It’s a warm November day in Tampa, and Louise Hay has just delivered the welcome address to more than 3,000 attendees of her "I Can Do It" conference. Standing at the side of the room, I watch as the sold-out crowd erupts in affectionate applause when she announces that she’s in her ninth decade, and it’s the best one of her life so far. It’s such an inspiring moment.
On the way to our hotel, I study Louise as she walks purposefully toward the front door. A unique blend of funky and elegant, she’s dressed in a flowery crinkled shirt draped over tight-fitting leggings. She radiates the energy of youth and the beauty of aged wisdom.
We arrive at the hotel and head up to Louise’s room. She immediately opens the balcony doors, and I feel a comfortable breeze graze my skin while I scope out a place to sit. I flop down, cross-legged, on a wingback chair near a stunning arrangement of flowers — lilies, tulips, sunflowers, and raspberry-colored roses — resting on the center of a coffee table in the middle of the room. “The flowers are a gift from someone who needed my help last week,” she tells me. “They make me so happy.”
She makes her way to the kitchenette and proceeds to make us each a cup of tea. While she removes the tea bags from their wrapping, she shares her excitement at having found a new black velvet cover for her iPad — the latest technology tool she’s been enjoying with gusto. I realize that even at age 84, Louise is the eternal student. I so admire her curiosity and hunger for learning.
I set my tools around me and wonder what she knows at 84 about feeling comfortable in her skin that I could learn at 51. I ask her how she looks and feels so good at her age — what’s her secret?
“Well, to me it comes down to loving yourself, loving your body and making peace with the aging process,” she replies. “You can’t do anything well or for the long term without loving yourself first. When you love yourself, you care about your body and you care about what you put into it. You also care about the thoughts you choose to think.”
So if we’re diligent about practicing what we’ve already talked about in this book, we’ll have a much easier time as we age?
“Yes. Life has gotten much easier for me because I’ve learned how to plan my experiences. My positive affirmations go before me, smoothing the way. I make a point to anticipate what I would like to experience in the future. For instance, today I needed to do three errands, so I affirmed: This is a glorious day, and every experience is a joyous adventure.
“As I entered each of the three different stores, I found lovely salespeople who made friendly conversation with me. One clerk and I even laughed and laughed over something silly. Each of these experiences was a small yet joyous adventure. Part of the wisdom of aging is to find joy in even the simplest situations. When we live our lives to the fullest, we’re going to make the little things in life wonderful and good and important.”
I note that as we get older and lose friends or family members, it seems that we value our connections to others more, even the kind of connection Louise is talking about in these everyday situations.
“We could, or it could make us bitter. We can choose to be bitter about losing loved ones, or we can choose to reach out to new people and fill the emptiness.”
The more I get to know Louise, the more I appreciate, on a deep level, the value of putting good thought habits in place early in life. When she talks about her approach to living, it’s clear that she’s invested a lot of time and energy in managing her mind. As a result, this investment has given her a far more positive view of aging. Her vigilance about living with purpose and intention keeps paying great dividends year after year. As I witness her response to life, I keep being reminded to deepen this habit myself.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Louise admits. “I’ve faced the same challenges most people do as they age — wrinkles, weight gain, stiffness and noticing that young men no longer look longingly at me. But there’s no use making myself miserable about things I cannot change. We’re all going to age. I’ve just made a decision to take care of myself and love myself no matter what.
“I eat well. I consume foods that are very good for my body, foods that support me. I eat very little that drains my body or that doesn’t support me. I also do things like acupuncture and craniosacral sessions once a month as a general tune-up. And I do my best to choose thoughts that make me feel good as much as possible. This is the big lesson that I’ll keep repeating: Our thinking either makes us feel good or it makes us feel bad. It’s not the events nearly as much as it’s the thoughts.”
So it’s not the wrinkle, it’s the thoughts you have about the wrinkle?
“Absolutely. The wrinkle is just there. And it’s there for everybody. You haven’t been singled out to be the one person who has that wrinkle. It’s foolish to make yourself unhappy about something like that. We want to enjoy every phase of life as much as possible.”
“Speaking of wrinkles,” I mention, “let’s talk about the body. You said that the secret to your success at 84 has to do with loving yourself and your body, but what if you’re a woman who’s 50 pounds overweight and hates what she sees in the mirror? How do you look at yourself and say ‘I love you’ when you don’t like what you see”
“Well, that’s the point of what we’re doing,” Louise replies. “As I said before, I no longer believe in working on a single issue. In the early days, I worked with individual problems like weight loss. Then one day I discovered that if I could get clients to love themselves, we didn’t have to work on problems anymore. Self-love was the core issue for everybody and everything. And that’s a difficult realization for a lot of people to accept or acknowledge — that it could be that simple.
“This woman you’re talking about might think her issue is weight, but it isn’t her issue at all; it’s self-hatred. If we can get to the bottom of that or get her to start consistently practicing affirmations that will support her in building a good relationship with her body, it will begin the process of self-love.”
After pausing for a moment, she goes on. “It’s true that sometimes you need to adjust your diet in order to stick with this new practice. By now, most of us know that sugar is addictive and just isn’t good for the body. Wheat and dairy products cause problems for many people, too. We need to eat foods that nourish and fuel our body and our mind. While it’s wonderful to say the right affirmations, if you’re loading yourself up on caffeine, sugar, junk food and the like, you’re going to have a hard time focusing your mind on anything at all, let alone positive affirmations. And if you’ve grown up on junk food, then you might need some guidance on what it means to eat a healthy diet. I didn’t know anything about good nutrition until my cancer diagnosis invited me to find out what my body needed. Even now I still keep up with the latest info when it comes to health and healing.”
I can certainly appreciate the importance of taking good care of the body as we age. Like so many of us, I’ve read my share of books, websites and studies trying to learn as much as I can about diet, exercise or supplements. There is a maze of information out there, and it’s easy to get confused. Our society spends billions of dollars on anti-aging books and products, health-club memberships and diet programs, searching for the right formula for creating optimal health ... yet obesity rates continue to climb, and our overall health continues to decline.
In the last several months, I’d been focusing on exactly what Louise is talking about: loving myself and my body first, and allowing this love to lead me in the direction of wise choices that support my emotional and physical health. I am learning, firsthand, that it works. As I’ve built a strong connection to my body, I’ve naturally become drawn to the right foods, types of exercise, forms of self-care and even health-care practitioners. Yes, I now know that it all starts with love.
What are you thoughts/experiences on aging gracefully?