What are we left with? (Our Memories)

I was asked a question recently that was very deep and thought-provoking. A friend asked me if I had to choose between an old age spent losing my physical abilities but keeping my mental faculties or an old age spent losing my mental faculties and keeping my physical abilities, which one would I choose? The question gave me pause because I normally do not focus a lot on my impending aging but it’s natural to think of what life will be like once you are an elderly person. My friend did not hesitate to say that he would choose having his physical abilities intact since he is a very active person and enjoys running, hiking, and exercising at the gym.

He thought that I would agree with him and I do like to keep active as well physically but I also thought of what would happen to my mind if I could no longer process and retain information about books I love, music I enjoy, and movies where I can recite a lot of lines of dialogue from. Perhaps most importantly, I thought of all the memories I have made up until this point of both friends and loved ones and how it would be anguishing to me if I succumb to a disease of the mind where I lose sight of who I am or who my family or friends are. I think that really is a fate worse than physical deterioration because I find that our physical abilities and our peak performance do not last and Father Time will have our way with all of us regardless of how much we exercise, take vitamins, and play sports. Eventually, your body will break down especially the older you get and there is only so much you can do to spot that.

However, I tend to believe that exercising our mind and our mental capabilities can be a lot easier and take a lot less work than it takes to maintain our physical body. We live in an age where you can learn anything you want about an unlimited number of subjects. Keeping our minds sharp by studying foreign languages, learning new subjects, reading good books, writing our thoughts down in a journal are all healthy activities to kind the mind sharp. I am not an expert in terms of how to keep our mental capacities up as we go through life but I would imagine that putting your brain to the test especially with puzzles, trivia games, and sudoku especially can help you preserve what is most important to you.

Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand how sad and tragic it is for others to slowly lose their mental capacities and that is what tipped me towards the idea of focusing as much, if not more so, on giving myself the best show to work on my concentration, my memory, and my ability to learn new things. I believe that we all have that same capacity to preserve our mental capacities although it does take consistent work that not only last years but lasts decades as well.

Part of the reason why it is good to be able to exercise your brain as much as possible is because I really believe it makes you a more well-rounded and thoughtful person. Learning new things is something you should never really give up on. Having a college degree or a law degree or a medical degree is not really an excuse to stop learning and stop exercising your mind to the most you can push it.

We do not know what old age will hold, what will it be like, what abilities or faculties we will be left with but what we have control over is today and what we focus on whether that is mental or physical exercise. What I do know is how meaningful it is to remember what has happened over the course of your life and to be aware of those special memories that are yours and yours alone. In the end, what are we left with? We are left with our memories and hopefully it is more of an endless ocean than a single drop of water.

To focus today on making those memories with the people we care about and the things we enjoy doing will make old age that much sweeter. If your body one day gives out but your mind is still sharp, I think that is the better side of the deal. Obviously, it would be great to be fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack until your last day, but I find that to be wishful thinking. I hope to remember who I am, what I’ve done, who I met, and most importantly who I loved when that time comes to reminisce and there aren’t many more memories to make.

Having memories in your mind that are fresh and seemed like they happened yesterday is the best you should hope for and what you can strive for by working today to strengthen your mental capacities as much as possible.  Your body at 70 is unlikely to be as good as your body at 70 but I’m a believer in the capacity of your mind at 70 to be as sharp as your mind at 20 within reason.

There are definitely outside factors to contend for in terms of your ability to retain your memories such as your genetic predisposition, your family history, and your own mind’s chemistry, but you can control a lot today through your own actions what memories you will be left with 50 years later. It also does not hurt to start writing down in a journal or diary on a daily basis or at least a weekly basis what happened in your life. This is especially the case if you live an exciting or an eventful life.

In addition, having photographs of yourself at different ages and in different places will jumpstart your memories and remind you of where you have been and what you did. Towards the end of your life, think of what you will have left. Yes, you will have your money, your possessions, and hopefully good physical health but I wish you also to remember deeply the memories you have made from different parts of your life and they are as vivid as possible. Your life towards the end of it should be like a cinematic movie of many parts, one as distinct from the other, and I hope you can look upon those memories you have made with great enjoyment and great fondness for what was and what it meant to you.

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What can the creative process give us?

Anything that is done in the creative process takes effort and hard work. Any work of art, any piece of music, any lengthy novel took days, weeks, months, and even years to create. The creative process allows any person to express oneself in any way they see fit. The idea to keep in mind is that it is best for somebody to discover what he or she would like to create based on what his or her interests are. They then must discover for themselves what exactly they are good at creating and what they have a passion for doing. Being creative cannot be forced on someone.

The person in question has to decide what they enjoy doing and how far their talent can take them. Sometimes, the person can discover his creative vocation on his or her own but other times, it’s often the recommendation of a close friend or family member who gives the person inspiration to continue on with their craft. The key to remember about the creative process is that it can add value to people’s lives and also provide substantive meaning for any human being.

Being creative allows you to step outside of yourself and observe the external world in some way to shape it in a way that you see fit. Whether it is painting, writing, sculpting, etc., you’re putting yourself out there to see how you can do it differently and how can you create something truly unique. The creative possibilities out there are infinite and it’s important to choose a hobby or interest that appeals to you and which you can devote serious time to.

Some other traits that you can develop besides being observant and aware of the world around you are to become more collaborative and open to learning from others. A creative person will learn from others who have come before him or her in order to develop themselves as an artist, writer, builder, etc. Without copying them directly or replicating their kind of work, a creator will take what they have learned and studied to develop their own style or add value to their field. You don’t have to become the next Mozart or Rembrandt but you should try to innovate or change up the creative field so as to do something that will be remembered in the future.

Collaborating with other creative people and working alongside them or just to learn from them can make you more skilled in your work. You can learn a lot of valuable lessons from other creative people and they can mentor you based on their years of experience if you’re just starting out. Even if you suffer setbacks or false starts, knowing that you have a network of people similar to you in your creative world who can give you advice or a new perspective will give you the extra motivation to continue forward and learn from your mistakes. Through collaboration, you’ll learn to be less defensive and tame your ego so that you can learn and become better at your creative vocation.

Harnessing your creative energies can make you more outgoing, more connected to the world and can make you more humble. In a world that seems to be moving faster and faster, being able to slow down, observe your surroundings, and collect your thoughts is a great way to fuel your creative impulses. While we cannot control much outside of our own choices and decisions, harness your creative abilities will give you a sense of control over the external world. You can also gain a lot of satisfaction from putting something out into the world even if it never gains popular recognition. To keep it as a healthy endeavor, exercising your creative abilities should never be done for the possible fame, fortune, or notoriety of it but rather for your own benefit.

Without any kind of creative outlet, humans can stagnate both mentally and physically. People can often be placed into two categories: producers and consumers. We have the capacity to do both but we are often told by the larger society and culture to consume, consume, and consume some more. While there’s nothing wrong with consumption within reason, being able to channel our energies into a productive endeavor can be good for both the mind and the body. This is especially the case when you’re working to solve a problem or to make life better for people. You don’t know what your own potential or capacity for creativity is until you begin to do it. Everybody has the ability to be creative but they have to figure out where they can contribute the most to an idea, a project, or a work of art.

There has never been a better time in human history to be a creative individual. The advent of the Internet and global social networking has allowed people of all backgrounds to express themselves in various ways. More than ever, the average person is a website, a YouTube channel, an eCommerce shop away from sharing their creativity with the world at the click of a button. While the creative process is long, challenging, and comes with no certain reward, the benefits to a person’s mental and physical health cannot be overstated. The Einsteins, Beethovens, and Rembrandts of the world knew that their creative contributions would change the world in one way or another. They did it not just for the world though but their own sense of fulfillment and purpose. Instead of asking themselves what they could receive from the world, they thought instead of what they could contribute to the world with their individual talents.

Being creative, innovative, and experimental comes with risks but also a number of rewards. Even if you fail or don’t reach your goals, you will still learn a lot about yourself as well as what you are capable of. The key is to keep working at it to find out what you are skilled at whether that’s being an artist, a writer, an architect, an engineer, etc. Everybody has a creative flame within them that can be harnessed and molded. You just have to figure out for yourself how to develop, practice, and become proficient in your craft throughout the creative process.