Month: June 2011

Mining the Past

Mining the Past

The past holds many treasures that can serve us well as seek to discover what we are supposed to be doing now that we’re almost old. Not only does it contain the wisdom born of hardship and pain, but it also holds the key to the joy and meaning that has enriched our lives. When we mine these multifaceted jewels, they will lead us on a path of self-discovery that promises to provide us with an instructive map to age abundantly.

I don’t know about you, but I have spent most of my life running from my past mistakes and running toward the future where I believed a better path could be charted. It was an effective method in that it kept me moving, trying new things, and gathering experience, because boy, did I make a lot of mistakes! When I recognized a wrong turn, I chalked it up to experience, buried it as best I could and vowed never to do it again, and kept moving.

Now, however, looking toward the future has lost its appeal as the end of life becomes more palpable.   But there is more to the past than the debris of failure and now is the perfect time to mine it for all the gems it can provide our todays. Setting aside the running to and running from way of living, allows us the opportunity to take a deep breath and begin our search for the joy and richness that only living can bring.

Our past holds treasures personally crafted just for us. They are personal, rich and substantial. They hold the key to hope, gratitude and as yet undiscovered benefits. As we sift through our memory banks in search of these golden nuggets we will find our own personal map to meaning and purpose.

Begin by picking a period of time — a decade, a year or a day — during which you felt particularly in tune with yourself and life. Close your eyes and sink into the memory. Feel it, absorb it, and allow it to fill your mind and senses with all the good things it has to offer. Then ask yourself what was it about that moment that was so special? What were you feeling, doing, experiencing? Can you repeat it in some way today? Can you use it to live happier today?

I spent so many years looking at the negatives of the past and not enough time holding on to its treasures. Today when I closed my eyes and did this little exercise I thought of a time when I was in college. It was summer. Two of my best friends from high school (twin guys*) and my roommate joined up for a series of adventures. We went to watch the Thunderbirds fly over the Long Island Sound, took in a number of rock concerts and had a blast. We just enjoyed each other and had fun ~ no strings attached kind of fun. We laughed. We lived. We soaked up the excitement of the moment.

What I felt during those days was the excitement of doing something new, the warmth of being with people I enjoyed, a sense of freedom, and time in the great outdoors. I had no expectations of myself or my companions other than to enjoy the moment, taking it in, absorbing life and love.

By living for a few moments in that recollection I am able to absorb its teachings for my life today. The experience helped me to realize four things. First, I have forgotten how to live in the moment and to absorb all the pleasure and knowledge it has to offer.  Second, it revealed to me that I place entirely too many unnecessary expectations on myself. Third, I haven’t done anything new and exciting in a very long time and lastly, I realize I don’t spend near enough time laughing with people I enjoy. Just that brief moment of reflection provided me with all the information I need today to make my life more comfortable. Here’s what I can do now:

  1. Learn something new.
  2.  Focus on doing those things I enjoy doing and aside the uncomfortable and unnecessary expectations I have placed on myself.
  3. Call a friend and get together for coffee or a phone conversation.
  4. Share laughter with someone I love.

Your past will undoubtedly reveal something different, something that is uniquely yours, a personal message from your heart. As we begin to use our past as a teacher, rather than a litany of what not to do, we will allow it to blow the breath of life into our todays.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.

* I married the other twin ten years later.

What is Normal?

What is Normal?

I see a common thread running through conversations among older women lately. There seems to be a struggle going on ~ an inner struggle and, for many, an outer struggle. So many of us are struggling with financial pressures and uncertain financial futures, job upheaval, parents and children in various stages of “unsettled”, not to mention the often perplexing experience of physical aging. As a result, we seem to be looking for a place to “settle”, to feel comfortable, to feel at home in our skin, to feel “normal”, if we ever did.

Whether we were once on top of the world in our careers, marriages, etc. and now find ourselves without one or the other or both, or never have attained our goals and realizing we’re running out of time, we seem to be longing for a sense of comfort that comes with what we once perceived as normal. We yearn for pre-911 security, a pre-internet and satellite awareness of the world’s difficulties.

We struggle to rest, to relax, to feel comfortable in our own skin and we are perpetually looking for answers. We seem to be ill prepared for the effects of aging and are desperately trying to “catch up” with ourselves ~ inner and outer.  We feel the weight creeping up, the skin sagging, the wrinkles forming, the gray threatening to win and we’re not done yet done with being “young”. We are fighting the fight and while sometimes we are sure we have conquered our fears, anxieties, and misgivings, sooner or later the uncertainty creeps in again, or some new issue arises to throw us off track.

Wasn't this the kind of parents we were supposed to be?

Our generation was raised on Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons and Mary Taylor Moore. As much as we thought we were aware of this fantasy that made up the building blocks of our very foundation, we have underestimated its impact on our expectations of what our lives would be both then and now. Part of what threw us off track is that for many the American Dream seemed to be coming true. Money flowed like water as our economy rose to extraordinary heights at the peak of the technology boom and if we had not yet made it we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and advertising fanned the flames of our expectations. The values of the 60’s were lost in a whirlwind of buying and spending and feeding ourselves a heavy dose of materialism, believing that we could have it both ways.

Wealth, fame, and material abundance are potent drugs no matter how deep our non-materialistic values run. Mesmerized, we lost sight of reality and were ill prepared for what followed. When the rug was pulled out from underneath us we were shocked and dumbfounded. Now we’re struggling to find “normal” again. We long to be back where life seemed easy, or at least more comfortable than it is now. We long for the innocence and optimism that was in abundance in our youth. We long for the powerful belief we once held that “all will work out”. We long for the time when God and religion made sense. At least I do.

Many of us started our lives as regular church goers. Belonging to a church was normal in 1950 and 1960. Fewer of  us raised our own children in the church and a skewed fundamentalist perspective has become the religious norm. We are out of our comfort zone in so many respects. The things we thought we’d have to depend on when we reached old age have slipped through our fingers, one by one.  We’re left wondering, now what? What am I supposed to be doing, believing, thinking, and feeling? How am I supposed to order my world? Around what or whom? We are adrift in a sea of uncertain unfamiliarity.

Even the most difficult situations were coated in love and happy endings.

Acknowledging a problem or a situation is the first step to acceptance.  In noticing our deep discomfort with life as it is and acknowledging that it isn’t what we expected will allow us to turn our face toward acceptance. We may never get back to where we thought we’d be ten years ago, financially or otherwise. This is our plight. This is the life we’ve been given. Acceptance may be all that we need to free up the energy necessary to mine what we can from today, and collect the gems still available here and now, in this moment. This is the new “normal”.

What do You Really Want now that You’re Almost Old?

What do You Really Want now that You’re Almost Old?

Photo by D Sander

The only way to get what you really want is to let go of what you don’t want. ~ Iyanla Vanzant

Getting what we want in life not only seems possible when we are young, but inevitable. Even in my darkest moments I believed with utter fervor and commitment that if I worked hard enough, did the right things, and followed the right path, I would have a fulfilling and meaningful life. I knew it would not be perfect, but it would be good enough.

Little did I know that I would be trapped by a mindset, passed down for generations, that would keep me bound and guided by forces that I could not see. Driven by a combination of habit, ego, and an immature idea of love and caring, I plowed through the first half of my life as if my days on earth were endless. Though that may sound extreme, it is crystal-clear to me (now that I have really “come of age”), that life is not what it seems when we are young!

When I woke up from a life, that upon reflection seems like a bad dream, I was nearly paralyzed by the awareness that in spite of the fifty years of effort and determination I was no nearer my original destination than I had been thirty years earlier. I felt as though I had wasted my life and that I had given it all away, keeping very little for myself.

My immediate response was to announce to myself and to anyone who would listen, “I’m done doing for everyone else. I’m done living my life for my children, my parents, my husband, my friends, my animals, my job! It’s time for me!” Those who bothered to listen undoubtedly heard the panic in my voice, and heard what I was really saying, “I’m running out of time! I need to pick up the pace!”

It has been almost ten years since my “mid-life crisis”. I still battle some of the same false beliefs that had pre-programmed my life, but the battle is fought with a little more wisdom…and compassion. One of  my most important lessons can be summed up by the quote by Lyanla Vanzant. “The only way to get what you really want is to let go of what you don’t want”.  We cling tenaciously to so many things in life, many of which have no real meaning or purpose in the overall scheme of things. These “things” keep us trapped, bound, and unhappy, whether they are material possessions, jobs, ideas or concepts.

The “letting go” is not always simple, or easy, and it isn’t a once and done kind of thing. In order to find a life of joy and meaning we must let go, over and over again. It is the only way to keep moving forward toward the life we were meant to live. The minute we begin to cling to something that does not bring joy and meaning to our lives, we can be certain that we are going away from our true selves instead of toward them. What drives us then is not passion but fear or insecurity. As we cling tenaciously to what we are doing, we use up the emotional and practical space we need available for something better. Sometimes we heap another layer on top trying to kill the pain and discomfort of living our wrong choices, by dousing ourselves in alcohol, material things, vacations, a new romance and a myriad of other escape tools. By filling our days with placebos, from the hedonistic to quasi-spiritual, we simply muffle our fear and accomplish only temporary escape from a life of true joy and inner peace.

Gradually, one by one, day by day, we can let go of those things that do not make us happy and create space for those things that do. If you do not know what to put in the empty space, consider embracing the silence. Sit with the discomfort. You will discover new and exciting possibilities that lie in wait just beyond your current awareness. They will move in to fill the void when you are ready.

The Gypysnester ~ Life After Kids

The Gypysnester ~ Life After Kids

Veronica and her husband Dave were unwilling to spend a single moment feeling sad that their kids had flown the coop.  They decided that instead of being “empty nesters” they were going to be “gypsy nesters” and wander the globe, untethered and free.  You will find their journey and a whole lot more on the Gypsynester website. With a delightful sense of humor you will not only be inspired but thoroughly entertained. Here’s more on their philosophy.

Visit the Gypsynester website to read about Veronica & Dave’s travel adventures. Keep up with their day to day activities on Facebook and/or Twitter @Gypsynester

Grandmother’s Afghan

Grandmother’s Afghan

I think I’ve lost my nerve. I say “I think” because these days it comes and goes with the wind. When or why I lost the ability to try new things I can’t say for sure. It seems like I’ve been this way forever and like my grandmother’s hand crocheted afghan over the back of our couch, I seem to be planted for good, or until they carry me out, put me in the ground and new owners move in. (I’m sure they will hate the couch as much as I do and Grandma’s afghan. She never could get colors right.)

The last time I remember pushing my life ahead in a radical sort of way was about ten years ago when I felt the surge of midlife power that seems to afflict women about the time they turn fifty, give or take. Free at last, we’re ready to take on the world with almost all the gusto we had when we were twenty.

It’s not as easy as we imagined and soon we find ourselves knocking on the door of sixty and wondering when the hell we’re ever going to get it right? Keeping up with national crises, husbands having heart attacks, children refusing to launch, elderly parents and bad drivers take its toll. How does one get anything done in this life? Add to that a stubborn metabolism and adrenal fatigue and you have a recipe for grandmother’s afghan on the back of the couch.

And so I’ve lost my nerve. Today I sit, wondering what the hell it’s all about, Alfie.

Crochet for Charity
Adapting to Change as We Age

Adapting to Change as We Age

Change is difficult even under the best of circumstances. As we get older we often find ourselves resisting change and seeking security and consistency. As a young person I thrived on change. At any opportunity I was ready to try something new. Eager. Hopeful. Optimistic. The new “shiny thing” was both mesmerizing and enticing.

At almost sixty, I know about new shiny things and the grass is always greener. The years of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams has left me barren of hope for a new outcome from change. Particularly external change. Had life been different would I now be more optimistic? Less set in my ways? It’s hard to say.

I’ve become cynical even about internal change. If I haven’t fixed myself by now is it really possible to even be fixed? Does it matter? Yes, change is difficult and no less so with age. I still believe change and variety in life are important and help to keep us young and involved in life mentally if not physically.

We do have to choose what we change more carefully. When once a move across the country may have been the change we needed, now we may have just earned the right to seek more modest change to keep us humming along. A change of routine, a change of décor, a new dress may be all we need to stir things up and keep us engaged in life. Chances are an external change will be thrust into our lives in the not too distant future anyway.

The important thing about adapting to change is to be patient with ourselves and above all, kind. We need to remind ourselves that change is hard and requires a flexibility of spirit and attitude. Flexing those muscles now and again keeps us in shape for the unexpected, but it’s okay to be different at sixty than we were at twenty-six. Life holds a different sort of adventure for us now.