Some of you have requested that I write about aging and death in relation to our trait. This seems to be the right time: As some of you know, Ted Zeff, our hero in his tireless work for sensitive men and boys as well as all HSPs, left his body on August 18, after a long struggle with cancer. Even during that period, and throughout his life, Ted had dedicated himself to other highly sensitive people, writing The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, The Strong, Sensitive Boy, and The Power of Sensitivity, along with doing so many helpful videos, blog posts, and media interviews. HSPs will miss him; even if you did not know him, his voice has helped us all.
I was able to visit Ted a few days before he died, at Amma’s San Ramon ashram, which is only about an hour from where I live. San Ramon is a rural part of the San Francisco Bay Area, a perfect place for this large ashram, with its buildings almost hidden by oak and madrone trees. Tucked among these was the homelike hospice (maybe 10 rooms, mostly unoccupied) where Ted was living and dying. Just outside his open window there was a large garden, a mélange of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, well-tended in a jumbled, mid-summer, rural-California way. Ted loved that his bed was so close to nature. So much an HSP!
As soon as I entered Ted’s room he told me how at peace he was and surrounded by love. But he did not need to tell me. I could feel it from him, and see it in those I met who were lovingly caring for him. Mainly I think these were other Amma devotees who were clearly long standing friends of his. But a beloved niece had just left and would be returning soon to help with his care, and his son was also nearby. Ted seemed as happy as I had ever seen him.
People kept visiting, many of them Indians, but he asked them to wait so that we could have some time together. Clearly he was not just loved but much respected by everyone there. Indeed Amma herself had called him that morning from India, telling him she was with him and that they would be walking in the garden soon. We both knew the garden there was the physical form of that other reality Amma spoke of, just for him. Ted was very dear to her (his name in the Amma community was Dayalu, meaning compassionate or kind).
We talked about the Highly Sensitive Men’s conference next March. I was so sorry he would miss it, but he laughed and assured me he would be there. I said we will put a photo of him on a table by the podium and dedicate the weekend to him. (Later I and Will Harper, director of Sensitive the Untold Story and Sensitive and in Love, decided to make 2020 the year of the Highly Sensitive Man, partly in his honor. I was able to convey this message to someone who told Ted at a time when he could hear it.)
We had never spoken much about the importance to each of us of our respective spiritual paths. But it was sweet to share that now, while we meditated together for about 15 minutes. We knew we had met in that place of unity that is the goal of all spiritual practices.
Aging, Dying, and HSPs
I have been asked a number of times to write something about aging when you are highly sensitive. I have felt I did not have much to say about it. In my experience, every individual simply becomes more of who they are as they age, less and less “just an HSP.” Even with dementia, something unique and characteristic remains, at least in those I have watched decline.
There are a few things to be said in general. The research says most people, HSPs or not, if they are in reasonable health, are happier in their old age than young people expect they will be. It helps to have strong social connections, an active mental and physical life, and a sense of some meaning or purpose (perhaps grandchildren, volunteer work, or study).
While enough resources to be comfortable are important for everyone, I think this is more important for HSPs, since adequate resources allow you to live in a low stimulation environment, perhaps near nature, or wherever you like (without noise through the walls or ceiling!); to buy the food that suits you; and generally be in charge of your self-care.
Notice I did not say enough money, but enough resources. Money is one resource, but there other huge ones that you invest in throughout your life or are just lucky to have. One is having a family in which you really like being included, and taken care of by them when necessary, and they want to do that, include you, love you, take care of you.
Groups of older people are increasing their resources by forming “villages” or cooperatives (in a community but not necessarily living side by side) and pooling their social resources (friendships, book clubs, teaching and taking courses, etc.) and their collective information about helpful local services (doctors, computer technicians, house cleaning, etc.). There is usually some plan for end-of-life care as well.
Ted had another resource, the result of his years of work for Amma, allowing him to live and die in a loving, caring community. We know all communities have tensions, but as he put it, working in this one functioned to “polish the stones.” So it also resulted in the growth of his character and his spiritual life. It is ideal for HSPs when we can do work that we love, our calling, usually serving others, and at the same time grow personally while accruing those resources that are needed later in life. His devotion to serving HSPs no doubt contributed to his financial and social resources as well.
One more way to age is by “riding the tiger.” The tiger is the relentless passage of time, planning to devour us. But if we find a way to use that time so that we grow with every passing day, we are harnessing that hungry tiger for our own purpose. So what if our body parts age provided our spiritual part is growing? Then maybe when we “drop our body,” perhaps something else picks us up. This could be the ultimate investment plan.