How Practicing “Mirror Meditation” Helped Me Embrace Getting Older

Long ago, around 1958… Wait, I’ll start again. A very long time ago, I thought everyone over age 18 looked the same: old. Do you remember thinking that? Adults, whether they were in their late teens or late 50s, fell into the same category. They were not of my kind.

More recently, I thought the same thing about people in their late 60s. They, and those who had managed to hang on even longer, were not my people. And now, suddenly (honestly, I don’t know how this happened), I’ve discovered I am one of them, having crossed, while I was busy living my life, to the other side.

Here’s the surprising thing: In spite of that revelation and the losses that come with aging — goodbye, strong bones, lustrous hair, supple skin, brain cells, not to mention pets, parents, and friends — I’m still so happy to be here.

About a year ago, I wrote a story in the local newspaper (The New York Times) about the delightful but somewhat disconcerting realization that my across-the-street neighbor, into whose penthouse apartment I had spectacular views, shared a number of friends with me. We are around the same age: not young, but not dead, either. So once I’d met her, the fact that I often saw her and her husband frolicking about the house in various stages of undress became an issue, among us, that we had to deal with. The paper assigned an illustrator to the story — a young man, I later discovered — who drew us as he imagined people our age would look. The person meant to be me: white-haired, a little soft around the edges, wearing something that could easily be construed as a housedress. For the (paper of) record: I am toned, blonde, and if you read the story, you would know that, at home, I often walk around topless.

But the young man is forgiven for his assumptions. Because even when I, a 68-year-old woman, think of a 68-year-old woman, I think of a white-haired, plump grandma type.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’m happy when I see myself in the mirror. When reality is less harsh in some ways than expectation, the result is usually a nice outcome. But there’s another reason I don’t mind seeing my reflection, even when I can fully appreciate the effects of six decades on my face.

Do you have a mirror nearby? Go take a look at yourself. I want you to be aware of what you’re thinking as you gaze into the glass. Most likely, you’re accompanied by another presence, one that’s been looking over your shoulder pretty much since you were conscious that the face in the mirror was yours. That’s your critical eye, the one that assesses what you see and suggests you’re doing well — or, often, not so well — in meeting your beauty ideals. To your critical eye, your face is an object, one to be judged, manipulated, and adorned to please other people. That’s why, for example, there’s the terrific fun of makeup: We use it because it can accentuate the features (dark lashes, flushed cheeks, ruby lips) that make us desirable. We use that eye, in a way, to fix our desired look. And in doing that, we’re objectifying ourselves.

But what if when we looked in the mirror, we saw not an object but a person, the way we see the people we love? Here’s what I mean: Close your eyes. Now imagine your best friend’s face. You probably got an image of a face along with lots of feelings about the person who belongs to it. Maybe you were thinking about the last time you were shopping at Sephora together or watching Michelle Wolf’s stand-up and felt the happiness that comes from deep companionship and shared laughter.

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