If you separate the self from its diversions, relationships and ego, you experience nothingness. And this nothingness can feel very flat. Many people call this feeling depressed, but I prefer thinking of it as flat.
1 smooth and even
2 lacking interest or emotion
3 the same in all cases
As I age, I experience all three of these things. My life is smooth and even, I lack interests and emotions, and everyday is the same. Like the cat who makes a daily trek across the street every morning at 8:30, I too, have an established routine.
Historically, or at least prior to the industrial age, most people lived in (what would now be considered) monotonous routines. They rarely deviated in their habits, they stayed in the same area, they had a small circle of friends and relatives, they did the same work – until they got too old to work.
Having spent the first five years of my life with two people in their sixties, I acclimated to their kind of life. The way they lived became normal for me. During my formative years, I learned how to be me by watching old people. There was never any excitement, interest or emotion, and everyday was the same. (When I say this I am speaking of their lives, the context I grew up in. Obviously for me, as a growing child, every day was exciting, emotional and full of surprises).
Now that the world is entering into a period where more and more people are old, life is going to get flatter. And this flattening is going to trickle down into younger ages as well due to financial insecurity and a lower standard of living. George Orwell once remarked that poverty is boring. If one cannot buy, there are very few options for any kind of intense or varied pleasure. (The old standby used to be sex, but now that sex has been so overplayed, even this is starting to not interest people anymore).
We always seem to be reaching for the “new normal” but inevitably, whatever new normal we achieve eventually deflates back the old normal. Very few people completely break out of their habits and patterns. I can see in my own life that by moving I have only transferred my former habits and patterns from one geographic location to another. I am not doing anything different, (other than going to a gym, and when my membership expires I will probably stop).
There is nothing exciting going on. And the truth is, my life has never been very exciting. It was dramatic, tumultuous and chaotic. Excite means to cause strong feelings of enthusiasm and eagerness, to arouse sexually, to give rise to a feeling or reaction, to produce a state of increased energy or activity. Most of the drama I experienced was not pleasant, and usually decreased rather than increased my energy.
I think aging brings about a closing in on oneself. One’s sense of space gets more constrained. I find now that distraction really does distract me, and not in a pleasant kind of way. How does one get beyond the idea that everything has to be exciting, that life is only enjoyable when one is “not flat.”
In one of Pema Chodron’s books, When Things Fall Apart, she talks about the constant ebb and flow of life. We get high, we go up, and then when what has excited us stops, it all falls apart. We feel disappointed, depressed, morose. To get out of this we float another balloon up into the air which will also pop or deflate. Over and over, we build castles (either physically or in our mind) that are washed away by time.
I have read about many women who lived exciting and dangerous lives. But in the end, they got old, some of them became quite ill and lived in poverty. Other than poverty or illness, there are no passageways into aging, no clearly defined steps that progressively acclimate a person to a flattened life. One is supposed to be young (in all that implies), until they are not. And when you are not, the road abruptly ends. It is like being on the other side of something.
As a solitary introvert, I thought I would be better equipped to make this transition. But I am finding that this stage is not about how I relate or don’t relate to other people. It is about how I relate to myself in an altered form. I am, on some fundamental level, no longer who I was, yet I still feel attached to that other person, I still want to think and act like I am twenty but this doesn’t work. Who am I if I am not my young self. Can I ever really give up clinging to it?