There's a Taoist story about Chuang Tzu not knowing whether he is a man dreaming that he's a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he's a man.
This is similar to what happens when I wonder, "how old do I feel that I am?"
I don't feel like I'm 64. If I don't gaze at my body, which obviously has aged, the "me" inside my head finds it difficult to tell the difference between senior citizen-me and teenager-me.
Yet can I say that I'm now a teenage mind in a senior citizen body? Or should I say that when I had a teenager body, I possessed a senior citizen mind?
Neither seems correct. And I'm not exactly (or even inexactly) a Taoist sage who doesn't identify with being either a butterfly or a person, or either a teenager or a senior citizen.
Whatever age I've been, it has seemed just the right age to be. Further: from the inside of me, ignoring the increasingly aged outside, I really don't feel that I am any age.
Which seems to support the notion of an immortal soul-consciousness, something I don't believe in.
So if I'm not a drop of ageless spiritual essence, destined for eternity, what explains my closed-eyes feeling that I'm no age at all? Really, I have no idea. I'm just thankful for it.
Because it means that if my body is willing, my mind says Go for it, dude! That's just what it would have said when I was a teenager, except for the fact that back in the 1960's "dude" wasn't part of the teenage boy lexicon.
Today I spent some enjoyable time on Amazon lusting after the modern incarnation of black auto/truck inner tubes.
I'm going to play with one this summer, just like I inner-tubed my way along the snow-melt fed Kaweah River in the foothills of the Sierras when I was young. The Metolius River in central Oregon is even colder, but if I can trust the position of that dude in the photo, my butt and legs shouldn't freeze (too much).
Walking along the Metolius recently, scouting anticipated tubing runs, I realized that my frame of mind felt almost exactly like it did when I was a Kaweah River tubing kid.
Sure, back then I'd jump into raging rapids and think later. Now, I'm more cautious -- though partly because I want to take my six year old granddaughter along with me, and don't want to subject her to more watery excitement than she can handle.
Googling "as old as you feel," I learned some things about what this phrase means. Still, I came away unsatisfied. This article was typical:
Positive views on aging may help people bounce back from disability and promote independent living in a variety of ways, the researchers say.
One of the biggest ways may be psychological. Stewart says a person’s attitudes about aging say a lot about how much they believe their health is under their own control.
For example, people who view seniors as spry rather than decrepit may be more likely to live a healthy lifestyle, keep up on their doctor appointments, and take their medicines as prescribed.
Well, that misses the point -- from my "as old as you feel" perspective. It isn't really that I feel like I'm a spry old person (though I am). It's more that I'm not sure how old I am, notwithstanding the date of birth on my driver's license.
Now it could be argued that if I get hurt, depressed, or am in chronic pain, I'll feel like an old person. However, how would this be different from the hurt, depression, or pain I might have felt (and indeed did feel) when I was a teenager?
Which returns me to the whole butterfly/Chuang Tzu thing.
What is the difference between an old person who feels young, and a young person who feels old? Is there any difference? Does the human brain, mind, consciousness, or whatever you want to call it have any age associated with it?
Not the bodily side of us.
Obviously that has a defined chronological span of existence that begins at birth. But the mental side of us. The side that gets excited about inner-tubing down a river, or sad about suffering a disappointment.
Both happened to me when I was young. Both happened to me when I was old. Yes, I'm as young as I feel. And I feel like I'm neither young nor old.
A good age to be.