In her third book, JUST BE: AGING GRACEFULLY, Ambassador Erieka Bennett seeks to impart wisdom she has gained in living life fully, unapologetically and magically for 65 years. With an international career encompassing corporate communications and diplomacy throughout Africa, Erieka is well-positioned to present a broad view of what it takes to step into "senior" status feeling healthy and optimistic about the years ahead.
"It is my hope that this book will complement other material on spiritual, physical and emotional health that has begun to inspire a paradigm shift on the approach to aging well," she explains.
"It's a great privilege to grow older, and we can make it more fun by altering our thoughts and attitudes. Aging should be seen as a time to do what you love ... and just be. Contrary to the obnoxious idea that life is coming to an end when we see the first gray hair, we should prepare for and treat aging as the rewarding start of something new."
Anyone can age gracefully, with the right tools. This must-read gem- Just Be: Aging Gracefully - is such a tool, especially for the man or woman "over 50" but also for young adults. As Erieka explains, it's never too early to start paving the way for rich, productive, healthy and beautiful twilight years.
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Just Be â" Aging Gracefully
By Erieka Bennett
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Ambassador Erieka Bennett
All rights reserved.
"Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it."
— Marcus Aurelius
When we are children we look forward to our next birthdays. We simply can't wait to get older. We daydream of what we shall become when we grow up. But during our 20s and 30s, we realize that becoming adults depends on more than wishing. Life challenges us to discover who we are, and uncertainties and impatience sometimes create the stress associated with becoming adults. However, with time, most of us evolve into our truest selves and by the time we are "senior" we feel more mature and wise.
One important thing to do as you discover yourself is to become appreciative and accepting of the aging process. And to do that, you should associate with people who have gone through it and whom you admire. You should learn by giving an ear to those who are more experienced. A person I learned from is Xernona Clayton. Mrs. Clayton is in her 80s, she looks and acts decades younger full of youthful energy and passion for the future. I have also been inspired by another mentor, H.E. Ruth Sando Perry, the first transitional female president in Africa (Liberia). Madam Perry has continued to age gracefully -- with a grateful heart -- in spite of her ailing health.
In many cultures, it is well known that the wise counsel of the elders helps societies become better. Regardless of our cultural backgrounds, we learn from folklore the importance of wisdom associated with growing older. Yet, at the same time, we hear all kinds of stereotypes about aging. People say, for instance, "You can't teach old dog new tricks." This is supposed to mean that elderly people don't have the capacity to learn anything new and worthwhile or are unable to adjust to change.
In our fast - paced generation that is fixated on the concept of eternal youth, growing old -- or certainly looking older -- is often characterized as a thing to be avoided like the plague. The media are filled with endless ads of cosmetic and anti-aging solutions to look younger, as if there is something seriously wrong with looking older than age 30. Like the 16th century conquistador Juan Ponce deLeón, legions of people seek the fountain of youth; and if they found a magical wand, they might freeze themselves eternally in a moment of youth.
But without expensive (and sometimes dangerous) plastic surgery, the etchings of the years cannot be halted or reversed. The wrinkles creep in, the bones in the knees and back tend to get stiff, the gray hair comes, and the short-term memory often starts to fail. When you look in the mirror you can't deny the obvious: You are aging. What do you do with that awareness? Do you fall into a depression or do you make the best of the circumstances? Do you decide to optimize whatever time you have left until your last breath, seeing the best in yourself as you look forward and not backward.
Death is not morbid; rather, it's a transition. And we should not obsess about it while we live. The important thing to emphasize now is what we do while we are here in this life. Growing old can be seen as nature's way of bringing us closer to the inevitability of death; of giving us time to prepare for life's natural transition.
Facing our mortality is not always easy, though. It can be disruptive and sad to lose your vision, memory or hearing. And it's difficult to accept not being able to do some of the physical things you used to do. Yet, the paradox of aging is that although we become more aware that our physical bodies will expire, an equal awareness arises of the ageless spirit that resides in each of us. We are enveloped by a sense of mystery of who we are at the core and what life is in all its magical possibilities.
When we reach our 60s and 70s, we face more starkly the inevitability of the end of this lifetime. And we may question more often what comes next. In this regard the scenario of the sun that rises and sets every day should teach us that no condition is permanent. We may liken our youthful years to noon when the sun reaches its peak. During those years we are full of energy and the world is ours to conquer. But sooner than later, like the sunset, we begin to face lesser hues. However, with the appreciation we have for the calmness of sunsets, it behooves us to embrace our aging years as refreshing and lovely. Our twilight years should become a time where we revel in the joy and peace that life can offer.
When we accept our mortality we become liberated and transformed. We become positive, authentic and live more fully. We are able to speak our minds more freely and enjoy every moment without trying to please other people. We tend to be more honest with our feelings and speak from the heart. So, you see, there is no reason to fear. Death is, simply, a transition.
Coping with physical changes
We are living longer these days largely due to improved medical systems. Consequently, our mental attitude about growing old has to change. Growing older should be an art to be mastered with some of the techniques discussed here.
Our body is like a machine that due to years of usage goes through wear and tear. As we age the body that was once very strong naturally goes through notable changes. These could be quite insidious and dramatic. You may find bending over a hard thing when it used to be so easy. You may not be able carry loads of things as much as you used to do. Some of us may have to strain to hear what people are saying. And like I did recently, sometimes you may trip and fall.
These and many more changes in your body are natural limitations that you have to grapple with. I have noticed that I used to walk so fast. In fact I still do to some extent, because I learned from my mother that walking fast keeps you in good shape and active. I have noticed that I have to slow my pace a little more, particularly in airports. I don't like queuing anywhere, let alone in airport terminals. (But suffice it to say that in Africa I can use my elder status to jump queues because young people want their elders to go ahead of them, when feasible.) For most of us, the pace that we walk changes as well as our ability to see clearly. The key thing here is first of all to acknowledge and to regard these circumstances as the body reformulating itself. My body needs me to understand it. Yours needs your understanding.
But don't worry. Just take precautions and chalk these up to adjustments in the journey of growing old.
As you grow older you should become more passionate about things that you really want to do. You see, I don't think your emotions should dim. You should try new things. Take risks. Try and go through all of the bucket list items and make them happen. I found myself, for instance, enjoying the feeling of a 5-year-old with a party I had for 150 children on Halloween. When you get older it's important to keep a young heart. This helps you cope with the changes that occur, to bounce back with the emotional resilience of a child who has not been beaten down by life.
The saying, "Prevention is worth a pound of cure" is especially applicable for us as we grow old. In that vein, don't wait for an obvious change to happen before you seek medical advice or attention. In other words, you don't have to get sick before you see the doctor. The onset of hearing challenges, for example, may be due to accumulation of wax. By going for regular check-ups, your doctor can easily remove the wax, and if you need a hearing aid, it would be better to know sooner than later.
Similarly, eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts and retinopathy usually start with blurry and fuzzy vision. You may also experience spots in your vision. Don't wait until it gets out of hand before your seek medical attention. You can prevent some of these diseases before they ruin your health.
Music and dance
Thousands, no millions of people have seen their health improve through music and dance. Enjoy them as much as you can when you are growing older. As a morning ritual, I play music and dance every day. "Now That We Found Love," by Third World, is what I dance to every morning. While twirling, shaking and stretching, I soak myself in the words of the music: "We owe it to ourselves to live happy eternally," "Let's give love a chance," and, "You've got to forgive and forget." The entire music is about 7 minutes. By the time I am done dancing, I feel lively and ready to make the best of my day.
Dancing is essential for the physical and emotional well-being of all, especially older bodies and minds. Dancing should be an indispensable activity to use in staying energetic. After age 60 it can be tiring and even boring to use the treadmill. The best option for me is dancing! And I recommend it to you.
Whether you dance alone or in a group, avoid rigorous dance moves. A good idea is to try dance types like ballroom, tap, jazz, salsa, belly dancing, swing, line dancing and other simple forms of social dances. You should have fun doing it. I do.
The benefits of dancing abound. Dancing makes you young at heart and rejuvenates you by increasing your stamina and reducing stress. It improves your physical balance and posture. Emotionally, it can trigger good memories and inspire creative ideas. The more you do it, the more likely you are to prevent complications of the heart, depression and high blood pressure.
Wouldn't it be even more fun if you joined a dancing class? If you do, you are likely to make new friends, young and old alike.
Never buy into the stereotypes of aging as a time to resign from life. Instead, be active. Consider the changes you go through as opportunities for living a fruitful life. I cherish my role as Ambassador for the African Union diaspora, the first of its kind in the world. I love my life.
As part of staying active, find time to be involved in some form of community service. Volunteer to mentor young people who may become transformed because you spoke to their lives. So many young people need guidance and the right type of motivation to make it in life. There is joy in availing yourself to helping others in your community. Currently, I am passionate about the Child Ambassadors programs initiated by my foundation. It gives me extreme joy to see the transformation that occurs in the life of a young person when he or she gets an opportunity to succeed. I also recognize that dealing with young people helps us stay mentally sharp.
With age, you may have acquired a lot of wisdom by reflecting on your experiences. Yet, you should never stop learning. If you can take courses at a nearby university, do so. Traveling is a form of education, so if you can, do more of it. Above all, stimulate your mind through reading every day and going to the movies every now and then. Whatever you do, have an open mind and stay active.
Justice Crabbe, a renowned Ghanaian jurist who just turned 91 and still goes to work, asks, "Why should I go on retirement. If my heart does not stop pumping blood through my system, why should I resign from living when I grow old?"
Inject some humor
Another essential and natural technique to help cope with aging is to have a sense of humor. When you are old, it's time to smile and laugh more. You should not take yourself so seriously. Life is too short to be constantly serious. Don't try to take the whole world's problems on your shoulders. It's unrealistic and can make you sick. Don't try to philosophize too much about life and miss the joy of living. After all, life was before you were born and life continues after you die. Yes, it's important to make a difference wherever you are, but don't fall victim to any task that makes you ignore yourself.
To cultivate a sense of humor, start with yourself. You should find time to laugh at yourself. Share with your close friends or family occasions that you consider too embarrassing and laugh over them. This implies that you should surround yourself with people who make you laugh. In this regard, be around children as often as you can because they are God's instruments of teaching us to be playful and lighthearted. My sister friend Brenda Joyce is a Master at laughing at herself and the world around her. She will turn 75 this year buts looks 55 and acts 25.
The enormous benefits of laughter on the body and mind have been amply documented. Laughter is therapeutic in the sense that its infectious nature increases happiness and intimacy with those with whom we laugh. The physiological response to laughter is amazing. It gets rid of all forms of stress, boosts your energy level and builds up your immune system. Apart from helping release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our bodies, laughter increases blood flow through, to and from the heart.
What are you waiting for? Inject some humor into your life every day. Watch a comedy show, play pranks with children, share a joke, do something silly and have fun. Whatever you do, make sure you don't miss out on the opportunity to laugh.
Another important technique to help you age gracefully is creating personal systems to help you remember things. As you age, most likely you will sometimes forget your grocery list, the name of a friend and even not remember where you put your car keys. That is normal and you shouldn't fret over it. Instead, adopt ways that will boost your memory against the periodic and nearly inevitable memory loss.
First of all you should be organized. Make every effort to avoid clutter in your living space because that will cause more frustration should you be looking for something misplaced. What I do is keep different items in their respective small baskets. I always keep my keys in one basket, so I don't have to roam from room to room looking for keys to my car. In terms of appointments, I make sure I note all of them in my diary and keep reminders on my phone.
Secondly, keep your mind active with crossword puzzles and brain-enhancing games. For me, it's always fun playing games on my iPhone before going to bed. Sometimes I fall asleep playing those games because they have a relaxing effect on my mind. One of my favorite card games is Solitaire. (But remember to move your phone away from your bed and nightstand before you turn in fully for the night, as the cell phone may interfere with your sleep and the radiation may be harmful in that close proximity overnight.)
Natural herbs can also be useful to boost brainpower and overall health. Ginkgo Biloba and Dong Quai are examples of the herbs that I take. While the former supports mental alertness, the latter helps my female organs.
Making the best of every moment
By fully accepting the reality of aging, we become more appreciative of the gift of life. We realize more fully that the beautiful game of life is worth playing and that taking care of ourselves is essential.
Time is of the essence. There is no need wasting time brooding over mistakes of the past and events of the future that we do not have control over. We can only take every moment one day at a time and make the very best of it. Knowing that time is precious, you choose to be happy and peaceful.
My grandmother used to say, "Yesterday is like a canceled check, tomorrow is a promissory note, today is ready cash, so use it."CHAPTER 2
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
~ Steve Jobs
One of the great perks of aging is the freedom to be authentic. You feel the need, and others have that expectation. Once you become a "senior citizen," you have the privilege and the opportunity to understand and be who you truly are. You know what makes you tick, what makes you happy. You become very aware of the lane that you belong in – and you don't mind sticking to it.
The joy of this phase for me is "knowing" and clearly stating that "this is me" or "this isn't for me." I don't have to explain to anyone why I do what I do. I can just "be" who I am and stay true to who I have become.
Embrace your uniqueness
Each one of us is unique. We all have something distinctive about us. Of the 7 billion people who now live on planet earth, none has the same fingerprints as you. No one has exactly the same kind of experiences as you have. It is important to be conscious of the fact that you are unique.
Knowing that I am a unique being, I don't try to compete with anybody. I don't want to be anybody else, because I am me. Once you have that understanding you become appreciative of your experiences. You love yourself - warts and all. You say, "Okay, I know I'm not perfect. I am a fallible being. But I am a unique human being. There is just one me. In that sense, I consider myself imperfectly perfect."
Even if you are an identical twin, you are still different. Your spirit is different since every child comes with her unique mind. Just look into the eyes of a baby, and you will not fail to notice the kind of single energy he or she brings into the world. We all come with our own special qualities and our own destinies. Once you understand this, then you don't go about trying to get hips or lips like this person or trying to look like someone else or to emulate Oprah's exact same path to riches. You can admire someone without spending any energy on wanting to be that person. I don't want to be anybody but Erieka. That's all I want to be. And I want to be the best Erieka I can ever be. That's what we should all be striving for: to be our very best.
When you get older, you become more aware that you don't have to put up any façade and that it's not worth it to try to be anybody else. There is no need for any defense mechanisms. You don't put on a mask of confidence or any social masks for that matter. In fact, aging gives you the freedom and audacity to own yourself without being rude to anybody. The games that you used to play for people to like you, you don't want to do that anymore. For me, more than ever, I say what I mean and mean what I say. I don't sugarcoat my words or seek to massage any egos with what I say. I say it as I see it, of course without being inconsiderate.
Excerpted from Just Be â" Aging Gracefully by Erieka Bennett. Copyright © 2015 Ambassador Erieka Bennett. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One Acceptance, 1,
Chapter Two Just Be, 12,
Chapter Three Be Free and Fearless, 20,
Chapter Four Lifestyle, 29,
Chapter Five Family and Friends, 40,
Chapter Six Work, Retirement and Money Matters, 48,
Chapter Seven It's All About Mindset, 54,
Epilogue: Erieka's Mantras (Pearls of Wisdom), 63,