by Peter Holleran
Researchers have singled out several areas of the world that are exceptional for their abundance of long-lived people. Three of these are: the Georgian province of Russia, the Vilcabamba Valley of Ecuador, and the Hunza province of Pakistan. While it is possible that some of the claims for longevity have been exaggerated, there is no doubt that a great number of people in these regions have lived to one hundred and beyond. The cultures are different yet share a number of things in common. Among these are: strong communal bonds; a lifetime of day-long outdoor activity such as farming, gardening, playing games and sports - essentially making them all endurance athletes; a simple, relaxed, stress-free acceptance of the seasons and cycles of life, as opposed to an obsession with the passage of time; a natural, mostly vegetarian diet; mineral-rich water and soil; and human- size villages located several thousand feet or more above sea level.
Perhaps the Hunzans are most interesting because of the several books written about them. Legend has it that they are descendants of deserting soldiers of Alexander the Great who escaped through a well-concealed mountain pass to this remote area and have lived there ever since. In the 1960’s several westerners traveled to Hunza and spent time studying their good health and long lives. Among these researchers were: Harvard medical professor Dr. Alexander Leaf, who wrote an article about Hunza in the National Geographic; Dr. Bernard Jensen, chiropractor, author of A Hunza Trip: The Wheel of Health; and Renee Taylor, author of Hunza Health Secrets. All had interviews with the Mir, who enlightened them on life there, which may be as close as one might get to a modern day Shangrila.
According to Taylor, the Mir said that the people of Hunza “are the happiest people in the world,” because “we have just enough of everything but not enough to make anyone else want to take it away. You might call this ‘the happy land of just enough.’“ There are no jails because there is no crime, and there are no wars because they are never invaded, nor do they wish to invade others, being content with what they have.
Life in Hunza is considered to have three periods: “The young years, the middle years, and the rich years. In the young years [which in Hunza extends into the 50’s!] there is pleasure and excitement and the yearning for knowledge. In the middle years [“middle age” - 60’s to 80’s], there is the development of poise and appreciation, along with pleasures, the excitement and the yearnings of the young years. In the rich years [90’s and up] - by far the best period of all - there is mellowness, understanding, the ability to judge and the great gift of tolerance - all of this COMBINED with the qualities of the two previous periods.” This is remarkable: youth is not abandoned so much as it is retained within the middle and rich years. An example of this is 80 to 100 year old Hunza men playing volleyball against much younger opponents and basically holding their own. Dr. Jensen reported on his travels to Russia seeing seniors over 90 engage in wrestling matches with those 40-50 years younger and sometimes winning!
“The keynote of life is growth, not aging. Life does not grow old. The life that flows through us at 80 is the same that energized us in infancy. It does not get old or weak. So-called age is the deterioration of enthusiasm, faith to live and the will to progress.......Here, there is time to think only of the necessary things. To worry over such an intangible thing as the ticking of a clock or the turning of a page in a calendar, this is foolishness.”
The Mir continued: “Here in Hunza, each task is done with love. A man is lucky to have a field to work. He is lucky to be able to feel the warm sun and know that his muscles move in rhythm with his work. He is lucky to be able to see the beauty which lies all around him.”
“From the day a Hunzakat is born he is never coddled. He keeps active until the day he dies.”.... “When will you people learn that our men of 100 feel no more fatigued than our men of 20? Be careful what you say, or soon you will have our people over 100 feeling three times their age. And then they will think they are growing old.”
What a wonderful attitude and perspective, and surely the most necessary ingredient along with diet and exercise for a long, happy and healthy life. Yet how different from the mindset of the modern world with its frenetic pace! Gratitude, simple food, simple living, and high thinking, must surely be how life was meant to be.
It is not that easy to stay happy in this world today. It is so easy to give in to stress and the pressure to accumulate "things", or to feel weighed down by an economic and financial system that has seemingly lost all connection to reality. In my opinion, the only way out for most is to simplify, simplify, simplify. One spiritual teacher has, in fact, said, "to simplify is to accept life." All cannot play financial games or ride the bubble and come out unscathed. All, however, can return to basics and thereby pre-solve many unnecessary problems. We will not cheat death, as proposed by some, and debated by others, but we will live more fully until then - perhaps with a greatly extended middle-age - with more quality time and attention to apply to spiritual practise, through which we can learn to identify with the ageless, deathless Spirit (Soul, or Self), the answer to all our problems and the true source of eternal youth. That is certainly the chief benefit of longevity, and the best use of the human form, which all scriptures consider a great gift and a sacred opportunity.
Stress has been likened to the ripples created by dropping a stone in a pond. One can either try to smooth out every ripple or he can cease dropping the stone!
No amount of worry will help us. It is interesting, in fact, to look at the etymology of the word according to the Oxford English Dictionary:
Worry: to strangle, throttle, kill by violence...to seize by the throat and tear or lacerate, e.g., dogs or wolves attacking sheep."
What a graphic portrayal of how powerful a negative force worrying is! It is actually killing us, but we convince ourselves we are doing something constructive, or that it proves we "care". The sooner we are rid of it the better.
"The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." (Robert Louis Stevenson)
One 90 year-old woman Dr. Jensen met in Hunza giggled and blushed like a school girl when talking about her new “boyfriend”. (Some smoke and drink, too, living contradictions to Woody Allen's one-liner, “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred”). A 106 year-old man put Dr. Leaf, 52, to shame on a six-hour mountain hike. The Tarahumaran Indians of central Mexico are said to engage in strenuous feats of physical endurance at all ages including multi-day running ball games covering 50-100 miles or more. Perhaps these examples should be considered the NORM and not the exception. Maybe it is WE who are abnormal?!
At any rate, "if you don't use it, you lose it" certainly seems to be true when comparing ourselves with these people, and while we may not live in their simple world, we can certainly benefit by adopting some of their healthier habits.