Monday, November 28, 2016

Rings of Wisdom Week One


 

“Nothing is holier; nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous inscribed disk of its trunk; in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy, knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.” Hermann Hesse

When I reflect on the path of the Elder Warrior, the metaphor of rings in a tree comes to mind. A tree goes through various kinds of growth. Each year, a tree adds new layers of wood to its trunk. If you count the rings of a tree, it will tell you how long the tree has been living. The shape and the width of the rings can differ from year to year. Wide rings indicate a time of intense growth. A tree that is happy getting lots of sunshine and rain will show rings that are broad and evenly spaced. Narrow rings indicate less favorable conditions for growth, unusually cold weather, insect damage, lack of nutrients, drought.

The narrow rings produce much stronger wood than the broader rings and are essential to a tree’s overall strength. When a tree puts down a narrow ring, because it was a year of drought, it also deepens its roots. By reading the rings of a tree, you can see the scars from a forest fire, hurricane, and other severe weather conditions. When a tree is injured, it weeps and bleeds sap to begin the healing process. In the years that follow, the tree focuses on growth in the wounded area to repair the damages. An old tree will have hidden scars under the layers. Anyone who splits wood will tell you it is these wounded areas of the tree that are the strongest and most difficult to split and will burn better than the unscarred areas.

Adult warriors are like a beautiful, strong tree. We all have had some years of sunshine and growth and some years of challenges and suffering. We have scars deep within our mind and body.  We reflect on the lessons of our life and in silence we find wisdom. Erik Erikson says, “Wisdom comes from life experience, well digested. It’s not what comes from reading great books. When it comes to understanding life, experiential learning is the only worthwhile kind: everything else is hearsay.” At the end of each chapter I will share in Rings of Wisdom how the lessons have worked in my life.

I will begin this week by telling you I have many rings; some are narrow and strong and some a broad and balanced. I have had years of sunshine and growth, and times of struggles and challenges. Today I can see the wounds from childhood gifting me with more compassion. The wounds from adulthood have lead me to Mindfulness training where I gain insight and awareness setting me free to let go and move beyond judgment and fear. These are scars I have transformed as I see myself as a wounded healer

My wish for each of you is to find the wounded areas of your life as your strength. It is through self-awareness we light up the scars dissolving the blind spots; we grow empathy for self and others and allow the fire within to burn long and strong. Together lets become warriors difficult to split or break as we find new ways to think about ageing and we become busy making the world a better place for every living creature. We begin this journey learning practices and tools for growing self-awareness and a deeper understanding of who we are, what we believe, and how we wish to live in a way that is guided by the awakening Spirit.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Introduction


After the first few weeks of not going to the office, I started feeling restless and very alone. At the time I believed I was ready for these big changes; no more dealings with health insurance companies, no more “treatment plans” and no more biting my tongue about pharmaceuticals and diagnoses. After many hours alone with only my dogs and cats, I noticed a bubbling up coming from within. “Am I growing old? Did I just retire?” When I looked in the mirror at unguarded moments, I realized there were some changes in my face and in my body. “Is this the way I am going to look when I am an old person and does it matter?  Is it really all downhill from here?” Facing these realities seemed more like an uphill steep climb.

Our culture tells us how we are supposed to act at a certain age. “You are not a spring chicken anymore, dress appropriately.”  “You are going to march on Washington when you could be enjoying retirement? Are you nuts?” “You can’t make any big changes in your life; it is time for you to settle.” I hear things like this all around me and sometimes I even see people my age posting on Facebook quotes and discriminating pictures fulfilling ageist myths. They not only buy into these beliefs, but they are also promoting them and repeating them. As a therapist, I know the power of the mind to create what it believes. This kind of thinking is harmful to your health and longevity. These cultural biases are especially influential when they are out of our awareness. They sneak into the subconscious mind unchallenged and we know the subconscious mind doesn’t think about what is true; it does what it is told. So goes the belief that aging includes arthritis, knee and hip replacements, failing memory, no passion, and no joy. If this thinking is not challenged that is exactly what you get as the number on your driver’s license goes up another year. Unchallenged your life will reflect the beliefs of the culture. And suddenly you are getting a knee replacement, your memory is failing and you lost your passion for living.

Yes, I was once one of those idealistic very alive college students marching for peace in the world. But like the rest of my generation, I sold out. I too became a typical productive, compliant member of society. As Paulo Coelho describes, I was domesticated.  I married a banker, had four children, and went to graduate school to be a psychotherapist. I was a stay home Mom and then for many years worked for a large medical center doing out-patient psychotherapy. I was on the Church Parish Council and taught Confirmation class. I trusted that my priest and physician knew what was best for my mind, body and spirit. I didn’t question them nor did I find my own truth. We were not encouraged by our culture to know and understand what’s best for our mind, body or spirit. We are encouraged to just do as they say. And sadly most of what they say is driven by profit, greed and/or the need to keep us in control.

I don’t remember exactly when I realized the games institutions play. I think it was a gradual process of increasing awareness and working for a large medical center that required jumping through corporate hoops replacing concern for what is best for clients. I also started what was called a centering prayer which is much like mindfulness meditation. I believe it is through silence we grow in awareness and begin to remember our true nature. It is in silence we can hear our own wisdom and truth.

Ending my career as a psychotherapist created a new silence giving me the space to figure out what is true for me and how I wanted to live the rest of my life or at least the next ten years. Since I no longer buy into being domesticated I started a journey into a confrontation of cultural beliefs about ageing. As I did research on ageing I found several researchers supporting a new way of thinking about ageing. There is fascinating research on Centenarians and how they live their lives. Dr. Mario Martinez describes Centenarians in his book, Lessons from Healthy Centenarians: “They’re all rebels! They don’t go to doctors because their doctors are dead; they’re future-oriented (‘My garden is beautiful right now but wait till you see it in three years!’); They have healthy boundaries (‘No, I can’t meet you on Saturday morning; that’s when I have my sailing lesson’); they have a positive outlook on life and focus on what’s great. If you have to have a marker, take this one: Middle age starts at 90".

So if Middle age starts at 90, I have a lot of years left to make a difference. Make a difference doing what? It turns out there are many Baby Boomers asking the same question. In the process of answering questions for myself I have become inspired to share my findings. I have a dream to teach a new way of ageing and together with others challenge the beliefs and institutions trying to keep us settled, tamed and compliant.

Let’s be rebels and warriors. Let’s make getting older, getting freer and more powerful. We can make going over the hill the push that helps us go faster down the hill to a life of passion and activism. Let’s harvest our experience and knowledge for the welfare of our planet and her animals, plants and people. All are in great need for our compassion, love and wisdom. Join me as elder warriors making a difference and finding our way to more Love, Joy, and Passion.

©2016 Judith A. Rogers, L.C.S.W.