Archived Posts

Longevity

by Joy Del Giudice

From the February, 2001 issue of Anchor Point A Conversation with Suzi Smith

We met at Starbucks and over coffee and sunshine we discussed Suzi’s views on longevity, health, illness, and attitude, and NLP’s part. It made for a fascinating afternoon, and much more information than just one article. Look for more of Suzi’s views on attitude and health coming soon in the IASH Attractor on their web site at www.nlpiash.org.

Joy: Is being and staying healthy something you’ve been passionate about for a long time, Suzi?

Suzi: In 1976 I took a job at the State Division of Aging as the Nursing Home Ombudsman. I became curious about what it takes for someone to age in a way that is graceful and fits who they are.

I was in and out of nursing homes and I was to protect the people that were elderly and see that they were not mistreated. I began to notice all the young people that were in nursing homes—the 50 and 60 year olds. That really caught my attention and fascinated me.

I contrasted those people in the nursing homes with people who were on the Board of Aging as consultants. There were 80 and 90 year olds who were active and involved and on the go all the time. One woman, in particular, was an inspiration to me. Her name was Afton Forsgren. I don’t even know if she’s still alive. She had been an administrator for the State Board of Education. When I met her she was on ten volunteer committees and boards.

Joy: When she was young?

Suzi: No no! After she retired! She was in her 70’s when I knew her. I said to her, “Well, aren’t you retired?” and she said, “Oh I’m retired from my work, my job, but I’m not really retired.”

Joy: Meaning, not retired from life.

Suzi: Yes. She said, “There are so many things that I still need to experience and so many organizations that really need the expertise that I’ve gained in my life. I’m busier now than I ever was when I worked—even as a full time administrator.” I said, “What about your aches and pains? Those things that come up with aging?” She said, “I don’t let them stop me. I just keep going.” I didn’t know enough then to ask if she listened to messages when they came up, or anything like that.

Joy: So, what did that teach you?

Suzi: That those people were more vital than those in the nursing homes. They still had a mission and a purpose, and keeping themselves involved was very important. That retiring from a job did not mean retiring from life. Thinking in meta programs, it’s about having both an “away from” and “towards” strategy: away from—“I don’t want to be like those people in their 50’s and 60’s in the nursing home who are non-functioning—that’s not where I want to be.”

I want to be like those people that are still active and alert and vital and still living life to the very end. That really piqued my interest. I worked with the Board a lot and was inspired because they didn’t let the fact that they were sick stop them. I never heard any of them say, “I can’t do this anymore” or “I’m too old.” I think that kind of language is incredible.

Another person that had an impact on me at that time was an aunt of mine. When she turned 70 she started using a very strange language pattern as an excuse. Everything that happened to her after she turned 70 was, “Well after all, I am 70 years old.” Then, “After all, I am 75.” She did live to be 88, but it was so obvious what she was doing to herself. She was limiting what she thought she could do because, after all, she could blame it on how many years she could tack on behind her name.

Because of this, I rarely use the word “aging” anymore. You’re adding and celebrating birthdays — that’s all you’re doing. You’re adding another year to your life; but, to me, it’s not aging. If you think of it as aging, that’s what your body is going to do. So I think my own internal language, as well as what I say outside, is incredibly important.

It’s recognizing that everything is perfect, and everything is a process, and certain processes will go on in the body. If I say I am aging, then that’s precisely what my body will do. There are so many counter examples to what we often think of as aging. I’m interested in longevity and what it takes–not to live forever, although I do plan to live to be over 100–but what it takes to live life fully, in a vital way. I know people in their 20s that are aging and old already.

Joy: Absolutely. I see young people terrified of getting old. I think that’s what our whole culture is about: the fear of aging.

Suzi: So maybe what it needs to come to is celebrating and embracing each moment that you come to, and celebrating whatever age you are; not denying where you are and what’s going on with you and not limiting yourself to what’s possible.

Joy: Not denying where you are? That’s interesting, learning to be comfortable with who we are and our expression in the world.

Suzi: Right. I’ve studied the work of Arnold Patent who wrote You Can Have It All. He says “Everything is perfect just the way it is. Whatever is going on with you is perfect for you.” So I notice it and embrace it.

Joy: So, language plays a huge part in showing us the patterns.

Suzi: Yes! Language, family systems work, recoding the way we’re thinking, finding situations to recode where beliefs were formed. Language goes into the unconscious and we operate out of it without being aware of it totally. I am aware of how much I modeled my mother, more so than my father. She died at an early age- 70. In the last 15 years I’ve been on a quest to make sure I honor the parts of me that are like her and don’t take the entire model. There are certain cases where I say “I won’t follow you in that way, Mom.” Knowing what I know about modeling, I’ve been updating the parts I now choose to model from her and leaving behind parts that aren’t useful for me.

Joy: And still be respectful?

Suzi: Yes, and it’s still OK for me to not follow her there.

Joy: What helped me was reading Deepak Chopra; and he says that, the way our bodies are designed, we should all live to be 130, easily. He says each of the phases will be longer. I started thinking, “Wow, If I’m going to live to be 130, then I’m really still in my teenage years!” It changed my map completely! I thought, “No wonder I don’t know what I want to be yet!” It was enough to get me to floss my teeth–I better take care of them. I’m going to have them a long time!

Suzi: I think when we’re young we’re trying to grow up faster; and then when we grow up we want to recapture youth somehow. We’re never in the moment. With a lot of the research I’ve read, that’s a big issue. If you aren’t living your life right where you are, then you are creating other things in your body. Stress. There are a lot of thought viruses in our culture about what happens after you turn 40.

Joy: The optometrist just did that to me! Told me that it was time to order those little reading glasses. I had to say, “No. My close vision is just fine.” And she said, “Well, you are 40 now, so it won’t be for much longer.” I chose not to take that.

Suzi: You have to be so cautious about that sort of thing. The media are also responsible for a lot of our beliefs and the way we view things. The beauty industry itself doesn’t value that beauty can be at all ages. We haven’t had models that are mature and still beautiful. I think it’s starting to change, but there needs to be a major cultural shift around the world.

Joy: So what do you think would bring about a shift like that?

Suzi: More positive media. More positive attitude. In a study done with Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center where they were studying centenarians, they found what they called a “centenarian personality.” They handled emotional stress well, were generally optimistic, used lots of humor and kept their minds active. I love the humor part because I tend to take myself way too seriously.

Joy: One of the things I’ve noticed is that in other cultures there is an honoring of the elderly that we don’t have here.

Suzi: Absolutely! We haven’t done it much in America.

Joy: In the Asian and native cultures there is an understanding and respect and support of the elderly. An understanding that, of course, they know more, because they have lived more years. Here, we seem to support the arrogance of youth–somehow because they are younger, they know more. Has anyone done any tracking for when we lost that as a culture?

Suzi: I don’t know. It’s fascinating though, aging and our beliefs. The one thing I am noticing as an interesting trend in America is a focus on the elderly that hasn’t been there before. The Marriott Corporation is building assisted living centers, not just hotels anymore. They are recognizing that people are living longer and aren’t able to stay in their homes. I think the aging of our generation will be very different than our parents’ aging. We’ve been much more conscious.

Joy: What else might you suggest?

Suzi: Live every moment. Be vital until you decide to leave, and I do think it’s a choice.

Joy: Choice to leave? Living or dying consciously?

Suzi: Yes, and I know that’s a weird concept to a lot of people. I’ve seen writings on other cultures where the elderly decide that it’s their time to leave and they climb a mountain or go into the desert to die. That’s what I want to do! I don’t want to be in a wheelchair and not be able to take care of myself. I want to be able to make a choice. Maybe that’s arrogant.

Joy: I think we should have that choice.

Suzi: Part of the key to all of it, at least for me, is staying open to life and new experiences–just to experience in general. There are a lot of things that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t done yet. I remember turning 50 and thinking at that time, “Oh! I’m half way through my life!” I looked at what I owned, what I’d done and learned as markers. That was a wake up call. I thought, “Oh my goodness–if I’m only half way, I have to have some new exciting goals, or the second half is going to be boring!” So I decided I had to keep myself on the edge by learning. I want to stay on the edge.

Joy: Edge of?

Suzi: The edge of life! I want to keep my brain working and continue to challenge myself. I choose to learn one new thing a year at least. Some years…(missing text).

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