”
Aside from listening to music, Tiuo Tiuo also loved to catch up on the latest news around the world! One of the common interests that we shared was to follow the latest English Premier League football highlights. As Tiuo Tiuo became weaker, however, these joys became harder to attain as his world turned more inwards.
“Tiuo Tiuo started his first chemo today… There is a chance Tiuo Tiuo will face many complications for his health and get more sick; or he might be on this long and gradual road to recovery and this state will hence linger for a few years. It is so uncertain.”
Being by Tiuo Tiuo’s side as he journeyed through his last days, I saw that pleasures in life are not evenly distributed throughout. Many of the more enjoyable and sensually delightful experiences are often front-loaded in our youth and early adulthood. The less pleasant parts of ageing, sickness, the dulling of our senses, and the gradual losing of things we hold dear – these come slowly, but inevitably.
From Tiuo Tiuo, I learnt that conditions go their natural way.
How We Live
“Tiuo Tiuo has been admitted to the ICU and intubated and unable to speak, and the prognosis isn’t good… But what’s for sure is that he is suffering much now, and I don’t know how to ease his suffering.”
As Tiuo Tiuo became weaker, he could not enjoy the things he used to enjoy. Instead, he sought a simpler solace from the companionship provided by our entire extended family who banded together to support him. Tiuo Tiuo lived his life in service of others. Through the decades, his humble 4-room flat played host to many of my Malaysian cousins working in Singapore who required accommodation.
As one of the respected elders in the family, he always rejoiced in our successes, and was quietly supportive in our times of struggles – even financially at times. As Tiuo Tiuo gradually grew weaker, he rested at peace with memories of a life well-lived and in the companionship of family.
From Tiuo Tiuo, I learnt that how we live, is how we pass.
“Thursday, the doctor said the falling BP and oxygen levels were signs that Tiuo Tiuo was passing away soon … I stood outside the glass door for an extended period sending metta (loving-kindness). That was the last time I saw Tiuo Tiuo alive… I went in and ma ma and mum were reassuring him that it is ok to pass; the rest were kneeling down, sis was crying badly. I did not cry. Sent metta to Tiuo and wished for him to be well and happy.”
It has been almost 3 years since Tiuo Tiuo passed away. With time, the deep feelings of loss and sadness have given way to a more subtle appreciation of the values he represented. As I pay respects to Tiuo Tiuo at his altar daily, the lessons he taught also continue to inspire me to live each day fruitfully in service of others.
While Tiuo Tiuo may no longer be around, in many ways, he lives through the lives of many around him whom he had touched. Our loved ones and ourselves will indeed pass away someday, and we do not need to wait for this to be a reality before we learn the lessons that death and dying presents.
By realising our mortality, may we learn to be less intoxicated with youth, health and life. By learning the preciousness of our human life, may we allow mindfulness and wisdom to guide us on the path towards truer and more lasting forms of happiness.
Learn to see the bright sparks in the bleakest of time, as every moment is an opportunity to find sparks
Knowing that separation is inevitable, fruitfully serve those around you
Resources to help in death (and life) contemplation: