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Understanding Mindfulness - Part 6

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Mindfulness and Ageing: How to Mindfully Engage Getting Old


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A book entitled Trionfi was written by Petrarch, an Italian humanist philosopher, some time between 1340 and 1374. Petrarch used a poetic context to explore six allegorical themes, which included, Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time and Eternity, the last two written just before his death. Most of the extant illustrated manuscripts of Petrarch’s work were dated from 1440 to 1480. The manuscripts typically depicted Time as an old man with a walking stick in one hand and more than not, carrying an hourglass.

In her paper entitled, The Early Renaissance Personification of Time and Changing Concepts of Temporality, Simona Cohen best summarised Petrarch’s discourse on Time when she wrote,

“Gazing at Sol (the sun), the author (Petrarch) speaks about the vanity of setting one’s heart on the things that time takes away. He says, ‘How swiftly time before my eyes rushed on after the guiding sun that never rests.’ Life is brief. ‘This morning I was a child and now I am old.’ It is no more than a single day. ‘Cloudy and cold and short with grief.’ He admonishes men against false hopes and describes them as a group of blind fools who move quietly onward without fearing time. Time dissolves all mortal things, both physical and mental. Man turns to dust and life to smoke. Old age brings misery and Glory melts likes snow in the sun. Time, in his avarice, steals all and triumphs over the world and Fame.” (1)

Ageing is the human realisation of the unrelenting nature of Time. “This morning I was a child, and now I am old”, exclaimed Petrarch. Typically the old man would be depicted facing left (west) as if moving towards the setting sun, the end of day. For the first time in my life I am getting to watch first-hand, the triumph of Time, as my own mother (who is in her nineties) morphs with the ravages of evening, not to mention my own experience, now being in my sixties. Both of us are moving closer to sundown, sunrise a fading memory.

I watch, being disturbed, at the exponential deterioration of her body, as disease takes centre stage. I watch, unsettled at the circumstantial expulsion from her home and severance from her possessions. She is unable to live in her own home now, given the care that is now required with the demands of her disease. Possessions, memories, freedom, and wellbeing, all inevitably being stripped away the closer Time gets to the western horizon, the quicker the remaining grains of sand pass through the neck of the hourglass.

I have friends whose circumstance demands that they become full-time carers for their aged and sick parent(s). This is the ultimate topsy-turvey, as they are now the parent looking after their child-like mum or dad. For many, it’s overwhelming. Their dreams and life rudely interrupted by their sense of duty and/or compassion. They’ve lost their freedom, imprisoned by their familial responsibility. The science of longevity has seen that what was once an exception to the rule, is now common place. Adult children didn’t expect to be put into this situation. It seems that daylight saving even applies to Petrarch’s allegorical Time!

Time is the currency of what we value. We only spend our time, talent and resources on what we treasure, conscious or otherwise. That being the case, we are at liberty to ’spend’ our time on whatever we choose, albeit habitual. The key here is recognising that you have a choice about how you will spend your time. There are two core juxtaposed sets of values; the material and spiritual. For most of us, our familial and social programming sees us focus on the material values of wealth, power, love and success. The degree to which we treasure these is made manifest in the grief of loss that ageing brings. Dementia paradoxically being an oasis in that desert of grief.

Spiritual values include, peace, unconditional love, joy and awe. When they become the treasure of our heart, they displace wealth, power, love, and success. In that moment, grief is replaced with gratitude, and what was once tightly held onto is now released as gifts and blessings. The experience of that person’s day is celebrated and honoured long before that moment, when with exhaustion, tucked up in bed, their eyes finally close.

It’s difficult learning to be mindful at the end of day. Ideally, having developed the ‘aware habit’ of recalling in each moment that you have a choice to be kinder to yourself, others and the planet, will mean that long before nightfall, you are no longer attached to the need for wealth, empowerment, special relationships or having to prove your worth. Kindness displaces fear, grief and suffering. Being mindful in your twilight time frees you to be present in each moment. Having become skilled in observation, you see what is happening, hear what is happening (if you are wearing your hearing aids), and feel what is happening, recognising that there is something more to you than your body, mind, feelings ,and desires.

I have an intellect, but I am more than my intellect.

It may be quiet or active.

It’s capable of expanding, letting go of limiting beliefs and learning new attitudes.

It is an organ of knowledge in regard to the inner world as well as the outer.

But it is not myself.

I have an intellect, but I am not my intellect. I am more than that.

I am the one who is aware.

I have a body, but I am not my body. I am more than that.

My body may be in different conditions of health or sickness.

It may be rested or tired, but it is not my real “I”.

My body is my precious instrument of experience and of action, but it is not myself.

I have a body, but I am not my body. I am more than that.

I am the one who is aware.

I have emotions, but I am more than my emotions.

They are countess, contradictory, changing.

And yet I know that I always remind I, my self, in a state of irritation or calm.

Since I can observe, understand and judge my emotions and then

Increasingly dominate, direct and utilise them, it is evident that they are not myself.

I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. I am more than that.

I am the one who is aware.

I am a centre of pure self-awareness.

I am a centre of will,

Capable of mastering and directing all of my energies: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

I am the one who is aware.

I am the self. (2)

When you can lean back and become the observer of who you are intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually, then and only then is it possible for peace, joy, agape love, and awe to become your reality, whether you are at midday, mid-afternoon, or at twilight.


(1) Cohen, Simona. “The Early Renaissance Personification of Time and Changing Concepts of Temporality.” Renaissance Studies 14, no 3. (2000): 301-328.

(2) From Susan Trout?

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