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Passion and aging: Isabel Allende at TED2014

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Isabel Allende. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Isabel Allende. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Author Isabel Allende is 71. Her husband is 76, her parents are in their late 90s and her dog, Olympia, is 16. So she’s confronting the issue of aging head-on and thinking hard about how to live passionately through the process.

“Society decides when we are old, usually at 65,” says Allende. “But really, we start aging at birth. We’re aging right now.”

She brings up some of the aging women she admires — Sophia Loren and Olga Murray, who at age 60 started working for the good of children in Nepal and now, at 88, has saved 12,000 girls from being sold into slavery. Also on her admiration list: the Dalai Lama. “The Dalai Lama is someone who has aged beautifully,” says Allende, “but who wants to be vegetarian and celibate?”

Allende asks, “So what have I lost in the last decades? People, places and the boundless energy of my youth. I’m starting to lose independence and that scares me.”

But there is also much that she has gained. “Freedom. I don’t have to prove anything anymore. I’m not stuck in the idea of who I am, or who I should be … I feel lighter. I do not carry grudges, ambition, vanity, or any of the deadly sins that aren’t even worth it. It’s great to let go—I should have started sooner.”

That said, “For a vain female like myself, it’s very hard to age in this culture. Inside, I feel charming, seductive, sexy. Nobody sees that. I’m invisible. I hate to be invisible.”So how can she be sensual when she doesn’t feel desired? Her answers: To use her imagination and enjoy the sensory moments of life, like a hot shower. And how can she stay passionate? Her answer: She trains by saying yes to new experiences and practicing staying in love.

“In Spanish, the word for retirement is jubilación. Jubilation. Celebration,” she concludes. “I have chosen to stay passionate with an open heart and I’m working on it every day. Want to join me?”