Soul Clap its Hands and Sing…

 

Alchemy of Joy - Mara Friedman

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress

 W.B. Yeats –   Sailing to Byzantium

What fires your soul? What makes it ‘clap it hands and sing’ each day into being, that you might do this thing – unique and personal to you – again and again? What is your passion?What drives you onward despite any loss, illness or obstacle you might face? What grips you and carries you, almost beyond your own volition, into the realisation that your life’s meaning and purpose is to do this very thing?

Some of you might be lucky enough to know exactly what your passion is and be living it fully and successfully in your lives. These questions might simply reaffirm what you already know and believe to be possible.

Some of you might know what your passion is but have been told – perhaps long ago and repeatedly since – that to follow such an irrational desire was irresponsible or unrealistic. In taking this view, you might have learned to subdue your need to express it, finding compensation in the numerous distractions that humans use to blunt and dull unresolved emotions and feelings.

Others in this category might have learned to cope with the challenge by expressing their passion on a part-time basis, placing it not at the centre of their lives – as passion demands – but in a corner, safely labelling it as a hobby; taking some comfort in its compartmentalised expression whilst yearning secretly for an all encompassing relationship with it.

Then there will be those of you who remain unaware of what form your passion takes; it may still reside somewhere beyond the periphery of your life. You might assume that you lack talent, that you have in some crucial way ‘missed the boat’ or that there was never a boat to catch!

If we permitted ourselves to ponder this issue more deeply, given the transience and fragility of human life, it would appear crazy that we are not all a part of the first category of people – those who know and back their passions. If life is so short and time and experience so precious, then surely expressing fully those gifts that are uniquely ours imbues life with a deeper purpose and meaning?And yet sadly, we do not all find ourselves so blessed and many who have become exiled from their passions will be familiar with a certain sadness, regret and even anger beneath the resignation.

Now consider a few more questions. Do you consider yourself too old to have passions?Do you believe that too many years have passed for you to find and live your true path?Do you accept that old age brings only decline; that it is too late to start again; too late to reclaim an old dream or discover a new one?

For Western Culture, age is one of those external factors that can appear to be a barrier to expressing one’s passion. We live in a society obsessed with youth. Ageist notions would have us all believe that a person’s best work, or even their best chance of that work flourishing, comes with the energy and optimism of the young. We equate aging with decline. In our retirement there is still a notion that we should take it easy and accept with a resigned wistfulness past glories never to be repeated.

This myth of youth being the pinnacle of potential is born from a hopelessly linear attitude toward life that our modern society seems keen to promote. It feeds us the simplistic lie that we are born, we flourish, we whither and then we die. In truth, when we examine more closely, we see that life is far from linear. Like nature’s own seasons, it unfolds in a series of spiralling cycles. Those moments of birth, blossoming, dissolution and death happen many times over, in many different areas of any one life.

In choosing to perceive the rhythm of life as being played out as one great peak on which we climb to middle-age – which we then tumble inexorably down towards death – we sabotage our own inherent ability as humans to begin again. In truth, our journeys are made up of multiple rises and falls, happening in all areas of our lives, some in sync with each other, others at varying intervals. These undulations will happen in our physical health, our emotional and intellectual lives; every area of our beings will experience periods of growth, loss and unexpected renewal. It is the way of things and the movement of this many layered and overlapping story marks the passage of our time not in straight lines but in twists, turns and learning curves.

This erroneous assumption of life being made up of one peak followed by one trough helps no one to truly get to grips with the complexities of living and aging. It is given a false substance by the equally unfortunate ageist misapprehension that there is a time-line that dictates what should be achieved by a specific age. We might all be subject to a pressure (both spoken and unspoken) to follow the same pattern: in our late teens and twenties we party; we might extend our education; we seek out our job or career ladder and launch ourselves upon it; in our thirties we marry, have children and climb the next few rungs at work and so on, decade by prescribed decade, until we die.

As we age, might we not challenge these two assumptions by making the claim that passion is ageless; that Yeats’s ‘tattered coat upon a stick’ is not the whole picture; that age need not be an obstacle in discovering a passion that you never knew you had, that in fact, it might even be a determining factor in being able to express that passion with a depth, truth and power that youth could never provide?

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