Conscious Aging I: Take Time to Listen for Your Calling

“With this first post on January 24th of the 2015 New Year, on my 75th birthday, I signaled a shift!”.  (Please note, readers in 2021, the post of 6 years ago, immediately following, inaugurated my days of “aging” more consciously.)

“Rereading what I’ve been posting throughout 2012 – 2014 on three sites, looking through the lens of a solo-ager living partway through the third chapter of life (60 – 90+),  I’m  noticing what’s been calling to me over these last years.

And then BOOM, several months ago, it finally became clear enough to share.

I want to more consciously shine the light on this  final journey we’re all on, whether or not we choose to be aware of it. I want to learn from my own perspectives, discoveries, and needs, as well as those of others.   I want to share about what seems to be important as we travel this path.  I want to encourage thinking about each life as a legacy.   As I personally navigate the dilemmas and delights inherent in the remaining years of my journey, most of which I never anticipated, I want to put them on the radar screen of those in their early 60’s who are  just entering this chapter.

This ongoing shift into my own awareness of aging, really accelerated when my brother died unexpectedly in February 2014 at 68.  Not only did I “get” at a visceral level that I, too, will die.  I started obsessing about,  “Now, how am I going to live?”   Thinking about how to be creatively present during my remaining years I’m finding to be a joyful, hopeful, challenging, and really fun place.   What else it there to do but to plan to live fully and age gracefully?   Likely that my websites will start their slow process of migrating and consolidating toward this new, compelling exploration of how to live well to the end.  A tentative book title emerged yesterday:  Navigating Your Later Years ….for those who know they will die, and intend to live well all the way to the end.

My real message is this:   For those entering your third chapter or currently living through it, be open to the possibility that you do know what remains for you to do.  Listen to what you really love and take it seriously.   Listen for any earlier dreams that are calling to be  revisited.  Listen for the regrets you still have time to rectify.  Listen for what really matters to you.  

You only have one life and sooner or later, it will end.  

In the meantime, nothing is more thrilling, nor more worth your time, than listening, and paying attention to what is calling to you, and starting to do something about it.”

Contemplation, Conversation, and Courage

Here we are 10 months into a new and unanticipated reality, headlined by a corona virus pandemic.  Personally, during this time I have felt myself strongly invited to deal with deeper levels of my own truths, my judgements, my own beliefs about possibilities, my needs, and my remaining days.  I suspect I am not unique.    We are, if we so choose,  revisiting our lives, and perhaps even growing through some major changes.

Since what we knew and were confident about one year ago, has turned upside down into confusion and uncertainty, is this a time to contemplate our lives as we have lived them? Is this a time to create afresh?  Is this a time to reveal tears and anguish?  Is this a time for hope?  Is this a time to learn something new, or see something differently? 

Words that last year at this time were just words, now loom large with raw meanings and new challenges and very new personal significances.  For me, the following words in our basic vocabulary have, over the past 10 months,  gained a new depth, and sparked a new personal relevance.  How about the following: 

Surrender, patience, compassion, love, charity, values, struggle, life and death, black life, grief, loss, gratitude, giving, cooperation, leadership, freedom, division, unity, disaster, distress, depression, dignity, family, community, suffering, loneliness, solitude, priorities, service, kindness, health, certainty, hope.  

And that’s probably the short list. What word is most calling for your attention RIGHT NOW, whether on this list or not? 

  • What word symbolizes an arena in which you have grown this year?  
  • What word(s) represent a new view of life and mission that has visited you during these months?
  • What word invites you to think differently about your life, and might spark a nourishing level of conversation with friends and family?  

Let’s remember that conversation requires both speaking and listening, and maybe some ground rules. Non-reflective complaining might signal the need for a gentle question like, “What are you needing?”  Or, “What are you feeling?”  

Words (ideas) do matter: 

I believe this chaotic Christmas Season calls for contemplation and deeper conversations.  WORDS could start us off.   Do we dare to reveal our emerging truths about what is becoming clear to us?

Illumination V: YES & NO

Reflecting on my 80 years, and writing about them, has been one of the ways I’ve devoted some of my time on this pandemic’s “lockdown.” Here’s a bit of my noodling on becoming conscious in saying “yes” and  “no”  in life.

During my first marriage, in my thirties, I said “yes” to a career opportunity that involved some travel,  and “no” to my husband’s wishes that I not do so.  And that was the beginning of several difficult years. Ultimately we separated and divorced, and painfully said “yes” to learning and growing into a clearer picture of what we each wanted in life.    In my second marriage, in my fifties,  I allowed a stressful situation to continue and affect my health.  Without realizing it at the time, I was saying  “no” to my own desires for a relationship capable of love and stability, and “yes” to my fear of change.  Looking back, I regret my lack of clarity and bravery.

Life brings many ups and downs.  The current pandemic, the extreme partisan politics, and the changes that keep on coming, raise and illuminate  new challenges and choices for each one of us.  It’s a stressful world.  How will we manage?  Perhaps clarity on the YESes and the NOes of our journey is worth seeking.

Changes, both those that befall us and those we initiate, demand that we adapt, adjust, and shift our routines. There is a loss of what was.  Somehow we have to create for ourselves what will replace what we still require for a fulfilling life.  We have to make peace with the losses, the no longer possibles, and recreate other ways to satisfy needs that remain.  As changes occur, to what will we say “yes” and to what will we say “no”?

I will admit that at 80, scooter dependent, retired, and living in a senior residential community currently on semi-lockdown, I am removed from many of the practical displacements that many face, whether it be job and business loss, or working from home and managing children at the same time, or facing eviction.  However, due to our no-visit policy, my older neighbors and I are isolated.  While some haven’t adjusted well to this isolation, others keep going, even trying to be useful.   

Jim takes out his walker and does 3+ miles a day and has lost 15 pounds. Shirley walks 5 miles a day, often with others (6 feet apart) in a walking group. Do you know that’s 150 miles a month?

Joan, over 90,  knitted a  gorgeous emerald green sweater, just to prove she still could. Others are knitting winter hats to be distributed through Providence Ministries. Others meet weekly in person, mindful of masks and social distancing, to share the family stories they are writing for their grandchildren.  Others meet twice a week in a group limited to four, to follow a QiGong video routine.  I, a solo ager, have used this gift of time to write 100 pages of my life history for my family archives, something I didn’t want to regret not doing.  Two of us spend some time volunteering to “get out the vote.”

Swimming at the Y, going to rehab, had gotten me healthy and able prior to the arrival of the pandemic. But, in losing my former practice, I found myself in failing health and mobility.  

Now I’m finally asking, “What’s most missing for my well being right now?”  

While I’m neither feeling lost, lonely, friendless, nor purposeless, I am feeling slow and tired and stressed about the chaos in the world.  

In the list of essentials, most important for my health and well being right now is a regular routine of exercise, and I hate to exercise.  Yes, this persistent goal setter and goal getter, is finally willing to say “yes” to a serious and significant daily routine of exercise. It is something new for me, and now absolutely required.  And I’m aware of the courage it is taking to even think about it.

I’ve started to say “yes” and mean it, to practice a program that will allow me to walk more confidently.  I’m saying “no” and meaning it, to my habitual avoidance.

And now I toss the questions to you.  Take them personally.   What are your core longings during this time of uncertainty?  What will satisfy them?  To what are you now willing to say “yes” for yourself? And just as important, to what will you say “no”?

Caution:  Courage required.