What’s the Big Deal About Turning 40?

The big question for me in the last few days has been “are you OK?” whenever the topic of my 40th birthday came up. And the answer? “Well, I’m not dead yet.” I admit, it’s a response that’s fairly non-commital. I don’t hate the idea. I don’t love the idea. It just, as they say, “is what it is.” And then my birthday arrived yesterday and I was feeling a bit more anxious than I expected to. Sitting with my 21 year-old nephew, I flashed back to that time in my life when choices abounded, and opportunities flocked to me. At 21, I was graduating from college, getting my first job and making a plan for myself. Only two years earlier I experienced deeply transformative awakening that felt like being shot out of a cannon smack in the middle of downtown Boston on a cold and rainy Fall evening. To this day, I can not fully explain the epiphany, but in my research since, I know many people describe similar experiences that mark a major trajectory change in their lives.

Even after that I regressed back into old ways of being. I wish I had been a bit more adventurous, a lot less worried, and much more grateful. At 40, I’m making up for lost time in some ways. But the best way to do that is to remain as present and peaceful as possible. What I’ve learned since is that coming to an understanding about yourself is not enough. You have to act on that understanding and begin to integrate this deep knowing into your life as soon as possible. Don’t wait.

My father wrote me a letter for this auspicious occasion and he alluded to the metaphysical significance of the number 40. Forty days in the desert. Forty days of flooding. Forty seems important and catastrophic. But his theories of newfound spiritual energy and deep awakenings reminded me of something I learned recently about creating new neural pathways in the brain. It takes between 30 and 40 days to literally create new folds and paths in your brain if you commit to a practive every day without interruption. So it took 40 years to be where I am at this moment, and it will take (supposedly) 40 days to retrain myself into some new realities.

Though I already quit smoking several years, this is not about quitting anymore. This is about remembering and reconnecting with who you really are. Spiritual truths are unchanging, unflappable road signs that point in the direction of deep inner knowing, peace and connection. This is certainly a trip I’ve been taking for a long time, and the mathematical reality of my physical age is a nice starting point for the next leg of it.


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