Change is inevitable – defy it at your own peril!
You will have gathered from my earlier posts that change is going to happen whether you like it or not. So perhaps it would be easier if we made more of an occasion of the changes in our lives.
It seems to me that in our society most stages of life are no longer honoured. We celebrate birthdays and marriages, but what about the other big occasions like coming of age, a girl’s first period, the menopause, and even death? All these landmarks in a lifetime were once celebrated, but now are gone, tucked away and difficult to talk about.
The Chinese knew about change
Over two thousand years ago Chinese doctors observed that females and males age in seven and eight year cycles respectively. This is true to some extent; the cells of the organs do regenerate, but at different rates, as do the bones and skin. The Chinese medical classics talk about Qi and Essence rather than cells. The Neijing (which is basically the Chinese Medicine bible) makes it very clear that the body is in decline from around the age of thirty-five!
This is what the Chinese observed:
Women age in 7 year cycles
At seven years of age her kidney energy becomes full, her permanent teeth come in, and her hair grows long.
At fourteen years the tian kui, or fertility essence, matures, the conception and vital channels responsible for conception open, menstruation begins, and conception is possible.
At twenty-one years the kidney energy is strong and healthy, the wisdom teeth appear, and the body is vital and flourishing.
At twenty-eight years the bones and tendons are well developed and the hair and secondary sex characteristics are complete. This is the height of female development.
At thirty-five years the stomach and large intestine channels that govern the major facial muscles begin to deplete, the muscles begin to atrophy, facial wrinkles appear, and the hair begins to thin.
At forty-two all three yang channels are exhausted, the entire face is wrinkled, and the hair begins to turn grey.
At forty-nine years the conception and vital channels are completely empty, and the tien kui has dried up. Hence, the flow of the menses ceases and the woman is no longer able to conceive.
Men age in 8 year cycles
At eight years of age the kidney energy becomes full, the permanent teeth appear, and the hair becomes long.
At sixteen years of age the kidney energy is ample, the tien kui is mature, and the Jing is ripe, so procreation is possible.
At twenty-four years the kidney qi is abundant, the bones and tendons grow strong, and the wisdom teeth come in.
At the thirty-second year the body is at the peak of strength, and functions of the male are at their height.
By forty the kidney qi begins to wane, teeth become loose, and the hair starts to fall.
At forty-eight the yang energy of the head begins to deplete, the face becomes sallow, the hair greys, and the teeth deteriorate.
By fifty-six years the liver energy weakens, causing the tendons to stiffen.
At sixty-four the tian kui dries up and the Jing is drained, resulting in kidney exhaustion, fatigue, and weakness. The kidney reservoir becomes empty, marking the end of the power of conception.
We live in a cult of youth
We have become too squeamish to talk about ageing and bodily fluids; which is strange when you think about it, because it will happen to every one of us, if we’re lucky. I suppose that’s why we try to brush it under the carpet.
Take funerals for example, which in our culture are often sad affairs. The Toraja people in Indonesia, however, exhume the corpses of their relatives every year in what they call ‘The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses’. They clean them and dress them in new clothes and spend the day with them. In Mexico, of course, they famously celebrate the Day of the Dead. And in Tibetan Buddhism the daily contemplation of death is positively encouraged. Better to not be taken by surprise by something that is definitely coming. We just don’t know when.
It is important that we are accepting of change.
Some things are just inevitable. We all age and we all experience illness and pain at some point in our lives. So rather than focusing on the deterioration of our physical bodies, we should highlight the strengths that come with ageing. The young may have tight skin and be able to stay up all night, but most do not have the wisdom that comes only with ageing. Let me also add though that not all old people are wise!