Cheerfulness

August 29, 2013

While there is a chance of the world getting through its troubles, I hold that a reasonable man has to behave as though he were sure of it. If at the end your cheerfulness is not justified, at any rate you will have been cheerful.  ~H. G. Wells

Lately I find myself asking how one maintains good cheer in the face of not only the world’s ills, but our own aging, infirmity, and ultimately, death. I think it must be intentional. But in addition to learning and practicing good habits (morning affirmation, gratitude, etc.). I believe it involves surrender.

Pema Chodron, in her wise book, When Things Fall Apart, says “…we cannot be in the present and run our own storylines at the same time…anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point experiences groundlessness.” We must make friends with fear and groundlessness, surrender to the reality that we have no control, and live our lives anyway.

Randy says our task is to “live until we die.” In my most serious depressive depths, I have not even wanted to do that. But today I do, unequivocally. I aspire as Wendell Berry does in “The Wish to Be Generous“: to “…bow / to mystery, and take my stand on the earth / like a tree in a field, passing without haste / or regret toward what will be, my life / a patient willing descent into the grass.”

What are the ways that you maintain good cheer?


Retirement

August 25, 2013

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. ~Abraham Heschel

I have been retired from my day-job for three years, but I have officially retired from the consulting business now. I expect to take down my business website by the end of this year. It’s curious to me that once again, I return to this blog to mark a passage.

Thankfully, I am engaged in volunteer pursuits that keep me busy (enough). I am contest chair for the fall contests sponsored by the Georgia Poetry Society, I am treasurer-elect for the local Literacy Coalition, and I am volunteering in the Unitarian Universalist Church office (as well as singing in the choir). Soon I will go to the John C. Campbell Folk School for a week-long writing workshop, which I hope will inspire me to resume my writing practice.

“Retire” sounds like “retread” to me. And there is something to that image: a whole new out-look, more traction (less dis-traction), getting a better grip on things, even when it’s raining. (And it’s certainly done a lot of that here this summer!)

Age brings the blessings of greater understanding and wider perspective. Even as the body is deteriorating, the soul is expanding. I am grateful for soul-expansion!


Aging and Community

May 23, 2010

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. ~George Washington Carver

Today, my mother-in-law Edna is in the hospital having tests to confirm a suspected stroke. End-of-life issues are so difficult. How do we determine when to intervene medically and when to let the aged die peacefully? Just because we can prolong life, should we always, despite the suffering it may bring?

What about more community-oriented solutions? As do so many in her generation, Edna tried to stay in her own home and had to move to an institution when she could no longer do so. Moran and Rollins predict that the baby boomers will “transform traditional models of independent living” in this article. And the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging and Community has this as a philosophy: “The University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community is guided by the belief that it must move beyond the medical model in its approach to aging issues, viewing older adults holistically and acknowledging that they are community assets.” Amen.


Mindful Health

November 15, 2009

Our life is what our thoughts make it. ~Marcus Aurelius

The attainment of wholeness requires one to stake one’s whole being. Nothing less will do…. ~C. G. Jung

Synchronicity again. I first ran across psychologist Ellen Langer when I was preparing for the talk on mindful management last month. Langer did early experiments in mindfulness and its effect on aging, so I hunted down her 1989 book, Mindfulness, and read it recently. Today I see that she has a new book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, and that a movie with Jennifer Aniston, based on the book, will soon be coming out. No doubt, mindfulness is becoming more mainstream.

Langer says we have learned to influence health “by exchanging unhealthy mindsets for healthy ones and increasing a generally mindful state. The latter is more lasting and results in more personal control.” Jon Kabat-Zinn lists seven attitudinal factors that underlie mindfulness: (1) non-judging; (2) patience; (3) beginner’s mind; (4) trust; (5) non-striving; (6) acceptance; and (7) letting go. Cultivating these attitudes, Kabat-Zinn stresses, requires energy, motivation and commitment. May I establish daily practice in mindfulness for health.


Rebirth

June 21, 2009

…human beings are not born once and for all the day their mothers give birth to them…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves. ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’m not sure it would be possible to count all the rebirths in my life, but I am grateful for most of them at least. There is something wonderful about new chances to move closer to what you aspire to be. I am now in the process of birthing a consulting business, which I plan to nurture slowly until retirement and bring into fuller flower (to mix the metaphor!) once I have retired. I hope this will give me the opportunity to share with others the benefit of my experience and learning over the years of my career.

In any event, I will no doubt continue to pursue learning, as it is my passion! And when we are learning, a myriad of possibilities present themselves. I hope to be reborn again and again before I have to leave this world.

Take note of the rebirths in your life. Are you moving always closer to the person you wish to be in the world?


Spiraling

May 1, 2009

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All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I imagine many layers of learning when I think about this quote. So often, I have heard and understood words of wisdom, only to return to them later with deeper understanding. I think of learning as a spiral; there are only so many truly important lessons in this life, and each day we learn them in a new way–returning to the same ideas, but at a higher (or deeper) level. If we are lucky, curious, and skillful, we acquire wisdom in the process.

It is such a loss for our culture that we devalue aging and the elderly. As I get older, I see so clearly the benefits of time and cumulative experience. If only we tapped the wisdom of our elders. Perhaps as the baby boomers move into old age, we can hope for a greater appreciation of this tremendous resource, but there is always a temptation to dismiss ones who are not “up on” the latest trends and technological gadgets.

I think Goethe is also saying that we must work at wisdom; it doesn’t happen as a function of simply living longer. Life provides opportunities daily to stretch, to delve, to reflect. We must pay attention, bring our intelligence and our hearts to bear on our experience.

I can see myself continuing to spiral higher, deeper, until death. How about you?


Love and Kindness

April 12, 2009

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~Aesop

The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love. ~St. Teresa of Avila

Today we visit my mother-in-law in the nursing home. She will know who we are, but she won’t remember we’ve been there. Still, she loves the hot tea Sam brings her and enjoys the attention while we’re there. So it is important to go.

Today, I want to focus on the kindness, the connection, the beauty of this sunny Easter day, and not the aging and end-of-life ruminations that usually take me over when we visit. I want to be mindful of each moment for what it is, and leave the thinking out of the experience. This is difficult for someone who has spent her entire life relying on “figuring things out” with her brain in order to survive and thrive.

I am grateful for growing into more love, less thought. I am grateful for another day in which to practice mindfulness, kindness, love. Namaste.


Pacing

March 2, 2009

Success is the sum of small efforts–repeated day in and day out. ~Robert Collier

One of the striking differences between my husband and me has always been his ability to pace himself and my tendency to rush headlong into every endeavor. Yet I am most satisfied with my life when I move more slowly, give myself time to experience each moment, to reflect on where I’ve been and envision where I’m going.

I suppose this lesson is one blessing of age, at least for me. My body will simply no longer support my impulsive activity in the same way it did when I was younger! Of course, with the spiral nature of life, I have to learn this lesson over and over, each time in a slightly different way, from a slightly different place.

I have found it hard to restrain myself when I can see so many things I want to do. Patience has never, after all, been my strong suit–or even an acquaintance, really. That’s why I think a practice, such as this blog, is so important for me. It reinforces that idea of the cumulative effect of small things. Intention is also a critical element–imagining who I want to become, then giving myself permission to take only one mindful step at a time.

What is your secret for proper pacing in your life?


The Heart’s Door

January 2, 2009

A basket full of bread sits on your head; yet you go from door to door begging for crusts. Attend to your own head. Knock on your heart’s door. ~Rumi

Today I want to swaddle my heart, protecting it from harm, and feel it beating through my whole body. But I also want to crack open the door and peek inside, get just a glimpse to help me on my way. Fear of opening that door has existed long past its usefulness!

The truth is, things have been leaking out for years…I just wasn’t sure where they were coming from. Perhaps that’s a gift of middle age, the capacity to become reacquainted with your own desires and passions, to claim them as your own.

My often-neglected passions include creative expression (but isn’t this true for everyone?), balance (think yoga, solitude vs. relationship, work-life balance), and learning. What would you find behind your heart’s door?


Challenge to Myself

November 7, 2008

It is not enough to find a purpose that unifies one’s goals; one must also carry through and meet its challenges…intent has to be translated into action…Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Commitment to healthy living has been a theme in several previous posts (Commitment, Focus, Healthy Habits, Health, Healthy Habits Redux), and I am returning to it today. I am so good at planning, but so often fall down in the follow-through. I’m banking on the fact that posting my intention here–once again–will help, as it gets more embarrassing each time I proclaim an intention and fail to live up to it!

There have been times in my life when healthy routines were habitual and I couldn’t imagine going a day without them, so I know I can get there again. This morning I discovered Growing Stronger, an online book that I hope will help me get motivated and stay with a fitness program long enough to get back into a positive cycle.  It is incremental, gentle (for older adults, after all!), and includes a 12-week workbook to chart progress.

So I hereby congratulate myself for being willing to get up, recommit, and start over. I know exactly what I should do, and the time has come to muster enough energy to do it! I ask for your expressions of support for my efforts–whether you wish to just whisper your encouragement to the universe, leave comments on this blog, or join me in my challenge.

Namaste, and with gratitude.


Senior

October 26, 2008

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? ~Satchel Paige

Today I turned 55. Officially senior by many definitions. I’ve always welcomed getting older, because it has brought equanimity and a better understanding of myself and others. But somehow this birthday makes me feel as though time is running out. For one thing, I still don’t have a consistent exercise and meditation practice after decades of trying. If not now, when?

When I contemplate Satchel Paige’s profound question, I’m concerned that I would feel older than I am in years! Yikes!!! Maybe it’s just been a hard year, or maybe my bad habits are just catching up with me. I want to think of 55 as my health watershed, to get younger by taking better care of myself.

So I am promising myself during the upcoming year to do these ten things:
1. slow down and pay attention
2. remember to take deep breaths
3. remain curious
4. practice gratitude
5. observe my experiences rather than trying to control or judge them
6. minimize sugar, alcohol and bad fats in my diet
7. do yoga as much as I can
8. get outside more
9. notice what feeds me, find flow
10. be gentle with myself

Learning has always been important to me also, and I believe it’s an age-busting practice. I didn’t list it, because it is already so much a part of me that I would have to try NOT to learn!

What are the things that make you younger?


The Great Death

October 25, 2008

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us. ~Charlotte Joko Beck

Avoidance of pain can take tremendous energy. I don’t know if I am ready or able to rest in it as Beck suggests, but I do believe that letting it in, rather than running from it, is (paradoxically) a way to release energy. I have just read Larry Rosenberg’s Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive. The author has spent years practicing and teaching death awareness, and he shares the Buddha’s five contemplations on this topic:
1. I am subject to aging. Aging is unavoidable.
2. I am subject to illness. Illness is unavoidable.
3. I am subject to death. Death is unavoidable.
4. I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.
5. I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and live dependent on my actions. Whatever I do, for good or ill, to that will I fall heir.

This last reflection shows us what is in our control, that is our thoughts and intentions. Rosenberg says, “Going along with the strongly conditioned habit of grasping or aversion is its own karma, a mind-state that feels constricted, narrow and cloudy. The choice to observe rather than react, on the other hand, brings more immediate results, a more open, clear, and spacious state of mind.”

Mindfulness again! Being with experience as it is, watching it, rather than judging it. A few years ago I posted this reminder of my intention on my bulletin board: open, curious, grateful.

May I let go of attachments (grasping and aversion) so I can die the great death. Rosenberg says we can do that at any time: “It is what Krishnamurti was pointing toward when he said we must die day to day, moment to moment. It is the death of the ego. Once this death has taken place, there is none other to worry about. There is nothing but the body that is left to die.” I am certain there is restfulness and energy release in this practice. What do you think?


Renewal

August 30, 2008

The wave always returns and always returns as a different wave. ~Marina Tsvetaeva

Jekyll Island, 2007

These words are from the Russian poet’s essay on lyric poetry. According to Tsvetaeva, renewal is the “pivot of lyricism.” Edward Hirsch writes about this idea here, and I love what he says about poetry causing us to “deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness.” Geez, no wonder I love poetry!

There’s something lovely and hopeful about this line. I’m reminded of new mornings that bring a fresh perspective, rain that clears the air. Today, I have practiced an old yoga routine, one that my body remembers from long ago–so long ago, in fact, that I practiced to a Richard Hittleman LP (that’s long-playing 33rpm record, for those who aren’t sure!). A returning wave, but a different one as well, rolling through this 54-year-old body.

Earlier today, I worked on my journal project. I am culling things I want to keep from old journals and destroying the rest. Things I want to keep are generally quotations (are you surprised?), ideas about writing, poems, titles of book I’ve read, and major events of my life. I am almost caught up to the present and can certainly say that renewal has been a theme. Although these journals may read over time like the same old same old (and are often quite boring!), I can see from a longer perspective and condensed view that each time I wrote about a returning wave, it was also a new wave. 

What does renewal mean to you?


Health

July 27, 2008

Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. ~B. K. S. Iyengar

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself. ~Leon Eldred

When I was very young (no older than 5, I’m sure), I spent one afternoon learning to ride a bicycle–under conditions that were hardly ideal. At that time, I didn’t have a bike of my own, so I learned on a 26″ model that belonged to my older sister. Luckily, I was a long-legged kid, so I could (just barely) reach the pedals. But I had no access to pavement, only a grassy slope on which to practice. Over and over, I fell, I got up, I walked to the top of the gentle hill, got back on, and tried again. I wanted to ride that bicycle more than I wanted anything that day.

An alarming thing happened at Pilates class last Thursday. I began sweating and shaking, turned pale as a ghost, and thought I would either throw up or faint, I wasn’t sure which. I know blood sugar dips, since I have had to pay attention to those for many years, and it wasn’t that. I attributed it to overdoing when I was depleted already, possible mild dehydration, and forgetting I was out of shape and no longer 18 years old. But the more disturbing thing was that it happened again Friday night, when I awoke from sleep in that condition. I am feeling much sturdier today, but am resolved to see my doctor.

There is a rash of health-related problems in my family at the moment. Stroke, dementia, and pancreatic cancer, to name a few. And it makes sense that illness in those close to us (and especially those close to our own age) can make us feel vulnerable and anxious about our own well-being. It feels impossible to separate the effects of the mental state, the worry about health, from those of the physical condition itself.

I have practiced healthy living only sporadically at best, and it is not for lack of information. I know what eating plan works for me, what things I should avoid (sugar, alcohol, the high-fat foods I love so much), what exercise I enjoy and am most likely to stick with (yoga), and what helps in controlling stress (mindfulness, connection to others). Yet I have fallen down on this grassy slope over and over, and I have to think it is because of some inability to fully commit, to want health more than anything. Though what could be more important in this life than what opens the gates of the soul?


Conformity

June 2, 2008

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves, in order to be like other people.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

My mother used to tell a story she found amusing. It was about coming to fetch me from school in the first grade. I was standing in front of the class when she arrived, pretending not to know my colors. I don’t remember this event, but this is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.

For I had been happily reading at least since age 5, had known my colors for far longer, and was academically way ahead of most of my first-grade class when I began school. But I had been admonished so strongly not to “show off,” to be like others so I would be liked, that I had hidden my abilities in the quest for acceptance.

It was many years before I was aware of my conditioning, and many more before I could move beyond it. Even still, I find myself thinking, “How will this look to others?” when I decide on a course of action. This is actually a skill that has served me well in career and political situations, but I have had to come to an understanding about the limits on its value. And I have suffered from applying it in situations where it is not needed.

I think this explains why authenticity is so very important to me now. I cannot bear to pretend any longer that I am something I am not. I actually think age is helpful in this regard, as we who are in public service approach retirement and can be whoever we are. How do you deal with this dilemma, in a political world?


Get Young

April 29, 2008

The great thing about getting older is you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. ~Madeleine L’Engle

Today, L’Engle’s words make sense to me. I am ready to reclaim some earlier stages of life and elements of people I’ve been–for example, that laughing, back-talking 20-something that somehow got papered over. I think we often throw the baby out with the bathwater as we “grow up.” (I can only imagine what my friend Teresa, (in)famous for garbling aphorisms, might say here–possibly, “yeah, you cut off your foot to spite your nose,” or “throw the baby out the window with the bathtub,” both of which she has actually been known to say.)

But hey! Let’s get young again and have some fun. What say you?


Spring Morning

April 26, 2008

The older generation thought nothing of getting up at five every morning–and the younger generation doesn’t think much of it either. ~John J. Welsh

My poor roommate in college had to suffer through my pleading at 3:00 in the morning, “Just stay up long enough to smoke one more cigarette with me.” Now I fall asleep by 9:30.  And I have come to appreciate morning in a way I never did in those days.

I think the fact that so many young people are fascinated by and drawn to the night has something to do with their feeling invulnerable. Would Goths dress in black if they truly understood that they could die at any moment?

Likewise, spring has replaced fall as my favorite season of the year. I think this is because both spring and morning signify a return of the light, and of ever-more-dear life. 

Sunny spring morning–
multiplication of light.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks.


Lasting

January 27, 2008

To be somebody you must last.  ~Ruth Gordon

I got this quote out of the little book of Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much. The daily meditation that accompanies it is about perseverance, but I prefer to think that Ruth Gordon was talking about living a long life. It is only recently that I have had the thought that I want to live a long time. I think because it is only recently that I have really learned how to live.

When I was young, I assumed I would die young–I’m sure it was part of my overly dramatized depressive persona. Later, I just feared I would die young. Now I want to be a feisty, or at least spirited, old woman who says exactly what she thinks, does what she pleases (which will certainly involve learning), and laughs a lot.

Michelle Shocked sings, “When I grow up I wanna be an old woman,” and that seems about right. Meanwhile, I’ll keep in mind what Ruth Gordon says and try to last.


Development

January 17, 2008

Undoubtedly, we become what we envisage.  ~Claude M. Bristol

I think this is true as far as it goes. I posted a quote attributed to the Buddha that expresses a similar idea. But there is something to the idea of developmental learning that I think all teachers should understand. Until the student is ready, nothing can happen.

Years ago, I knew in my head (logically, intellectually) many of the lessons I have only integrated in the last few months. I had to be developmentally ready to absorb and use them. How interesting that process is! I could have “envisaged” any number of things back then (and did), but it wasn’t until much later I could actually become them.

I think curiosity is becoming my best friend as I look toward old age. I am so grateful to be where I am, to have come this far, and to feel curious about the rest of the journey! What are you developmentally ready to learn?


Aging

October 8, 2007

Give up philosophy because I’m an old man? It’s at the end of a race that you break into a burst of speed.  ~Diogenes

As my joints get creakier, my hair grayer, and my memory less reliable, I am most hopeful (and pretty confident) that Diogenes is right. Barring any serious health conditions, I expect to see more clearly (of course that’s figuratively, not literally!), understand more deeply, and be more centered as the years go on. Because it seems I learn something every day about how to be happier, I also expect to be more at peace as I age, with increasing capacity for gratitude and compassion. So I find myself today looking forward to growing in mind and spirit so that I can bear declining in body.  What’s your hope or fear for your “golden” years?

**Note:  This quote was taken from a new book by James Geary, Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists.  What an interesting character Diogenes must have been!  Geary writes: “Before arriving in Athens, where he eventually took up residence in a tub and lived with a pack of stray dogs, Diogenes was captured at sea and sold into slavery. During the auction at which he was up for sale he is said to have pointed his future owner out in the crowd and instructed his captors, ‘Sell me to that man. He needs a master.’ Diogenes got the buyer he wanted, and he went on to become the bad boy of ancient Greek philosophy.  He famously disdained conventional manners, morality, and metaphysics. The only worthwhile philosophy, he believed, was one that helped people live a good life in the here and now.”