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 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. I guess the joke was on me. Intimate friendships develop over years, not months or weeks.

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 is 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 my thinking, feeling 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 journaling 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.
I realized it was another time in life for learning new lessons; the biggest one being choosing freedom replacing the trap of habit. Instead of spinning my wheels I faced the emptiness of retirement alone with no distractions. It was much easier for me to have no structure to my days than I thought it would be. I did fall into a routine that included a short nap in the afternoon sun on the lanai and a morning walk with my dog, Jasmine. I found new ways to interact with my new environment which included a periodic trip to the beach. I decided to change my eating habits and cook more seafood, eat more vegetables and fruit.  I decided to stop and experience all the changes taking place in my life instead of running from them with the busyness habit. It took a few months of solitude for me to appreciate its benefits.
My first discovery in silence was the peacefulness of doing nothing; waking up without an alarm clock. I would question if I if all of this free time would lead to laziness or I would feel guilty because I wasn’t using my time well. I acknowledged the feelings and sometimes laughed at myself and my ability to enjoy retirement. I soon realized how silence was exactly what I needed to identify what is important to me and how I want to spend my time. My meditation and journal writing reflected the journey to a new me.
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!



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mindful Aging Class

My intention for this class is to create a safe place that encourages self-reflection and sharing within a small group. We will explore the research pointing to a new way for aging. There will be suggested readings and exercises. I will present several Mindfulness practices so you can find the ones that work best for you. We will be replacing conventional beliefs about retirement and aging with a new way of seeing aging as a time of possibilities. The class could be used as a handbook for training elder warriors as wisdom keepers.  

 I use the term elder warrior to bring images of courage, personal power, confidence, accomplishments, integrity, honor and wisdom. I see an elder warrior as someone whose mission includes self-discovery, empowerment and gathering wisdom. Unlike a soldier who is trained to follow orders and ignore his own inner wisdom; a warrior is independent. She takes responsibility for her choices and actions. A warrior has compassion and has embodied her own suffering giving her the ability to tend to other’s suffering. As elder warriors we become defenders and protectors for what we love and cherish.

We live in a culture that values youth and marginalizes age and while it is easy to fall into the roles defined by our culture, the elder warrior knows believing in the stereotypes will leave her feeling hopeless and powerless about growing old. Let's have a new vision for aging. A vision of being more alive living today with awakening senses, deep passion, and brave self-awareness. Many say there is an emerging paradigm with a shift to higher consciousness and a new way of existing on our planet. I believe it is an exciting time to be an elder, leading the way to a world that is kinder and works for all living creatures.  

This class will explore ways to enjoy the present moment without concern about the past or the future. There will be suggested readings and exercises along with Mindfulness practices. We will ditch conventional beliefs about retirement as a time to settle down. I intend to share the magical and miraculous warrior energy of possibilities; and to help you answer Mary Oliver’s question: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”