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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

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Learning at every age

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One of the basic things we should cultivate all through life is an unclosed mind. It has been said that “some minds are like concrete, all mixed up and permanently set.”

To shut the windows of the mind is to court mental and spiritual suffocation. Leonardo da Vinci, who lived to a ripe old age and continued to paint masterpieces until the end, declared: “Learning keeps the soul young and decreases the bitterness of old age.”

We can often retain our intellectual, spiritual and artistic faculties much longer than our physical faculties. When we reach a certain age, there are admittedly certain things that we cannot do as well as previously – those that call for speed or sustained exertion or quick learning. These things we can do much better when we are young.

On the other hand, there are some things we can do much better when we are older – matters that call for judgment, experience, discrimination, taste and wisdom.

We should continue learning and educating ourselves during the whole of our life span. The mind should be kept alert even when the body is slowing down.

Abraham Heschel wrote: “While we do not officially define old age as a second childhood, some of the programs we devise are highly effective in helping the aged to become juvenile. The preoccupation with games and hobbies, the over-emphasis on recreation, while certainly conducive to eliminating boredom temporarily, hardly contributes to inner strength. To be retired does not mean to be retarded.”

Scientists maintain that it is possible to think creatively and make valuable contributions at practically every level of life. A recent analysis in a national magazine revealed that 60 per cent of the world’s greatest achievements have been accomplished by men and women who have passed their 50th birthday – and that people between the ages of 70 and 80 are responsible for 20 per cent of the world’s prime accomplishments.

Old age is no disgrace. Often, it’s a time for new possibilities. Renowned Canadian physician William Osler declared: “No one ought to be alarmed when one’s hair turns grey. If it turned green or blue, then one ought to see a doctor. But when it turns grey, that simply means there is so much grey matter in the skull that there is no longer room for it. It comes out and discolours the hair. Don’t be ashamed of your grey – wear it proudly like a flag. You are fortunate in the world of so many vicissitudes to have lived long enough to earn it.”

My father, who was an Orthodox rabbi, studied every day of his adult life, well into his retirement. He explained to me: “I don’t want to forsake my books, they remain my loyal friends in my old age.”

As long as we keep our minds open and alert, as long as we are willing to try a new skill, so long do we remain vital people, so long do we gain ground and move forward in the search for a more abundant life.

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