On the Shelf or Embracing Life?

Could it be that rather than putting ourselves on the shelf as we get to a certain age, we have the amazing opportunity to serve and express ourselves more freely, released from the false worries about fitting in and what people will think about us?

No need for the resignation of, “I’ve got nothing to lose,” – but the choice to be inspired by the same feeling – unashamed and without shyness we can go for it, sharing our experience, wisdom and observations without reservation.

There is enormous fun to be had with this as we first accept the liberation and then the simplicity of the responsibility on offer to support and mentor others, sharing what we have learnt along the way.

So what, as a society, can we say is going on when we so readily dismiss and sideline our elders? With our attention and attachment to youthfulness, are we resisting the natural cycles of life and the richness they hold, disregarding and undervaluing all that is on offer from our elders and their lived experience?

As two elders, we have certainly had a developing relationship with the concept of growing old. There are so many myths that abound around ageing:

  • That we will at some point ‘get it’ or ‘have all the answers’
  • That it is a decline from everything we had when we were younger, ‘over the hill’ as the saying goes
  • That it is the time for us to retire and be rewarded for our hard work, a ‘putting out to pasture’ mentality
  • That, maybe particularly for women, it is all over in terms of our physical attractiveness to others
  • That we should gracefully step aside to make way for the younger generation.

Talking to others and as we feel now there is no ‘getting it,’ – the gorgeous thing being that we actually start to feel younger, realising how much we still have to learn and losing the pressure of needing to look like we have all the answers. This leaves us much more open, curious and appreciative of the ongoing and endless discoveries life offers. There is an acceptance that introduces humility, a life-enriching quality that allows us to view the world and our place and purpose in it with a sense of the bigger picture and the joy of our equality.

It is now our experience that our ageing bodies are beautiful, sexy, sweet, and endlessly precious, emanating qualities that behold, nurture and support others. We can give ourselves permission to embrace the confidence and freedom to dress and present ourselves without being devotees to fashion magazines and the latest ‘looks.’ And that there is no retirement requirement; that a deepening engagement with life and the people in it means we realise how much we still have to offer and how much we want to continue to do so.

Whilst gripping youth so ardently (seen so clearly in the celebrity world), is humanity as a whole avoiding the responsibility and balance of embracing growing old and the steadiness and deep understanding of life that these years hold? And how in the reflection of the way we live, others get to transform and develop their relationship and understanding of ageing and growing older.

In our experience of being elders, at work, in our families and amongst our community, there is a grace in accepting growing older and a huge service in taking responsibility for the pivotal part we play in society. If we reflect on this being the autumn of our lives and what this symbolises, it can be a period of great inspiration as we take stock of what is truly important and offer this reflection to others.

No need to shrink into the shadows. We can simply embrace growing older, appreciating the passage of time, the learning on offer and the blessing of the responsibility we have to share and reflect.

By Judy Joy and Matilda Bathurst

Related Reading:
Sexiness in the Older Woman – Not Related to Age, Sex or Good Looks!
Active Ageing – your Health in your Hands
‘The Joy of Ageing, Esoterically’ 

1,053 thoughts on “On the Shelf or Embracing Life?

  1. I was invited to a birthday party as a friend of mine was celebrating her 60th Birthday, my friend showed us a film of herself from a very little baby to the present day and it was clear to see that as a child she was very sad it was unmistakable and what struck everyone who watched the short video was that at 60 she looks far younger more alive than she did when she was in her 20’s, 30’s 40’s the before and after was unmissable. At the tender age of 60 my friend is more alive has more vitality than ever before and life is only just beginning. There is no way that they will be thinking of retiring any time soon they have years ahead of them to contribute back to society, leading the way in showing how life can be lived full of vitality and purpose.

  2. This statement stood out for me, “there is grace in accepting growing older and a huge service in taking responsibility for the pivotal part we play in society”. How true does this feel, there is nothing shameful about growing old and those myths that we hand the batten to the younger generation or it’s time to retire continues. Gone are the days that the elderly be cared for by the children, retirement or nursing homes have gone through the roof. The responsibility of the ageing population now falls on systems, when really it is upon every individual to be responsible to age with joy. It is that simple.

    1. ‘To age with joy’. When someone does this their sparkle touches everyone they meet. As our bodies age and this, by choice, can be gracefully so, the light inside can continue to shine. Often we see this in someone’s eyes.

  3. People are also looking for longevity, and have little if any True responsibility for the multitude of advancements or evolution toward our Essences, Inner-most-hearts / Souls.

  4. To me, elders are about presenting a role model, and as we all grow and age, we too are more and more important as a role model, despite the fact that all through life we are role models for all at any time. So what kind of role model do we want to present as we get older? Do we want to retreat from society and escape responsibility (such as the current societal model asks of us as we age)? OR do we want to remain active and connected with people in the community and see how we are needed to support, in whatever way this may be (as a reflection, offering support through our lived experiences that have taught us so much)? That is the question and leaves much to ponder on – not so much in terms of what the best answer and outcome would be for all, but rather in terms of our capacity to embrace this as a responsibility and live it, not matter our age as role modeling as an elder can begin at any age.

    1. Recently I have observed the much younger generation visiting the elderly in the nursing homes. What a contrast to observe the interactions and how the children bring joy of life into a place where the aches and pains prevails the residence. You can see the elderly light up, and like many needing that humanly contact without any judgments.

      We need to see more of the community being involved in caring/participating with all generations.

      1. I totally agree with you Shushila we should not be putting elderly people into nursing homes they should be kept in the community as long as possible and cared for as part of the community, not put into homes and forgotten by society. So many elderly people that I have spoken to think that they are a burden on their family and society its as though there is an unspoken rule that when you reach a certain age you put yourself into a home and vegetate there, what a ghastly way to die.

    2. Supporting in whatever way we can is fun, ‘the simplicity of the responsibility on offer to support and mentor others, sharing what we have learnt along the way.’

  5. Having an open curiosity about life, an inquisitiveness just like when we are small children is an absolute necessity at all times, but more so as we age, for this is what allows us to feel and see what is actually going on and what is or may be needed for us to step in and take responsibility in whatever way that presents itself. The ultimate elder is one who has taken opportunities and embraced the responsibility, not without having made mistakes but with an openness and curiosity to learn and grow and never stop no matter the age – this then simply is the role model we too can see and be inspired by.

    1. We can support others in many ways, ‘It is now our experience that our ageing bodies are beautiful, sexy, sweet, and endlessly precious, emanating qualities that behold, nurture and support others.’

  6. Judy and Matilda – I love this blog and how you have nailed some of the myths around ageing – this is totally a myth buster of aging article! So many of these things need to be spelled out and shown how we do not need to be governed by these at all!

  7. “sharing what we have learnt along the way.” The responsibility we have as we grow older is to offer inspiration to others that life is to be lived in true brotherhood with all.

  8. The older I get the more at ease with myself I become, the less invested I am in outcomes or how people feel about me, but the more my relationships deepen.The older I get the more beautiful I am feeling too and the more joy!

  9. I know someone who has gone to work in the Middle East just so he can get enough money to retire early because he does not want to spend his entire life working. But what if our bodies are actually made to work and that to be idle puts a stress on our bodies that we are not aware of? I say this because I know so many people that have retired and with in a year or two have suddenly died, or they develop dementia or some illness or disease and yet before they retired they were seemingly very healthy and full of beans.

  10. Whether we are a boy, girl, man, woman, mother, father, or elder, there seems to be collections of restrictive ideas of how we are supposed to be. I can certainly feel those coming into my life as I age, the other option to looking outside of myself to show me the way is to simply be myself and explore it as I go.

  11. Breaking the consciousness and fear around ageing is so needed and I feel this fear stems from us not living life in full.

  12. When I meet an elder who is living life to the max, ageing gracefully and joyfully, I light up and feel deeply inspired. They dismantle the fear of ageing and show us how rich, playful and full life can be no matter what age we are.

    1. So beautifully said Chan – it is a true support, an inspiration and an uplifting experience indeed to meet a true elder.

  13. And the more I do embrace myself and my current stage in life, the fuller and richer my life feels. I am looking beyond the narrow view of how I fit in or not and am simply being me. I understand now too that this is an ongoing process and that I will get to know myself better and better the more open and honest I am with myself.

    1. Matilda, this is so beautifully expressed – there is a grace and a power in claiming ones stage of life no matter how or where one is in terms of the stages, and the unfoldment is part of the unknown and yet part of something so very familiar all at the same time.

  14. We really do need to sit with our perceptions of what ageing is for us and what these perceptions are based on. Is it what we have seen or what we have heard or is there something else that we know that we may not commonly see anymore or at all? For it is only when we know that we can have an ageing body but also have a timelessness (rather than youthfulness) that we begin to feel the immense value of what an elder is. The more who are living this then as a society we start to re-write age care. In the west we all have not only ageing populations, but populations of ageing that are unwell and sick and have significant disability. We really not only need a new model of caring for our elderly but a new model of how we age.

  15. There is something deeply precious about what is shared here, how in the face of getting older we can embrace life in a whole other way, how important it is that we and others get to see older people engaged in life and with themselves in a way that truly inspires others so that we all get to see we can be fully in life no matter our age, and that each age offers something different and very precious.

    1. Beautifully and simply put. A belief can only have any power over us if we invite it in. And actually, as we grow older it feels like we are freer and freer to say no to popular but dishonouring beliefs.

    2. Beliefs are so limiting in many ways and really need to be kicked out of wherever they have crept into. I just had another limiting belief exposed to me, and so once aware of it, I say no – be gone.

  16. I’ve recently noticed a feeling of not being valuable creeping in to do with my age and the cliche beliefs of getting out of the way for the younger ones. It’s been really uncomfortable to feel these beliefs and how they dull and suppress me, they are definitely untrue. I appreciate the conversation the blog has I opened up as we will all age, and why not do so with full commitment to life, cherishing who we are, and feeling our value and not holding back our input? After all it’s just the body ageing, but the being is accumulating the experiences of life and subsequent wisdom.

  17. Who came up with the term ‘on the shelf’ and more importantly why! We have much to understand about age including young people in understanding how they live now will affect them in their later years. I haven’t seen it but in the UK there has been a programme about an older people’s home and they have brought early years children in to bring back a spark in them. And it has worked, magic is at play when we make it about people and connection and no person should ever be put ‘on the shelf’.

    1. Its like the term “over the hill”. Both terms really highlight to me how much of life we have made it about function. So for some elderly people they may no longer be able to do what they once did, because of their ageing body. We can be very harsh on ourselves in this respect, we can see that “we have no use” because of this. But this is not true. We are of immense value, not because of what we do, but for who we are. But if we have had a life where we have not stopped to appreciate all that we are, even a little of who we are, then when there are changes in our physicality, this can be a very trying time.

      1. Jennifer I’m currently 65 years old and the last 5 years have been very interesting because at 60 I felt as though I was still 20, and that lasted until I reached 64. Then reaching this age a change came over my body and it told me it was time to slow down and to appreciate myself more by taking care of myself. Then another change happened naturally my body told me there were things in the garden I shouldn’t be doing any more such as lopping branches off trees or lifting heavy pots around, so I have hired the assistance of a gardener to do the heavy work. I now cherish my body and have developed a lovely relationship with myself. I still work full time and look forward to being able to travel again when the borders open up. I lead a very busy and fulfilling life, which I love dearly because at last I have stopped fighting myself and everyone else and settled into a beautiful understanding that life is to be lived in full and not to watch life go by from the side lines. I am definitely not over the hill, or on the shelf, for there isn’t a shelf big enough to contain all of me.

  18. I have noticed that as I get older, when people ask me how old I am, each time I have to pause and work it out. There is nothing from within that tells me I am older or younger, I have to draw on external factors to work out this information which to my body feels like an abstract piece of information. In the midst of this it is interesting that I can at times express “ I don’t feel that old” which suggests that although from within I do not register any difference I am still running with unconscious thoughts and beliefs about what a certain age should ‘look like’ or ‘feel’. Such unnecessary imposed limitations and dishonouring of ourselves and each other need to be called out. Thank you for this article.

    1. I feel the same Golnaz, our body goes through the ageing process but in essence we are ageless and genderless.

    2. I have a family member that cannot remember their age, but it comes from not wanting to remember because of their fear growing old. Yet they are so very young and do not look or live the elderly age they are. But it is possible to feel they are running with a consciousness they are not aware of that is keeping them in the fear of being old and the fear of their future rather than embracing all that is on offer for them. This is the hidden consciousness that runs in our society and feeds us the insecurity and fear as we grow old.

  19. At 62 I am definitely not on the shelf but consider myself to be a ‘spring chicken’ as it were, I feel as though I have more stamina now than I did in my 30’s. Life seems richer now than at any other time and this feeling is just deepening.

  20. We have marked retirement as somehow a point where we withdraw from community rather than a point where we stop paid work. Perhaps we are actually made to keep engaging with life and community but just in a different way.

    1. Totally, keep engaging with life, we have much to contribute, ‘a deepening engagement with life and the people in it means we realise how much we still have to offer and how much we want to continue to do so.’

  21. Absolutely there is no need to shrink into the shadows, I am more alive and vibrant than I have ever been. Has this to do with age? I am definitely older and wiser but more important is the choice to commit to life and feel the purpose of my being here, we all have a quality, a uniqueness that only we can bring to the whole.

  22. I will be 50 very soon, and I am finding that this embracing of myself as an elder is not something that I can pull off all of a sudden just because I reach a certain age. It feels to be a gradual progression, looking back at how at every step of life I have been living and appreciating the learnings along the way, and looking forward knowing that there’s so much more to learn.

  23. This turns aging on its head and reading this is so inspiring – the fact is we can at any and all ages have a purpose. If we connect to this then age does not make us any less.

  24. It is only as I have grown older that I have realised the negative perception of being older, the feeling of not having much time left or not having quite us much to offer as someone younger. But I have also realised that we can influence how people perceive us by our own opinion of ourselves.

    1. The current model for people to retire does not sound or look appealing to me. It is amazing to now have incredible role models in our community who are fully living life to the max no matter what age.

  25. Never should we accept or buy into the notion that we are useless, not because of age, gender, character, race, intelligence or else; we all are unique in expression and contribute something to the whole that is made by all of us and we should support each other to be very aware and appreciative of that uniqueness.

    1. Absolutely, whatever our age we all have something valuable to contribute to the world, ‘we all are unique in expression and contribute something to the whole’.

  26. Sitting on the shelf may seem to be safe but it is also utmost boring and meaningless, hence not an option we can choose for too long before ‘life’ will give us a gentle push. We are players in and of life no matter if we like it or not. There more we embrace the fact, the more we will enjoy playing our part.

    1. Well said, we are players in life and when we who do not engage, we actually give permission for some of the greatest wrongdoings because we abdicate responsibility to speak up.

  27. Getting older only seems like something you want when you’re in your teens, then all of a sudden you go, wait no stop! Society definitely has placed the elderly into a box of being past their prime – but you can be past your prime at 25 if you don’t commit to life. And maybe that’s the secret to staying young.

  28. This is beautiful to read for all of us, of all ages, as we have made life as a whole about being on the shelf and to fit in, meanwhile we are denying ourselves to live the beauty that we are and bring all of us into everything we do.

  29. There are definitely a lot of beliefs around ageing that are untrue. We don’t have to become anything just simply continue to be ourselves, value that and share it with the world.

  30. The dynamic in our society is to dismiss the elderly and in that are two things to discern.
    1. The complete ignorance to the quality the elder bring, as when listened to will stop us from inventing the wheel over and over again. So actually as a society we do not want to be stopped in our waywardness.
    2. The abuse that is common place to treat the elderly with is not only accepted by society but by the elderly too.

    1. It’s a remarkable comment Nico, your point no 1 shows how by cutting ourselves off from true elder energy we are unlikely to advance each generation in an evolutionary sense because we aren’t tapping into the storehouse of wisdom our aged carry, instead we are more likely to stay stuck repeating the same cycles. And yes, elders need to step up to this as they do not have to accept societal beliefs about their value.

    2. As elders we can be a point of great reflection, living and embracing life in full, ‘In our experience of being elders, at work, in our families and amongst our community, there is a grace in accepting growing older and a huge service in taking responsibility for the pivotal part we play in society.’

  31. As you can observe in life there is an avoidance of becoming old in many ways. Could this mean that there is a certain quality in the elderly, a quality and a reality we do not want to be faced with because it will expose to us the waywardness we are living?

  32. I’m 62 years old and trotting round the world on business with a very heavy work schedule, living out of a suitcase, changing to different hotels every few days with a lot of driving in between a lot of flying and loving every minute of it. In my 60’s it felt as though I was just getting going. I’m not getting older I’m getting younger
    I’m able to do more now than I ever did in my 30’s – 40’s because I have such vitality.

    1. Mary it would be great to read more about this and how you came to be living such vitality and joy as an elder.

  33. Every stage in our lives offers us the opportunity to deepen and activate living our power. It is through our connection to our Soul that we evolve and can reflect the truth of all the we are, and this can never be measured by the age of our body, our physical appearance or capabilities. To be aging is a beautiful reminder that regardless of how our bodies are, our Soul is what remains unchanged forever impulsing us to live it lights, at every point of our lives.

    1. Ageing is only for the human body, but not for the Spirit and the Soul which are eternal that live in and with it. If we let ourselves to be ruled by the reality of the human body, that the human life has a begin and an end, do we then live in complete neglect of our Spirit and Soul?

  34. Until our last breath we have to embrace life in full, because to do so is to accept responsibility for what we are here to do.

  35. We have a choice as to whether to be on a shelf or not. Many young people put themselves on the shelf these days but equally other young people I know are so wise they have become elders – none of this has to do with age.

  36. Many stages of our lives can be fraught with disappointment, struggle and expectations of ourselves which can bring angst; without self-acceptance and appreciation, life will always be a struggle.

    1. How we live in our senior years can be a point of inspiration to those around us, ‘We can simply embrace growing older, appreciating the passage of time, the learning on offer and the blessing of the responsibility we have to share and reflect.’

  37. Beautiful to read this this morning and realise ‘That we should gracefully step aside to make way for the younger generation.’ is a belief that has been triggered and nurtured in me- that I have fallen prey to..Of course we will naturally give way to others as we die and they continue living but we do not have to give in or give up anything. We continue in our power and they in theirs.

  38. How many people already spent life on the shelf of giving-upness already from a young age? It is not a matter of age but bringing oneself in full into life every day as much as possible, that´s what keeps us young and vivacious.

  39. The temptation of being shelved comes with the current model of living that is based among other things in allocating people into boxes and asking them to embrace where ‘they ought to be’, identify with it and not move. The time to expand and to serve beyond the box has finished.

  40. I feel more sexy, tender and sweet in my 60’s than I ever have felt before in my fife. Observing others around me at this stage of their life there is a focus on retirement, joining the ‘travelling nomads’, starting to live the life they have been waiting for and working towards, there can often also be a ‘givenupness’. There is so much within us to appreciate and confirm as we see life more clearly, exposing it’s imposing and dictatorial energy that we may have allowed to control how much we bring to those around us. Growing older is amazing and powerful.

    1. One of the things about the reward of retirement is the mentality that you can “enjoy life” then. It’s very much based on outer activities dictating how we can feel, instead of making an inner connection to our essence, the soulful part of us, and the joy that can bring to any moment. When we live the fullness of ourselves no rewards are needed – it’s a joy simply to be ourselves.

      1. And that is a great illusion to think that we can enjoy life THEN. If we are not able to enjoy life in our everyday life no retirement nor time off nor holiday will bring us the joy we are missing.

  41. ‘False worries about fitting in’ – so true, our fears about fitting in are based on pictures of what it means to ‘fit in’ and be accepted. But what are we trying to fit into? Usually society’s pictures, someone else’s ideas, about what is socially acceptable. And why do we want to do this? It feels like we do it when we don’t accept and appreciate the beauty that we all are, and judge ourselves for being different, instead of accepting and embracing that we’re all, in essence, one and the same, albeit in many different expressions.

  42. I actually wonder if we can put ourselves “On the shelf” at any point in our lives, for example, when things get tough, or we make mistakes we can give up on ourselves, or if we haven’t fostered a sense of self worth, or if we don’t feel we are beautiful or worth it – but perhaps in these moments we need to embrace life more, commit more, give life more, rather than taking the easily option of the shelf.

  43. ‘No need to shrink into the shadows’ no need to put ourselves on the shelf either, I appreciate getting older and wiser and feel more beautiful, sexy, sparkling and joyful than ever and there is more to come, more to embrace of me and more to share with the world.

  44. This is very lovely to read and confirm. ‘It is now our experience that our ageing bodies are beautiful, sexy, sweet, and endlessly precious, emanating qualities that behold, nurture and support others.’ The wisdom of the elders is ageless.

  45. The elderly have an immense wisdom to share with us “the younger generations”. I love talking to the elderly, who have lived life and are not so tense, worried and worked up with the 21st Century modern hassles and dilemmas.

  46. “So what, as a society, can we say is going on when we so readily dismiss and sideline our elders?” – yes, and this makes me reflect on the recent comment made in the press about the UK economy being in a slump and termed “menopausal” as a result – the comment alone shows how much we can unconsciously side-line those in their later years, our elders as being ineffectual or on the scrapheap, whereas in fact this time of life in its naturalness is but a (another) cycle where there is a growth and activity though just in a different quality to what was before. When we start to appreciate, we always see more than what is there.

  47. ‘We can simply embrace growing older, appreciating the passage of time, the learning on offer and the blessing of the responsibility we have to share and reflect.’ Such a gorgeous sharing, we need true role models like you ladies to reflect to others that there is so much to appreciate and understand about life and ourselves when we embrace the ageing cycle.

  48. Of course there are the cycles of the human body to adhere to but that is only the vehicle we live in and with. The love spark that lives within is forever young while it is age old and that is what is what is being expressed whatever age we are if we can let it unfiltered come through. There are of course the false images of getting older that are around and wants us to belief that we are different when young then when we are older. In fact it is only the body, the outer we live in that ages but it is not our essence which is forever young.

  49. Just because you may retire from your job at a certain age should not mean you retire from life nor from giving back to and interacting with your community in a way that sets a loving and respectful example for others to follow.

  50. I actually felt yesterday that I am feeling more in tune with my body, more beautiful and more in love with myself then I have since I was a young girl –
    Self love and self acceptance is all of our natural birthright – take this away and we are subjected to people’s judgments – it’s taking on these judgements that makes us look and feel older then we are.

    1. Yes Sam, it is the forever young inner most that shines though our eyes whatever age we are.

    2. Thank you Sam, it’s a beautiful and very inspiring comment, it makes sense to what you have shared about judgement bouncing off us when our self love and self acceptance are solid.

  51. As a woman in my 30s I am deeply inspired by the older women in my life. Their lack of self judgement or need to be perfect, their understanding and holding of others, their zest for life and their purpose are deeply inspiring.

  52. There can be a bit of defiance and defeat underneath our drive when we say we have nothing to loose … but if we approach life appreciating who we are no matter our age we present something very different that we’re amazing just as we are at any age, and we are just us not trying to prove anything. And the world badly needs more people, especially elders to do this.

  53. “There is an acceptance that introduces humility, a life-enriching quality that allows us to view the world and our place and purpose in it with a sense of the bigger picture and the joy of our equality.”
    The quality of humility is opening me to being much more willing to learn from life and much less wanting to fight what it brings.

  54. Speaking up can be scary as we can be worried about how another will take it or if we will be judged etc. But it is super important to share what we hold and have inside us and not hide it away.

  55. Allowing our body to feel that we can “simply embrace growing older, appreciating the passage” of space that will allow us to be aware of what our next in-carnation will bring does take all the stresses out of this life and so we become aware of the truer way of living with a divine purpose for life.

  56. No shrinking here too.
    I love each day my body gets older as I also feel much wiser everyday and blessed to re-discover the love I am and shine in through my body.

  57. Taking stock, and see what is true, that’s something that is very missing from our world and perhaps our constant chasing of youth is part of this; maybe in our race to be ahead, to catch that next thing we miss out on what is truly important, and this I feel is what our elders offer us, context, the bigger picture and an understanding that there is so much more than we know … our world needs more of our elders to remind us of all parts of the cycle we live in.

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