Maybe the crisis one feels at turning 30 is really rooted in the intense attachment to this worldly life and a lack of connection to the spiritual life. At least that is the lesson I am beginning to piece together since my last post on the fear of turning thirty. I thought I share my reflection since, 30, is just a month away.
One of the things I undertook immediately after posting those fears to the broader world was I stopped hanging around people my age. There are lots of things that motivated me to that. First, I felt anxiety from seeing where they stood in life as opposed to me. Worse, the greater connectivity I had with folks in my peer group through social media drove home this internal self doubt about where I was in life and questioning whether I had done the right thing with my life. Second, the younger friends only drove that home toward a bitterness because it seemed they were far younger then I was and were following some path that I had not read the guideposts about. Finally, I realized that my decisions were a product of my choosing, my circumstances and my life experience and therefore they were unique. I couldn’t, shouldn’t, compare the path that I took because it was a path not trodden by my peers, it was one that I was pioneering for others.
By hanging out with folks older then me they enabled me to put aside my fears of getting older. I saw folks still struggling with the same things I am struggling with, who were ten, fifteen and even twenty years older then me. Unemployment, start up businesses, academic endeavors, failing marriages and new relationships along with opportunities that they had not imagined. I guess in a way I am significantly different from my peers because for me the “party” scene was intense and short lived, but the expectations of life and enduring to find some meaning in it isn’t something that fades away, it sticks around and people continue to deal with it at different levels and intervals in their life.
What I came to realize in my push to spend more time with older friends, mentors and seek out grandparent figures was that being able to understand growing old requires understanding our mortality. In understanding mortality we need to grapple with death, because in essence our anxiety about aging is rooted in the sense of one’s own progression toward death. Which for Muslims I find is a silly thing to fear given our very direct involvement with death- forced participation in funeral prayers, the handling and washing of the dead, the burying process is a communal one where the males carry the body and everyone is required to carry and pray for the deceased.
But its not that Muslims are immune to a disconnect from death, its that our culture (American) creates a static around our mortality by presenting it as something far off in distance even if we are engaged in the rituals around death. So to make life meaningful, thereby lessening the anxiety I felt, I had to make death a greater reality or factor in my life not one of ritual. I quickly told myself that a near death experience was not the way to learn this lesson.
What I conclude from my experience is that the path of spirituality, greater sense of oneness with creation and therefore God, allows that understanding of death to become relevant and not some far off experience. When we become connected to God we loosen that strong connection to the worldly life and allow for us to transcend things like vanity (oh, look how I am looking), vitality (I can’t run like a 18 year old), feeling of dissertation (I am alone in this world), and accomplishment (I didn’t buy that house or save this much) connecting with the the afterlife, not just this mortal life.
Check out Dr. Zingbarg’s article “Sacred Anxiety: Anxiety as an emblem of Spirituality” in Psychology Today, where he discusses the possibility that a persons anxiety might be due to one’s spirituality or lack thereof. For the meditation inclined, I stumbled on this Islamic Meditation website, you have to pay to get the six week course material, but I thought I share because of its quirkiness.