Posts Tagged ‘self-acceptance’

In Passing

January 19, 2023

Yesterday I was informed by a dear friend, Jay, that she had rather suddenly lost one of her close friends to death. That friend had apparently been relatively healthy, but in only a matter of a few weeks went from active and engaged to departed.  Jay stated that mentally she understood what had just happened but emotionally she was not coping well because of the suddenness of the loss. 

A few hours later I received a packet of writing from a dear friend of mine who has been living with a progressively deteriorating health condition for many years. He has soldiered through the  steady decline with an amazing adaptability and retention of positive attitude. What was evident, however, in what he sent me was the fact that the core elements that he has retained as his sense of identity are now under attack. He is experiencing difficulties with all forms of communication and becoming an unwillingly isolated shut-in.

In my initial response to Jay, I spoke about the difference between losing someone suddenly and watching a steady decline, the latter situation giving one an opportunity to adjust emotionally as well as mentally to what is coming. However, that latter situation also implies or imposes awareness that the friend suffering the decline is indeed suffering over an extended period of time. What I mentioned to Jay in my initial response was the ambiguity that I have lived with for many years over the “better” way for a life to end. It seems that for the person who is departing this life it must be easier if the departure is relatively sudden. No living with pain, no agonizing over things undone, not really any time to guilt trip oneself, which I realize may or may not be the case, there being no means to ask after the departure whether the person did in fact experience regrets, or depart in peace.

For those of us left behind after a quick death, similar questions can nag at us. By contrast, when there is a lingering illness and progressive decline, the person experiencing the challenges may or may not value the time provided and the advance notice that whatever activities or communications have been neglected can be put right before death. The friend or family member standing beside or watching the decline also has time to sort things out if they choose to do so. Working in home care for many years, I watched all sorts of variations of the slower passing and saw family member caregivers who treasured every moment of their connection to the dying individual. I also saw family members impatient for the end to come, feeling overwhelmed or angry or just immeasurably sad that their loved one was suffering and in pain. 

For myself, I have tried to live by guidance received from my grandfather when he was near the end of his life. He said then that he had only two regrets, one being that it would have been better for my mother, his daughter, if he had remarried but he never found a woman he wanted to commit to. His other regret was that he never learned to play the mandolin. At that time, when I was in my late twenties, I undertook to try to live in such a way that whenever my end came I would have no more regrets than he did. 

I’m comfortable in saying that at this moment I have achieved that goal. I recognize that the goal is a moving target and that I need to be mindful to stay in this space of no more than two regrets. Doing so helps keep me honest in my interactions, respectful of others, and sufficiently self aware to keep myself motivated in pursuing my own next steps.

I cannot speak for those who care for me with regard to what they would prefer, my rapid and unexpected passing versus an anticipated steady decline. That choice seems to be a very individual one for each of them. I do think that living by the mantra of minimizing regrets (making prompt restitution when we err) can benefit us all, so that however an end comes, whether our own or a loved one’s, the transition can be smoother and less emotionally painful for all who are involved in the passing.

May it be so.

Uncertainty

January 2, 2023

I have been thinking about, and feeling my way through, this topic for a couple weeks with each day revealing a different aspect of it, or presenting me with a new challenge to consider. As I type, I am aware I may not be able to complete a full post. Not because I don’t know what I want to say, but because one of the constraints on my daily life (intermittent severe pain to my dominant shoulder, arm and wrist) may stop me from typing.

Covid, post-Covid uptick in flu and RSV, unpredictable weather, unstable economic conditions, and a general increase in threats of all sorts (Will Russia deploy a nuke in Ukraine? Who will next host mongers of hate and violence here at home?) all contribute to an overriding atmosphere of uncertainty. For most of us, uncertainty brings with it an uptick in fear, as we fight against loss of control and try to find ways to ward off the worst potential consequences of that loss.

I have been reading essays and opinion pieces about some of these social aspects of living with uncertainty, and have responded in letters to the writers, or to the editor, at the several news organizations that publish the journalists I choose to follow. None of them have taken on the sources of uncertainty that are the main concerns for me these days. The closest any have come is to mention the aging of our population and the lack of adequate support for the many more people who are both older and living alone. In that context there has also been discussion of burnout among health care workers, including doctors who are leaving their profession, worn out by overwhelming caseloads and corporate directorships that dictate quantity of visits and hence revenue, over quality of care.

I am grateful for personal circumstances which suggest I will not be left alone to face the increasing limitations of aging. Though I am alone 4-5 days each week now, I can call on my partner to be here within 2 hours, should the need arise – and we are talking about a change in home base that would permit him to be at home with me each evening.

Stopping due to pain – hoping it is temporary and I can resume later this morning.

Well, that break was not a few hours, not even a few days or weeks, but more than a month. Limited energy forced different priorities for my time and/or I have been still trying to do most of the activities that have given me satisfaction or pleasure and a sense of purpose in my retirement, leaving nothing for writing. I am hopeful that starting the new year with a post will set the tone for 2023 and help me implement my desire to once again be an engaged writer.

Help for achieving that goal comes from a friend who has included me in the group of “beta readers” for his manuscript on living with and managing pain, and from another dear friend who has been using self hypnosis to cope, for a number of years with a level of pain she describes as “screaming”. I have much to learn from them, and from my own inner wisdom, as I seek to continue being “of use” to others in ways that are effective but less demanding of my limited energy.

So the very personal aspect of uncertainty I am now examining in my spiritual practice is that of learning to be maximally focused in the immediate now. For a person raised by a German Virgo father to plan well ahead, with two or three backup alternatives as the means to manage uncertainty, becoming able to just be, in the now of time, is essentially to shed what has been part of my core identity for all of my adult life. As I write those words, I hear the inner voice of my spiritual teacher assuring me that the mentally formulated concept of a core identity of planner is a total illusion – my core identity is Soul or spirit, all knowing and able to manage whatever life brings to my attention, so long as I keep my attention where it needs to be – in the present moment, open to being shown each next step.

So that is what I am taking as my task for this new year. Not a resolution, with its associated sense of mental discipline in order to be implemented, but rather a suggestion for where – and to what – I give the nourishing food of my attention. 

Here. Now. For each set of circumstances that arise for me to navigate.

So be it.

Re-Engaging

November 8, 2022

I thank the members of my book group, and their input to a discussion of the Arbinger Institutue’s book, The Anatomy of Peace, for pushing me out of silence and back to a commitment to write, post, speak up. I have been aware of how withdrawn I have become, and given myself a variety of explanations for my changed behavior, not recognizing when the explanations morphed into excuses and my silence ceased to be healthy.

In my defense, I will point out the many letters I have written back to columnists when something I read in their opinion pieces triggered me. What I did not do, and now intend to undertake, is to share those responses here, probably with additional commentary that updates the ideas to today’s context.

Not because I expect my words to “make a difference”, but because I expect of myself to resume living by my long held belief that my purpose in this life is to manifest as best I can the Truths I know. For me that manifestation process has largely been verbal, whether speaking with friends, engaged in counseling with clients, managing an agency, writing newspaper features, or posting to this blog.

In allowing outer world circumstances to silence me, I have perhaps not betrayed myself, in that I have reoriented and reprioritized values, and can claim that I have used the time to make an important transition on my inner, spiritual life Path. But I recognize as well that my silence has extended longer than it needed to. It is time to resume speaking up, speaking out.

To begin, I will pose a question that has floated around me and my close circle for some time now. What is the difference between being older and being elderly? And why is being an elder a term of respect in many contexts, while being elderly is so often portrayed as being feeble, dependent, no longer valuable?

I am definitely older. I am not averse to being termed an elder, with its connotations of wiser, experienced, knowledgeable. I have spent much of the past couple years fighting with my body, and thus myself, about becoming elderly in the negative sense. It is challenging to learn how to remain an engaged, contributing individual when pain and fatigue dominate one’s awareness. I have found it especially challenging in the present socially contentious, nay viciously ugly public times.

What I can do, and am no longer willing to excuse myself from doing, is add to the positive, hopefully encouraging and creative content floating in the ether. The more seeds scattered, the greater the chance of a productive harvest.

Another Uncertainty

July 27, 2022

I’m puzzling over my current inability to generate an essay or post without something triggering me to respond to another’s thoughts. I have written quite a number of letters to columnists, or “to the editor” in response to articles (mostly in NYT or Atlantic) that, on rereading, I find to be thoughtful and probably appropriate to post, with some edits to clarify the content to which I have responded. What keeps me from creating posts on those same topics which I have been reflecting on for some time? Have I retreated so far into pandemic initiated solitude that I no longer feel a connection with any audience (a necessity, in my experience, for finding my voice) so that I am only able to respond to someone I’ve read?

Maybe…

With plenty of time to start practicing piano, I have not done so – until now that I have committed to play duets with a friend who will be visiting, with his guitar, at the end of the year. A deadline and an audience in place, I have begun to sit down for at least a short session of music as close to daily as I can prod myself to undertake. Am I so undone by the loss of work deadline pressures that I can’t commit to something I want to do, without a target date?

Maybe… 

Or am I simply not yet adjusted to the transition to retirement after being multiply engaged with work, housework, family, social obligations, etc?

Maybe…

So how long does such a transition take? Is there a standard? If so, does the standard take into account Covid lockdown and a need, due to age, for continued precautionary limitations to activities?

I don’t know. Maybe…

Walking to the mailbox this morning, I recognized that my many letters of response to opinion pieces or other news feed items are an exercise of intellect, whereas my posts have most commonly been expressions of inner reflection, or insights gifted from spirit. So am I, of late, giving too much attention to mind and not enough to Soul?

Maybe…

A recent increased interaction with Quaker acquaintances and friends has challenged me to clarify how I perceive the relationship between inner spiritual unfolding and outer expression of spiritual beliefs. Both my Quaker (and far distant Jewish) values and my ongoing spiritual Path dictate being engaged in the world, though not focused on finding one’s worth there. Rather, one’s outer daily environment is both a source of lessons, and the outlet for manifesting one’s growing awareness of spiritual Truth.

Intellectual understanding (represented for me at the moment by reading and responding to well reasoned opinions on affairs to the day) has its place, but should not overshadow time spent in inward contemplation – “seeking that of God within” in Quaker parlance, “checking in” with the Master and Soul, as explicated by my Path.

So are my questions about motivation, reasons for writing, use of my now abundant free time a reflection of an as yet unresolved issue of self identity? Am I in the process of transforming my sense of identity, of Self, from being rooted in what I think and do to what I Am?

Maybe…

Reflections on Motivation

May 20, 2022

For years, while working more than full time, I kept up a regular weekly posting to my blog, mostly reflections on circumstances encountered in my daily interactions. A friend just recently commented that I was so busy then, that I needed the blog posts to organize my thoughts. She was probably correct. I have experienced myself as someone who needs “an ear”, preferably a trusted friend or my spouse, so that I can hear myself working my way through whatever concern needs clarification, using the feedback to refine and define my perception. Lacking that in-person ear, writing things out has also served me well as a means to achieving clarity.

Enter retirement, and Covid isolation, and a spouse who lives away the 5 days of the work week, and one might think I would be that much more engaged with posting to this blog. Not so. With a great deal more free – and largely silent – time, I have instead seemingly become mute. I read steadily, back to my childhood sick bed years of a book every 2-3 days, and I play solitaire (current undefeated streak at Free Cell approaches 700 games), I follow an assortment of news and opinion newsletters, tend to my chickens, go for walks when the weather and my health permit, and do the basics of house chores necessary to keep things running here, and my husband’s second home at his work location stocked with his preferred meals. 

Yes, I talk to a few people each week – my acupuncturist and massage therapist, and a couple of dear friends with whom I have an established regular call. I also talk to a limited number of people with whom I am engaged as a part-time contracted worker, assisting the NM Caregiver Coalition and – just lately – those who participate in a weekly, via Zoom, Quaker Worship Sharing group. None of that answers my question to myself of why I have not, in the more than two years since retirement, not resumed posting regularly, particularly given the Covid imposed dearth of opportunity to talk out my concerns.

I had thought, pre-retirement, that I would be able to devote energy to small home improvements – planting flowers in the entry area, refurbishing my kitchen, clearing out years of accumulated stuff. I have made some inroads in all those areas, but not come anywhere near completing the tasks. Whatever I thought I would gain from doing so has not materialized. Instead, partially perhaps because of an unanticipated decline in energy and increase in daily pain, I have been avoiding the endeavors to not be confronted with my decreased capacities.

At first, it was easy to say I would get back to them when I recovered from the first health issues. By now, having experienced a seemingly endless cycle of two steps forward and one-and-a-half back, I am trying to accept that recovery is a myth akin to pre-pandemic normal. My new normal appears to require a degree of flexibility that goes counter to my lifelong mode of accomplishment – organized, planned, scheduled and with Plans B and C pre-mapped in case something (usually another person’s decisions) make the initial schedule unsustainable. With very little scheduled in any week, and no advance warning of better or worse energy/health/pain days, I seem to have lapsed into non-accomplishment of even something as seemingly easy as writing regular blog posts.

I am unclear what underlies not just my lack of writing, but my lack of overall motivation. I really want the kitchen refurbishment, but am defeated before I begin by the non-response of those workmen I manage to identify. Two plumbers have both said they will schedule me, but weeks go by without a call. I should be on the phone, badgering and pestering until one of them wants rid of me enough to come – but I don’t find myself with motivation to expend my limited energy being a nuisance. With the not-feeling-well days coming unpredictably, I am hesitant to enroll in a class, or schedule volunteer activities when I may not be up to keeping the commitments. I am still waiting for a day when both the unpredictable New Mexico spring weather and my energy will match, to set out bulbs and pansies in the pots I arranged last year.

None of which explains my disinterest in writing.

A friend with whom I am mostly linked by our common engagement as writers just recently asked me what I have been working on. She sets herself the challenge of a poem a day every April, has self-published quite a number of books, runs a LIterary Salon now and keeps a regular writing schedule despite her own health and energy issues and those of her husband. I had no real answer to give her, other than mentioning some thought of resurrecting a project sharing creative ways people have found to outwit the limitations of Parkinson’s. I did not recognize and hence could not admit to my problem with motivation.

The question did, thank you Sharon, prod me to examine what has been immobilizing me and, as I am grateful to acknowledge as a blessing, once the question was clearly posed, answers have begun to emerge. They lie in a need to completely redefine how I assess my sense of self, how I shed restricting core identities that have served me productively as a self-reliant and successful worker but which do not pertain to an older, semi-retired individual.

I may not yet be properly motivated, but I am interested to see what emerges.

Empathic Excess

March 7, 2022

I know there is a condition (sometimes labeled compassion fatigue) of excess of empathy producing its opposite, over time, in the person who has generally been open, accepting, willing to see another’s viewpoint and vulnerable to feeling their pain. I know because I recognize that, contrary to my habitual way of being, I have been notably intolerant of late, managing not to express my disdain only by withdrawing from engagement, staying “out of people’s way” and trying to minimize my following of news and other online activities. I haven’t been very successful with that last, still reading many of the stories and opinions in my inbox daily news feeds. I have, unexpectedly, been far more successful at insulating myself from the cares and needs of characters in novels, by ceasing to read them. It has been a puzzlement (to use a term from a favorite story, “The King and I”) that I have become impatient with reading, when that activity has, throughout my life, been my preferred means of escape from my immediate circumstances. 

My childhood was not a happy one, an only child living with a rageaholic mother and an emotionally absent father, and prone to catching every illness passing around, so that I spent a good deal of time alone in bed, in my room, with the radio and books for company. The few activities I could engage in that my mother would not interrupt with a physical or verbal assault on me, were using the toilet or being ill, and reading. Not being a stupid child, I quickly learned to take a book with me into the bathroom, shut the door and sit on the toilet reading – for so long a time that when I finally stood up I had a deep red ring on my behind and my legs were numb. In retrospect I perceive that I probably also fell sick more easily and quickly because of the household stress, and the fact that the ensuing days alone (my mother had a deep fear of germs and would not enter my sickroom) bought me a break from my standard role as her scapegoat.

What I only realized a day or two ago, after weeks of shutting books abruptly after reading only a few pages, is that I can still enjoy reading – just not “serious” books. Lighthearted mysteries, with a touch of humor in the writing, still engage me even when I can see through the plot lines almost from the beginning. Knowing how it will all turn out does not diminish my interest in seeing how the author unfolds the story.The key word, I am sure, in the above sentence was “lighthearted”. Anything more realistic as to characters and their motivations, even mystery novels by some of my favorite authors like Louise Penny, bring on my sensation of being overwhelmed by unwanted emotions. Not just negative ones, any emotions stirred by the excellent writing and delineation of character. 

I have been replacing reading with very specific, limited conversations with a select few friends and acquaintances who are able and willing to discuss abstract ideas, philosophy, or spiritual processes without requiring of me that I solve any problems they may have in living their values. 

In the course of these exchanges, and participation in Quaker Worship Sharing, as well as attending to my daily spiritual exercises, I have come to see my detachment from emotions as a positive indicator of progress along my chosen Path. I seem to be functioning as required on the physical plane, doing my routine, no thought required homemaker chores and offering appropriate support to those around me who request my input. I have been enjoying dialog on the mental plane (reasoning, knowledge, intellect) including giving my analysis of issues or interpersonal concerns when they are requested.

With distracting tugs from the emotional plane effectively shut down, my attention can remain where I wish it to be, developing and maintaining  a spiritual perspective on my life. Aware of the frequency, in the past, of periods in which I felt as though I were teetering on the edge of a precipice, at high risk of plunging into irredeemable depression, and needing to use anger to fight my way back to safer ground, I find that I am now increasingly comfortable with this more disengaged way of negotiating my remaining days.

I do still care about people and broader societal challenges, but most days the caring is more detached. To borrow an image from one of the teachers on my spiritual Path, I am increasingly able to walk along a beach, hear the cries of a swimmer in trouble, throw out a life buoy and tow the swimmer to shore and then walk on, without attachment to how the rescued swimmer proceeds with the remainder of their life. Diametrically opposite to the alleged ancient Chinese belief that if you save a person’s life you are responsible for it forevermore.

Given that my professional career has had me in the role of helping others, and my current part time work still calls for that engagement, I find it an interesting challenge to not drift back into emotional attachment to “what is going on in the world” whether that world is the near one of my friends or the far one of international conflicts. I know from past experience that I am actually better able to assist, when asked, if my ego is not engaged with an outcome, and if I therefore merely offer a new perspective, or make a suggestion for next steps, leaving the implementation to whoever has asked for my input.

Is this new way of being an upside to chronological age? Given that I have also, lately, been rather forcefully confronted with the physical downside of aging, I have to hope that the benefits of detachment will also imbue a revision of self concept, as I figure out how to become comfortable with being an old person.

Wish me well – and success at this endeavor  – please.

Out of Silence

February 20, 2022

I had thought my part time job was taking the time meant for blog posts. But it is not so demanding as to leave me no writing time. I had thought pandemic isolation had stilled my ability to observe and comment. But my inner voice remained audible. I had thought there was no longer much point in posting reflections, year after year, that have mostly been one way communication from me out to ??? But I have no interest in engaging with “social media” type dialog that so frequently sinks into diatribe and vitriol. Perhaps a speck of my being wanted to see who, if anyone, would reach out to me via a comment posted to the blog site, to ask if I was okay, still alive? But I seem to have already known that was unlikely from outside my immediate circle of friends, as my life pattern has consistently been that, if there is to be a connection, I must initiate it. Very, very few people have checked in on me unless they wanted/needed something from me.

It is only just recently that I have begun to recognize my public (and to a large extent also private) silence as due to the need for a serious reconsideration of who and what I am now that I am semi-retired, with less energy to cope with more physical limitations, less accepting of deadlines, more engaged with inner spiritual goals yet finding it challenging to let go of a life pattern of attending to others’ needs before seeking to address my own.

Into this examination came a just published column by Tish Harrison Warren in the New York Times speaking to periods in her past when reading, a primary love and satisfaction, became virtually impossible. I have been aware that, along with not writing, I have lately had unaccustomed difficulty staying engaged with reading. As for Tish, books have been my companions, my escape, my primary pleasure since I began to learn to read at age three, sitting on my Grandpa’s lap and following along as he read “I Went for a Walk in the Forest” aloud to me. Now I have found myself reading only a few pages, even of favorite authors, before setting the book aside to engage with a crossword puzzle, or to extend my undefeated streak of Free Cell. Thanks to Tish’s essay, I see the why of what I had observed but did not understand.

“Sitting with a book requires some level of compassion and energy. A reader sits with the thoughts, stories, insights or opinions of another. She opens herself empathetically to the work of another human being. And I didn’t feel I had the requisite compassion or energy to do so.”

The proximate cause of Tish Harrison Warren’s loss of ability to enjoy books is different from mine, but the experience is virtually identical, including in the way, step by step, she recovered by engaging first in reading short pieces before resuming books. I have begun following, and responding with letters of commentary, to several NYT columnists as a means to counter not just Covid imposed isolation, but my retirement triggered energy crash and loss of my sense of self.

As I responded to the Harrison Warren essay, “You hit the mark, for me, when you mentioned lacking the empathy, compassion, and the energy these take, to enjoy reading. Along with retirement and disconnect from interpersonal interaction, I confronted the difficult questions of retirement. Who am I without my professional role as a caregiver? Of what value has my life been? And what of value do I still have to offer now that my body is tired and resurrecting all the old, healed and forgotten but not gone injuries and pains of my nearly 80 years of living?

Escape from a difficult family life into books was my path since childhood, making it even more disconcerting now to find that escape denied me. I am mentally yelling at Elsa, in Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds” to open her stupid mouth and speak up for herself, then tossing the book aside. I think I would not pick it up again were it not for the fact that it is my book club’s choice for our next discussion meeting.

I had not considered, before reading your essay, that my own inner dis-ease was the source of my new inability to escape into books. I am relieved to learn my experience is in fact a common one, and that I can hope to not only find my way back to the pleasure of reading, but also to that of writing. I will not close down my blog site just yet.”

And so here is a post, after long silence. Step one, writing as well as reading short pieces. I may need to use other responses to recently read columns, in order to resurrect the habit of posting, as I am using the reading of those columns to resurrect my ability to find the compassion and empathy necessary to read books and engage once more with a wider world.

Or maybe not? Maybe I will find that engaging outwardly is no longer so important or rewarding as is withdrawing inward to “dip into the Divine spiritual current always flowing, if only we take time to seek it.”

Alike – and Not

July 7, 2021

Emerging from my lockdown solitude, I have recently interacted with two couples with whom I have a number of things in common, and some significant differences. All five of us attended the same college at approximately the same time. Three of us graduated together, the others a year and two years behind the three. The two couples each married upon graduation, becoming additional statistics in what has been affectionately labeled “the Quaker matchbox.” They are still married, roughly 50 years later. I too married just after graduation, and I too have been married just short of 50 years – but my total is accumulated across several relationships instead of a single long-lasting one.

All of us live in the fire threatened, drought stricken Southwest, within a day’s drive of one another. All of us do our part to care for the environment, and we have all had careers that emphasize making life better for others – in medical care, teaching and the arts. We are all retired and, to the extent that circumstances permit, either working part time or otherwise engaged with activities generally labelled “contributing to society.”  

One couple, my classmates, live in an intentional community, or what they refer to as co-housing. Some twenty four families have their homes clustered along two graveled walkways radiating from a Community Building which has a kitchen and expansive meeting/dining/activity area all centered within some 340 acres of ranchland, with animals, gardens, greenhouse and necessary support buildings and infrastructure maintained communally. The housing area is, courtesy of a good, carefully protected and rationed well, a riot of trees, flowering and native plants, an emphatic green thumb imprint on the adjacent dried grass fields. 

The second couple live in a shaded urban residential area within the largest city in our state. They too have a landscaped and flowering front yard and a small vegetable garden behind their home. Their street is a block long dead end, creating a sense of community among the neighbors who perforce coordinate to care for plantings dividing the block into a U, one side in and one out, rather like a circular drive moving past and uniting the several homes.

By contrast, I live in rural solitude in a small home on four acres, my neighbors barely in view. I have no landscaping, only wildflowers, assorted grasses and a persistent army of encroaching mullein stalks that I do my best to weed out. I have started a small, one vegetable garden, to grow my husband’s favorite greens.

All of us have dogs. I am the only one to also have a cat.

All of us have maintained a positive attitude toward our health and longevity, focused on what we can do rather than what now limits us.

All of us follow, to some extent, current politics and express our similar views in the voting booth.

They have children, I do not – except now in my later years, by step-parent status.

Using my driving time during recent visits to both couples, I have been reflecting on my life overall, undoubtedly part of the process of emerging from pandemic isolation. Also part of the ongoing process of considering who I am as a retiree, and what I wish to do now that the focus of my life is more my own to discern.

The one clear direction I am following is to be guided more by inner prompting (listening to that of God within, as Quakers would express it; Hearing, and Being the Sound Current as MasterPath reveals it) than by outer demands. 

What does that have to do with the comparisons with which I began this reflection? 

As a child, I expected that the course of my life would be more like that of the two couples – finding a compatible mate and living our lives out together. It still surprises me to see that instead I learned and grew through a sequence of relationships, mostly to partners of different races and ethnicities from my own. Yet I have evolved in a quite similar pattern to my college mates as regards values, professional roles and lifestyles.

What if anything meaningfully sets me apart?

My marital relationships have been cross race/ethnicity/culture whereas theirs are not.

I have had longish periods of functioning as a single person; they have not.

They have articulated their goals for the next several years; I do not know mine.

Or rather, I only know that it is time for me to have goals of my own, and to make them as much of a priority as I have, over my lifetime, made it a priority to help my mate(s) meet his/theirs.

Now the work begins – first to define my goals and then to teach myself to keep them front and center. 

Fortunately I know that the only place to seek my new goals is within myself, as I complete my daily spiritual practice. Which means that defining the goals is not work, merely an extension of what I already do.

As with so many questions in life, the answer is simple once “overthinking” is curtailed.

Quiet the mind and let inner wisdom speak.

What Next?

June 22, 2021

How does one – how do I – regain a lost habit of writing regularly? I managed to keep to frequent posts through years of long working days, only to lose that pattern in the last couple years of pre-retirement exhaustion. I thought that being freed from my work routine last August would  lead directly to a renewed engagement with writing. Wrong.

And no, I do not blame Covid, which removed all the retirement-filling activities I thought I would enjoy, deepening my isolation and solitude and presumably increasing my free time for reflection and comment. Instead of which I went even more silent.

My only activity that increased is nonverbal – assembling jewelry both to send as gifts and to accumulate for whenever I find a market (or someone to do the marketing) and make it available for sale. 

Returned now from a four day venture out into the larger world (a road trip to visit friends near Durango) I have become aware of how much my world view has altered. Since retirement in late summer of 2020 I have not made more than 3 trips to Santa Fe, none to Albuquerque, and barely weekly from home to the nearest shopping in Las Vegas. My husband works away during the week, coming home on weekends and able to do the Santa Fe errands en route, removing pressures that would have existed on me to get out at least that far. The major energy crash and never-diagnosed health decline that followed after retirement (no not Covid) reinforced my “stay at home and do little” behavior, and subtly altered my mental state in ways I did not recognize until I experienced the difference brought on by being away and in company for several days.

I have read essays in the online newspapers to which I subscribe, about both those who can’t wait to emerge from home and resume social life, as well as those who find themselves reluctant to do so. The latter seem to mostly be described as fearful, untrusting, having lost their sense of community. 

I find I am somewhat reluctant to be out and about much, but I deny that I am fearful and untrusting, and I know I have not lost my sense of community.

Instead, I think I have found a pleasure in my own company that I had rarely had the ease to explore, until now. All my life I have had to be a financial support for myself and others, to organize the household, to be engaged and outwardly focused. One very brief exception was a month when I (and my then husband) first moved to Boston. I was in my mid-twenties. He got a job immediately, and told me I should take my time before starting one myself. I explored the city and did enjoy a type of vacation, but felt the pressing financial limitations of only one income in a two-incomes-needed city. I started work so that we could afford an apartment in a newly restored brownstone. 

Last week’s trip took me to a co-housing community of 24 families that has been functioning effectively for over twenty years. My friends there are college classmates. The atmosphere on the ranch (they live in a cluster of individual houses around a Community Building on 340 acres of farmland) is open, inviting, trusting (no locked doors), thoughtful and as self sustaining as possible. Maintenance duties and gardening are shared responsibilities, as are preparation and clean up from weekly communal meals, but each family also pursues its own interests individually. Looking at all the landscaped homes I asked if one had to be a gardener to join the community. My hosts laughed and said “not necessarily, but you have to be willing to pay someone to do the gardening for you if you don’t do it yourself.” Caring for nature and the land is a priority of the community.

Given how easily I fit into that group, I know my remaining reluctance to get out and about is not due to loss of a sense of community. Rather I have become aware of how challenging it is to achieve connection with like minded souls in the broader strident, divisive environment that is “today’s world.” Even in my relatively quiet corner of the country, the tensions and disagreements and deep divisions troubling our society (not just in the US) cannot be avoided except by isolating. So it is not that I am fearful of re-engagement, but that I desire the original meaning of retirement – withdrawal, absence of tension and pressure, an opportunity to live quietly and reflectively. Wherein I have discovered pleasure in my own company. Less need to communicate. And apparently also less motivation to write.

The first two are definitely pluses. Not sure yet about the third. What next? We shall see.

Detaching As Best I Can

February 5, 2017

I have been examining the fine line, the razor’s edge, upon which I am directed to balance – to be in the world but not of it. To watch what is happening and to manifest my grasp of the meaning of Divine Love, without becoming either for or against anything particular that I observe. One of my teachers on the MasterPath illustrated this directive with a story about walking by a lake, communing with spirit and happy in the moment. He hears a cry and sees a person splashing in the lake, shouting for help, apparently at risk of drowning. He knows that we are urged to stay detached, to not take on the karma (consequences) of others.

Does he walk by and ignore the plea? Of course not.

He assesses quickly that he is not a strong swimmer, and may make the situation worse if he plunges into the lake himself. He does have a good right arm and can be of assistance by throwing a rope out to the person. This he does, shouting instructions to grab the rope and hang on. He succeeds in towing the individual in to land, calls 911, and stays with his rescued person until the EMTs arrive. Then he continues his walk, resuming his contemplation and letting go completely of the incident. He does not know the person’s name, nor any of the circumstances of his past or future life. That is of no concern.

Another image used to instruct us is that of viewing life as a river, that we do not swim in but rather watch flow by as we sit on the bank. Not the easiest viewpoint to maintain when one is doing necessary daily chores or other aspects of just living one’s life – especially those one has allowed oneself to like or dislike – but it is through such daily routines that we are shown where ego, like/dislike, anger, greed, and various attachments “catch” us out and pull our focus back into negativity and the mundane.

If I am distraught that apparently “the world still prefers a blustering and dishonest man to a hard-working and intelligent woman” it can only be that I am (yes I admit it) identifying with my own life experience of being treated in that manner, thinking of myself as a woman whose worth has often been ignored while the rewards and supports go to a less able man. It apparently cannot be otherwise in daily life. For if that imbalance were to right itself, another of equal force would pop up. It has ever been so in the world, from the beginning of recorded human history.

We are so deeply ingrained with patterns directing us to strive to “make the world a better place” that it’s difficult to recognize how doing good is as ensnaring as doing evil. The only ‘doing’ that we actually have the ability to achieve is within ourselves as individuals. I cannot change the world, I can only change myself. If, in so doing, there is an effect on the world, so be it. I’m not changing myself in order to change the world, not even in order to change those near and dear to me. I am changing myself solely for my own benefit, my own spiritual growth.

That can sound selfish – and from a lower viewpoint, it probably is. But if each of us were to stay focused only on being the most pure spirit possible, overall the amount of conflict around us would surely reduce. It’s the partisan “caring” about whose party is in power, which values are directing society, what religion is acceptable, that engenders conflict and anger and war.

The current political situation, primarily in the U.S. but more generally worldwide, is becoming the tool given me to identify the emotional and false identity hooks by which I am still sucked into the river. The past 4-5 months that I was floundering in darkness and near-panic are a potent reminder of how negative it is for me to be anywhere other than on the bank, watching the play of events flow past. Elsewhere, I will spell out for myself as many of the false identities as I can name, and carefully peel them away.

Which does not mean I will ignore the calls to petition or otherwise act in defense of values important to me and – in my opinion – important to sustaining my country according to its founding principles. I would never walk by and ignore that desperate, drowning person.

But I will strive to sign or not sign, call or not call, march or not march, finance or withhold my money strictly as I am able, with detachment towards the effectiveness of my actions. And I will remind myself of the statement I clipped from a Zen calendar that seems to best summarize my current goal:

“I am alive, I am present, I am trying, that is enough.”


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