runningI am 78 years old. Were I to keel over my keyboard this moment, no one would say, “Oh, and he was so young.” It is a curious feeling. Part of me is aware of this thing called, “age,” yet another part of me is ageless, remaining the same spiritual essence which has been observing the countless personas and roles I have played over the decades. One of the tasks of what is pejoratively called, “old age,” but is more appropriately, “elderhood,” is the rediscovery of one’s essential nature. That is no easy task in a culture which exerts every effort to deny or obscure that essential nature.

I used to be a runner, a strong, swift, long-distance runner. For almost four decades running was a given in my life. These years saw me thrive as I ran on mountain trails, along city streets, through parks, on canal banks, and occasionally on tracks. I would eagerly travel to road races just to get the Tee-shirt and the occasional medal in my age group. I ran the Avenue of the Giants marathon through the coastal redwoods in California and the Fiesta Bowl Marathon through the desert of Arizona. Most of the time I ran 10K races rather than marathons, however.  I’ve run in the company (for brief moments before they disappeared into the distance) of Bill Rogers and Alberto Salazar. (If you know these names, welcome to my age group.) When I ran I felt fully embodied and alive.

In the past decade I have gradually fallen victim to the stories my culture tells about growing old. “Slow down,” I am told. “Take it easy and don’t injure yourself,” I am warned. “Find ‘age-appropriate’ activities,'” I am cautioned. The litanies continue, “Go to doctors at the first sign of whatever. Walk, don’t run, and walk shorter and shorter distances less and less often.” Nancy and I live in a retirement community and you can imagine some of the images of aging that surround us every day. I have a heart arrhythmia but it is not life-threatening and doesn’t preclude exercise. So what is going on here?

I used the phrase earlier, “I used to be a runner.” Somewhere within, I still am. Decades ago, I used to read the wonderful works of George Sheehan, a running philosopher whose words informed and inspired a generation of athletes and would-be athletes. I picked up one of his books recently and marveled at the way his words seemed to speak directly to my soul about the myths of aging. My spirit is telling me that I have been listening to the wrong advice.

So now the neighbors see me jogging through the early morning coolness – slow, but getting faster; resting often, but getting stronger. So much is outside of my control. Society is toxic and I can’t fix it. Culture impinges on my spirit at every turn and I can’t change it. My body is mortal and I can’t avoid that. I can, however, refuse to believe and act upon culture and its myths. I want to continue emulating my elder teacher, Lao-Tzu, by stepping away from all that is not authentic. There is more to me than an age. I am still alive and my body is asking me to pay attention. “I want to run again,” it is telling me. I’m listening to it. Screw the voices of cultural caution. I am alive.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from the outlaw/elder liberation front.

Author: William Martin

Taoist teacher and consultant

9 thoughts on “Older?”

  1. Thank you for your inspired words. I’m beginning the elder part of my journey and it feels like hiking up a steep hill with no idea of what’s to come.
    I wonder if you would recommend a book on the roles and personas we play in our lifetime.


    1. I think the basic personas are formed early in life in response to perceived needs, fears, and desires. They are part of our conditioned mind. A good book that includes the formation of these personas is an older book by Cheri Huber titled, “There Is Nothing Wrong With You.”


    2. Dee, you might want to take a look inside the book by Connie Zweig, “The Inner Work of Age – Shifting from Role to Soul”. It encouraged me a lot to find my individual way into old age, independent of cultural ideas. It also provides practical instructions and exercises.


  2. At the polar end of toxicity perceived from society and its imprints upon us exists the love and joy no doubt that a few incapable of running may find observing your ventures. Or, may spur some, young or old, to reconnect with their own flame and love towards something. The imagery of those toxic people perceived allows me to recognise their own conditioning and I smile gently towards their suffering. The imagery in my mind sees you running and now I smile deeply. Beyond all else: have fun!


    1. Absolutely Alex. It’s not the running. It is play. It is fun. Life must, above all else, be play. We may each play in different ways, but play we must, all of our lives, or we will become tedious shadows of existence.


  3. Thank you so much, William. This post, as well as your books provide deep encouragement to stay centered. I’ve been a musical artist all my adult life. Culture’s advice to us is similar to runners: “be grateful for the life you’ve had. Maybe it’s time to retire?” I’ll refrain from the word I want to use and use your word from this post, screw that. I’m still creating and strongly believe my best work is in front of me.
    Again, thanks for your work that has meant so much to me the past couple of years after discovering your walk through the Tao on YouTube. Run on, my friend. And all the best to your wife in her work. I look forward to taking it in as well.
    Lionel Cartwright
    63 years of life lived


  4. Bill, It is good to know that you are not too old to return to doing something that has given you so much life over so many years. I’m excited for you. Don’t believe the pundits. Honor your own body/spirit and what it is telling you it wants. I’m going to imagine you running at dawn through the Arizona desert. A beautiful sight.


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