In our literature we are always taught to handle old age gracefully and accept it as fait accompli! But thinking is changing now!
In his New York Times bestseller Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine explains: “Your mind is your best friend, but it is also your worst enemy. “मन चिंती ते वैरी न चिंती” Your Positive Intelligence Quotient is the percentage of time your mind is serving you as opposed to sabotaging you. Your PQ indicates how much mastery you have over your own mind.”
Humans is the only race in our Universe that uses brain to think, discuss and change things on the fly on various subjects. Other species think only about the basics of life based on fight or flight syndrome. We really don’t know how much thinking other species do except maybe Monkeys. We humans have so many different thoughts, we over analyze and end up with apprehensions. Even about 100 years back life expectancy was very low. So humans when they died, or were about to die, their health was much better till they got their final calling! In today’s times since life expectancy has gone up, there can be a phase long years in our lives, when our health will not be in best of the condition and it will be on taper off mode for quite a period of time. This long period of deteriorating health, has its own issues and that need to be tackled.
Our literature has been talking of four stages of life ending with Vanaprasthashram. This last phase was more of a theoretical phase because majority population never lived that long! This phase was glorified almost into sainthood with people expected to perform saintly things, all the time. Even 50 to 60 years back there was nothing much to do in life, so people in this phase of life would be saints. Things have changed rapidly in last twenty years or so. Much larger retired population in India is alive and kicking, though a bit slowly, even after retirement. People of our parents’ generation passed within 3 to 5 years of retirement, if not before. Now sizable population is retired and mostly not doing anything specific, post retirement, this will keep on increasing. This is a classic recipe for different sets of problems which previously hardly existed. According to Sarah Alexander, “Our brains are hard wired for negativity; this goes back to our Stone Age ancestors, who needed to be cautious all the time from attack. Attack from dangerous animals, imminent bad weather or threats from other tribes”. When certain problems are recent for a human race, there is nothing right or wrong about any decision, it is trying out new things. In foreign countries there is concept of down-sizing in old age. Beyond a certain age people sell off their larger dwellings and move to manageable ones, preferably in a common community. Or they move to old people’s homes. We need to find our path.
Large population of retirees, children are migrating to different parts of the country and the world, families are becoming more nuclear and everybody including retirees are looking for their own space, has created a scenario which hardly existed in our parents’ generation. What we are looking at is a totally new set of issues which have never been handled before hence both our generation and our children’s generation are groping to understand the situation and hoping to resolve the issues.
What could be the issues for our generation?
- When we retired we hardly thought about the changes that were going to happen in next decade; we were euphoric that we are going to retire.
- Once some health issues started coming up apprehensions were round the corner; some have chronic issues, some are having serious issues and lucky ones passed away quickly!
- Once these issue crop up, the mind will start thinking of different scenarios
- Who will support us mentally in case of more serious health issues morally and in some case monetarily!
- Will the money saved last longer or we will last longer?
- What will happen to my assets after me?
- What happens to me if my spouse goes before me? It is historically proven that women handle spouse’s death much better than men.
- Who do I talk with as I am feeling down or maybe depressed. Every time a doctor is not the solution and maybe not needed!
- Who do I take advice on family matters?
- What do I do the whole day? Facebook, TV and WhatsApp can’t be your partners all the time.
- I don’t like to read or write, what should I do?
- There will be many more such points, issues, doubts and apprehensions will crop up. The beauty is we don’t know for how long we have to handle these issues.
- Do I down size or move to old people’s homes?
How to handle such situations and issues?
First and foremost is to group the issues that we are likely to face.
1. Physical and Mental Health
2. Financial matters
3. Family matters
4. Specific situational matters which can be combination of various things.
5. Legal issues
6. Travel and enjoyment related points.
There can be many many more points but these can always be grouped and sub grouped.
Here is what we could do.
· Create small group of friends, 4 to 6 in numbers, if possible living close by. This group should be such that you can share with this group anything and everything. The reason for living close by is reaching them should be physically easy.
· We all are part of different groups of friends these days helped by technology. FB and WhatsApp has made it easy to be in touch with different groups, alumni associations and so on. Out of the various groups, decide which group gives you the most comfort, it could be school group, college group, office group or colony group. This one group should be your parent group. One should look for homogeneity in the group because diverse group will have people with diverse requirements.
· It is not necessary that for above mentioned issues, you have always to go to a professional e.g. for minor feeling down or depressed, just talking to friends may resolve issues.
· In the group, there are always people who are smart in many areas and are practical too! Form a core group or groups of say three people with whom ALL group members can discuss their problems or issues and try to thrash them out. Once the system stabilizes keep total faith because group members have no commercial interests in any interactions and they are here to help you.
· There should be group mail available for the group and core group will lead and guide friends during issues on a regular basis!
To conclude this basic thought process, form groups, have core sub group of smart people who will guide to find and create resolutions. Keep this process going on daily basis, or at least weekly basis, if it is possible! Group should meet physically at least once in a month.
To conclude, it is most important to be very practical, be away from emotions which will drain you. In our literature we have enough sob stories of “Sham chi Aai” and Shravan Bal! ( These according to me are highly emotional sob stories! Jury is still out on that opinion) These will drain you daily and keep you miserable. This is not your individual situation but is happening universally! So stay away from Shravan Bal and negative thinking individuals to convert Vanaprsthashram into a stage which can be made enjoyable!