My personal practice lately has been to well and truly observe the heyday my mind has with this aging body generally and this aging skin, particularly. My judgmental mind, the mind that believes all the images it sees of smooth, airbrushed, youthful beauty, moves so easily into comparison. Look at those … (fill in the blank – wrinkles, cellulite, fat, veiny hands, floppy upper-arm wings).
After that follows the plan to get better, stronger, less floppy and veiny. More disciplined. Harsh.
When I catch this loop, I can get discouraged that I still sometimes believe it. Then I remind myself how much money the cosmetic industry alone makes on youth.
I’m reminded of a story Ram Dass told a few years ago about being invited to speak at a conference focusing on the “Mind-Body Thing” at a hotel. He was about sixty then, and another presenter was pitching a product for aging skin.
Everyone attending was invited to pinch their skin and watch how quickly it bounced back to its original form. He was delighted by what he saw. His skin held its shape! How cool! He was surprised and amused at how dismayed the woman was at this condition. Everyone in the room seemed to be convinced that his skin was in terrible trouble.
When I heard him tell the story I tsk-tsked at these silly women, these spa-goers (or whatever other judgment I leveled at them). I was just a bit over 45 years old, proud of my kind relationship to my skin and looking forward to the road maps that would soon appear on my face.
Fast-forward almost twenty years. Most of the time, my skin is the last thing on my mind. But a couple of years ago some red spots appeared on my arms. I noticed the skin on my forearms was beginning to resemble the arms I see across the table when I visit my mom’s senior housing complex.
Now that is going too far! My mind cried.
I’ve studied those spots, played detective, hated them, wanted them to disappear, become dismayed when they re-appeared. I completely banned aspirin and ibuprofen, changed my diet so that it was half green crud. Tried many Eastern and Western concoctions.
Although I could never remember bumping my arms, I eventually discovered that this was the cause, this and a combination of thin skin with low elasticity. Just like the spa lady predicted.
Get this: it’s called senile pupura: the condition of old age when blood vessels are more easily damaged. It looks like the photo above (which are not my actual arms, just how I imagine them to be. Interesting that I felt the need to mention that).
Yikes. Not only that, I have some of those brown spots in a couple of places, the ones we used to call “liver spots.” Dang you for spending all that unprotected time in the sun! mind cries again.
So painful. Total torment to even write these words.
But even in torment I can catch a glimpse of the other side of the tunnel of thought.
When I don’t believe the thoughts, I’m free to see the hands that move, arms that hug, spots that call my attention to these amazing arms and the way they show me where to inquire about what’s good for these blood vessels and skin of mine. Vitamin C. Sunscreen. Observing dietary effects. Perhaps a little rest and kindness.
And, most important, the lens that regards anything about my body shifts to kindness. Kindness, gratitude, and amazement that it does exactly what it does. All for me.