I have a friend visiting me on this small, remote, glorious Greek island. He is a Zen master, a poet, a peace activist and a world-class calligrapher. His name is Kazuaki Tanahashi. Sometimes, when people ask hello, how are you? Kaz will laugh and answer, "I am deaging."
In his late 70s now, Kaz is the inventor of deaging. It's not a product or a program. It's a concept, a way of slowing down the aging process without resorting to desperate anti-aging measures involving pills, plastic surgery or fetal lamb cells.
"Anti-aging is defensive thinking," Kaz explains to me one day after breakfast, sitting high atop a hill, overlooking an endless sea. "Deaging is more active. Each moment we have a choice."
Kaz takes a breath, and so do I. I've heard him talk about deaging before. This time, I'm taking notes.
"The idea is we lose vitality and gain vitality each moment. Aging is not a one-way street, going downhill. We become older, we become younger, every moment."
Kaz has explained his deaging theory to many friends who are doctors, and they all agree it's a good one. "We age as a whole," Kaz continues, his long scraggly beard waving in the breeze. "Our body, our mind ... we can't reverse it. But when we look at aging at the micro level -- each day, each hour, each moment -- we see that it goes up and down. So in each moment, we have a choice."
The choice is between doing something that ages us or deages us, something that makes us more vital or less vital, more healthy or less healthy. He mentions eating well and exercising. I see a column arising in my mind. I am happy. I'll be free to spend the afternoon deaging at my favorite beach.
"If I'm tired, I can choose to take a walk, or I can watch TV," he elaborates. "I can choose to relax and meditate, or I can smoke. I can overwork, or I can rest. I can take a job that is more stressful or less stressful ... and in this way, we can shape our life. Are we aging or are we deaging? It's an active choice."
When it comes to living a healthier, happier lifestyle, it always comes down to personal choices.
Fortunately for all of us, you don't have to be a Zen master to figure it out. Will you have a doughnut and diet cola for breakfast or yogurt and fresh fruit? Hold onto anger or let it go? Drive your car or ride your bicycle?
"You can't really control overall aging," Kaz says, "but by doing deaging, we can slow it down."
So deaging is a kind of practice, I say. Kaz doesn't pick up on the word practice. I feel myself aging, just a little. "What are some other ways we can deage?" I ask.
"It's important to be excited about life!" Kaz says, raising his voice to just above a whisper. "Being in love! You could be in love with art, grandchildren or doing service work. Have a passion. Love what you do!"
Kaz says he loves what he does -- writing, painting, running a revolutionary nonprofit called A World Without Armies (aworldwithoutarmies.org) -- but he is aware of his tendency to do too much, for too long. "I am Japanese; I'm a kind of workaholic. I have to tell myself to slow down, to be lazy. Lazy people don't have to be reminded to be lazy." He stops to laugh at his own joke. "To be lazy doesn't mean not to work. It means to slow down, do less work and be more effective. That kind of laziness."
Negative emotions get in the way of deaging, Kaz goes on. "Anger, envy, jealousy, hatred ... all these negative emotions contribute to aging. So you have to find a way to turn a negative situation into something positive. This is the practice of being calm, more compassionate, more understanding. This turns aging into deaging."
It's time to take a break, another form of deaging practice. Can I call it a practice even if Kaz does not? It's something to think about as I sit on the sand and build a little tower one stone at a time, watching myself grow younger every moment.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! THE ZEN OF VACATIONS
"Taking a break will allow a breakthrough to happen." -- Kazuaki Tanahashi