Sunday, July 8, 2018

A new vision for ageing.

A Warrior knows by walking slowly, he becomes aware of the firmness of his step. He knows that he is taking part in a decisive moment in the history of humanity and that he needs to change himself before he can transform the world. --Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light.

Today we live in a culture that places a high value on youth while it dismisses elders and the gifts they can bring to the table. As an elder it becomes easy to live by these ageist beliefs when we accept our diminishing roles and responsibilities. It is easy to fall into ruminating over the ageist stereotypes of our culture. We become fearful of ageing. We expect our health to decline, our physical abilities and our mind to fail us. Researchers say these negative beliefs can have a great impact on longevity, vitality, and aliveness for living. If we believe ageing is a time of decline, marginalization and loneliness, we will fulfill these beliefs. If we see a new vision for ageing, we can create a life that expresses new ways of thinking. Think about what could happen if we replaced feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness with courage, passion, self-awareness and purpose. What if we rejected the roles defined by our culture for older people and started to participate in new ways? Join me in a journey to grow in self-awareness and self-esteem. Together we can deepen our understanding of what is possible with a new vision for ageing.

Recently I read Warrior of Light by Paulo Coelho. It is a book written for those who wish to challenge themselves to a higher existence. Coelho's uses the warrior as a metaphor not for those who wish to serve with dominance, but for those in pursuit of their dreams. The term warrior brings images of courage, personal power, confidence, accomplishments, integrity, honor and wisdom. Unlike the warrior the soldier is trained to follow orders and ignore inner wisdom. A warrior listens to and knows the power of following her inner wisdom. She is independent. A warrior takes responsibility for all of her choices and actions because she listens to inner guidance even when it is against the order. A warrior is someone who has acquired experience, knowledge, skills and wisdom; an elder.
Our new vision for ageing could be as elder warriors. With purpose, self-discovery and self-mastery we have the ability to be defenders and protectors for what we love. We have compassion by acknowledging our own suffering, giving us the ability to tend to the suffering of others.  As elders we have important roles and responsibilities, even though we live in a culture that values youth and marginalizes older people, we can create our own vision. We have more time and freedom than any other time in our adult life. We can participate in life in ways that reflect our values and beliefs. We no longer have to be soldiers trained to follow orders. It is an exciting time to be an elder leading our world to a kinder more gentle place to live.
Let’s spend some time together walking slowly toward self-awareness, self-reflection and self-mastery as a way to prepare for our elder warrior role. We can ditch conventional beliefs about retirement being a time to settle down. This is a time instead to answer Mary Oliver’s question:  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Growing Old Alone

I was terrified when I turned forty and my eighteen year marriage ended. There were big financial concerns and concerns about my children's welfare. The biggest fear was what if I grow old alone. I feared my life could become arid and meaningless and I would have non-stop loneliness. For several years I managed to go on with life by ignoring these fears. My implicit goal each day was to reach exhaustion so as not to experience the silence of being alone. Silence, that huge empty space where there are no distractions, no cushion against attacks from within. Today I am still single and turning 70. I am growing old alone!

December 2016, I counseled my last client, sold my house, and moved to Florida. I retired! The trip
down to Florida distracted me with ice storms and scary hotel stops with  my dog and cat. When I arrived in Florida I was busy settling into a new state and a new home. I found new tasks to stay busy. I wanted to meet new friends, find a comfortable church, and teach Mindful aging classes. I went to meet ups, attended four different churches, started a Mindful aging meet up. After six months of non-stop distractions, I realized there was something wrong with this plan. Every meet up, church activity, and social gathering felt like a collision. I came home feeling like a wreck, on empty and very alone. I don't think there is anything lonelier than feeling alone when you are with a group of people.

I was starving for real connections. Avoiding talking about politics or anything controversial seemed empty, passionless, and a waste of time. I longed for meaningful authentic discussions. I missed lunch with close women friends; long lunches lasting several hours talking about what we loved, what we believed and what was happening to better understand life. I missed close responsive and sensitive women friends who knew how to share without protecting whatever came to mind.

My life was in limbo. How do you go from a carefully scheduled life of a small business owner, psychotherapist and Mindfulness teacher to days that have no design or order? I spent weeks, months, with few social outings. I would ask myself about isolating and depression and the answer would be, "sometimes a person has to simply endure a period of time alone." I renamed this time as silence with a purpose, solitude. Solitude is a place to find ones self even during the arid and meaningless times. I believed it was a place I needed as I transitioned to a new stage of life.  I was right!

Restorative Solitude

“Alone time is when I distance myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own.” –Oprah Winfrey
I have to admit when I started my journey with solitude, it was to avoid emotional pain of confusion and fear. One month I was a psychotherapist living in Wisconsin and the next I was living in Florida and retired. What was I thinking? If I were my therapist I would be saying’ jumping into retirement without creating a space between the old and new will create chaos and is just another way to run from self. You need time to transition. Pregnant emptiness created in transitions has always been difficult for me. I have had the busyness habit for a long time. I was retiring alone; it was time to face that old fear of growing old alone.
The first few months in Florida I spent with my busyness habit, disconnected from feelings and inner self. I was trying to run away from the emotional and spiritual work facing me. Gratefully I continued another habit, a long standing daily practice of meditation and journal writing. Meditation was a peaceful time without judgment and journal writing gave me insights and clarity. Both helped me to surrender to the challenge at hand. The direction toward silence turned painful loneliness to restorative solitude.
My first discovery in silence was the peacefulness of doing nothing; waking up without an alarm clock. I questioned if all of this free time would lead to laziness or I would feel guilty because I wasn’t using my time well. Then I laughed at myself and my inability to enjoy retirement. My meditation and journal writing reflected the journey to a new way to be.
Questions I asked myself:
  • Who decides what a meaningful life is?
  • What is my purpose and how can I use my experience, education and passion?
I spent time listening and believing I was on the right path through solitude. I was right!