Excerpt: First You Have to Learn to Live Alone, by Jeanne Ainslie

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming nonfiction book by Jeanne Ainslie, First You Have to Learn to Live Alone: A Compassionate Guide to Living Alone and Aging. As a senior who now lives alone and a writer and meditator for 20 years, she has discovered over a lifetime of experience a way to survive the catastrophe of our lives and find meaning and purpose in life. We all need a path to follow that will bring a perspective, understanding and acceptance of our aging. First You Have to Learn to Live Alone offers a compassionate guide on how to live a resilient, meaningful and happy life. Not only is a joyful life possible, one free from pain and suffering, but it is a reality.

Successful Aging

What is successful aging? How can we enjoy our old age? Growing old does not have to be lonely and unhappy. Aging can be a transformative experience when we look deeply at our lives and realize that we are all living and aging in the present moment. This moment is all that we have, and it is only now, in this moment, that we can find a calm, strong and happy heart. Everything has a beginning and an ending, and then there is the ongoing, everlasting present. Although common to all of us, chronic pain, fear and insomnia can be more persistent in the elderly, and only more acutely felt by those who live alone.

Research shows that our brain’s neuroplasticity has the ability to change our thinking and behavior over time by creating new neurons and building new networks making it possible to change dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaving and to develop new mindsets, new memories, new skills, and new abilities. Meditation has the ability to change the brain’s structure and functions. Meditation changes the way our brain responds to distractions. When we can focus entirely on the present and train ourselves to do so consistently, the structure of our brain actually changes.


It takes courage to accept that we are old, living alone on limited resources, and coping with the physical limitations of old age. Many of our friends are gone, and our children, if we have any, can live far away and our future prospects may be bleak. But we still have today, in fact, that’s all we have. What matters is now, this breath, this moment. Accept and let go. Letting go is hard. It takes courage. Accept fear. Fear is a part of life. Every time we let go, we release ourselves and become warriors. We have all the time in the world to savor the moment and small pleasures.


Resilience is the ability to adapt to and survive difficult situations. You have to be tough and learn to live with uncertainty. The future is unknown. To survive, you have to live for today, moment by moment. Learn from your past experience. Think of the skills and strategies that helped you get through tough times. Think of your personal heroes, those men and women who inspire you to be the best you can. Be hopeful. Be proactive. Make a plan and take action. Be patient. It takes time to recover from a major loss or setback. Choose happiness. Happiness is a choice and does not depend on our circumstances, but on the quality of our thoughts. “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha. Enjoy the moment, each moment, every day for there will be the day when tough times come, and they surely will, and you will fight and tame the tiger.

Do We Want to Live Forever?

The arrow of time is life, growth, decay, death. The arrow of time creates life. An instant in time—now. Physicist Brian Cox poses the question, “What do we do with our lives, our brief awakening in time, and our brief time in the cosmos?” Life extension technologies promise a path to complete rejuvenation. But modern scientific trends, such as cryonics, digital immortality, and breakthroughs in rejuvenation must still overcome all causes of death to succeed. In addition to medical, philosophical, and religious issues, clinical immortality raises questions about ethics and politics such as social and economic disparities. Our ability as a species to develop tools has culminated in our technological revolution, but AI might in fact be our downfall and our inability to fulfil our true human nature of compassion, love, and creativity.

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned that it will either be the best thing that’s ever happened to us, or it will be the worst thing. If we’re not careful, it very well may be the last thing. In a 2014 BBC interview Hawking stated, “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

Mind-to-computer uploading involves uploading an individual’s habits and memories to a computer or to a new organic body. But what is consciousness? Does consciousness originate from our mind and brain? And if so, can it be uploaded to a computer? An uploaded mind would only be a copy of the original mind, and not the conscious mind, since consciousness is not
quantifiable. The real living you would die and only a copy of you would remain. But what if someday it would be possible to upload human consciousness onto a computer system and exist indefinitely in a virtual environment? Would this be a cyberspace heaven or hell? All your loved ones would die—never to meet again. Life repeating over and over forever. Would you become bored and want to escape the unbearable tedium of immortality? This is not life but an eternal hell. Trapped in cyberspace forever frozen in eternal time.

What will I miss when I’m gone? The full moon, tides, changing seasons, the rhythm of life and nature. My loved ones, children and grandchildren, friends, but they too will grow old and die. What about our planet? Astronomers estimate that the sun has about seven to eight billion years left before it dies, but unfortunately, all life on earth will end in another billion years when a lack of oxygen will wipe out life on earth. But the time to save ourselves is now. Save ourselves from climate change, war, loss of jobs due to automation, risk of economic collapse, famine, poverty and overpopulation. And then we can dream about our new home in the milky way galaxy.

Jeanne Ainslie (BSc. Hons, MSc.) is a successful long-term editor and author of books, short stories and articles. Her forthcoming nonfiction book First You Have to Learn to Live Alone: A Compassionate Guide to Living Alone and Aging explores what it is like to be old and alone.

 -- Website

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land. 

1 thought on “Excerpt: First You Have to Learn to Live Alone, by Jeanne Ainslie”

  1. Interesting glimpse at what could be a life-changing book. I look forward to reading ideas on how to accept life where it is and enjoy each moment.

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