Thursday, January 25, 2007

Learning to Love Yourself Again

“Joy brings a happy, almost elated feeling that inspires gratitude. When we are burdened with sadness and fatigue, even thinking about joy seems artificial and absurd. Yet even under the most challenging circumstances, it is possible to take some small step that reconnects us to the lilt of joy. A loving gesture, a token of appreciation, or a humorous exchange can offer welcome release and provide a sunnier outlook. Scientific research suggests that active appreciation and gratitude stimulates the highest brain functions. Cheerfulness sharpens our intelligence, activating the sword of knowledge that can cut though emotionality, putting ego out of commission and releasing vital energy. Happy people are not ruled by their emotions.”
-- Arnaud Maitland, Living Without Regret

Where in your life is that lilt of joy? What would it take to reconnect with that precious moment when you were really alive, hopeful for the future, purposefully positive about who you were and what you wanted to become? Remember how you loved yourself then, in that shining instant when everything was possible?

You can be that person again. No matter the disappointments, no matter what heartaches, no matter the dim, dusty years that have passed since then, you are here, now. It is another day, another hour, another moment. As the quantum physicists say, we indeed do create our own reality. It simply takes our conscious intention to realize and manifest what we really want, who we really are, and then create the courageous attention, moment by moment, to make it happen.

You are loveable. You are loving. You can attract other loving people to you, once you realize how much you have to offer to yourself and to others. The old saying, “It takes a friend to be a friend” is the key to learning how to love ourselves, especially as we age, even as our old friends may have been leaving this earth before us. But today we are still here, and as long as there is another day to wake up to, we have more opportunities to find another lilt of joy in remembering all those past joyful moments in our lives and find ways to create new joys.

With those old joyful memories, and our new experiences, we have the precious opportunity to create in this moment and this day the wonderful gift of thanking ourselves for being here and finding others to share the same inexplicable joy. Begin now. What one thing can you do today that will give you joy? What can you do today to give another person comfort or joy?

I am delighted to be here this day to share my joy with you.

Now, pass it on.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How Not To Become Invisible

You are an executive in your 50’s or 60’s and you just lost your job or have retired. You are an aging man or woman who is single, widowed or divorced. You are anyone over 40 who doesn’t recognize the celebrities in People magazine or the stars on TV and the movies. You are becoming aware, slowly but surely, that you are being made redundant, invisible, passé because of your seniority and the bustling crowd of younger generations nipping at your heels.

Your childhood friends are dying or moving away. You still listen to love songs and watch old movies the younger folks snicker at. You don’t go to bars or popular concerts anymore because the so-called music hurts your ears. And, often, you don’t have anyone to go with anyway. Is this all there is? Are you condemned to becoming isolated by an ever-evolving culture which is increasingly foreign to your memory, your tastes, your very reason to continue living?

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” the poet says. I say, seize this day and all the treasure of your days yet to come. You may be part of the end of an era, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of your personhood, your joys, and a rich and more productive life to come.

Gather new friends around you, those who can sing the same old songs and tell the stories you have lived and enjoyed. Find younger friends also, to teach, mentor, enrich their lives with your experience and wisdom. Younger friends will also enrich your life, with their own “new era” ways of thinking and embracing their own future. They will help you learn that you’re not too old to create a second profession, find a new life, a new love, a new job, to develop new reasons for waking up to all the mornings yet to come.

Reading groups, social groups, volunteer organizations by the dozens are begging for your help. Jimmy Carter needs your help in Habitat For Humanity; hospitals and hospices need your presence and compassion; schools and libraries need you to teach, mentor and share your stories, to spread your special talents around. Now is the perfect time in your life to became the painter, poet, or political activist you always wanted to be.

Now is your time to become truly visible, to blossom into the new you! Smile more, talk to strangers, wear a funny hat. Become a friend and helpmate to the entire world. You’re old enough now to be who you really are. After all, you’ve earned the right.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Aging: Is The Glass Almost Empty Or Half Full?

Just This
When I think of the patience I have had
back in the dark before I remember
or knew it was night until the light came
all at once at the speed it was born to
with all the time in the world to fly through
not concerned about ever arriving
and then the gathering of the first stars
unhurried in their flowering spaces
and far into the story the planets
cooling slowly and the ages of rain
then the seas starting to bear memory
the gaze of the first cell at its waking
how did this haste begin this little time
at any time this reading by lightning
scarcely a word this nothing this heaven.
-- W.S. Merwin

Where did the time go? Why didn’t somebody tell me that this is all there is? All my life, I played with time like a child sifting through sand on the beach. I didn’t waste it as much as I didn’t use it, really use it. I thought there was plenty of time, plenty of days, years, relationships, in order to get it all right, to finally do something with my life, to be somebody.
And even when I tried; mistakes, petty angers and false starts weren’t teaching tools but became false justifications for an untested life slowly sifting away. I had plenty of time to get it all together, didn’t I? But then middle age came and left like a furtive acquaintance, not yet a friend. New careers, new hopes, new small successes but no sense of achievement, still not knowing who I am or why am I here.
Then slowly, the intimations of wisdom came along with my aging, shuffling into my life on little furtive feet of northwestern morning fog, along with their partner, the first intimations of death, finally creating a real and more satisfying denouement to my minor, mortal play. And it was only then, thanks to a new, tentative career of caring for the terminally ill, the actively dying, the true heroes of the hospice movement, I found the teachers who knew what living was all about in the drama of their own dying.
When one can count the number of sand particles in one’s hand and know there are no longer the world’s beaches to squander, reality sets in and wisdom arrives. My patients’ stories, both of lives invested with heart and soul, or lives squandered with “might haves” and “should ofs”, made me realize how potentially beautiful, enriching, and short all of our lives are.
And the most wonderful lesson in their stories was the fact that we all can have a wonderful life, a worthy and fulfilled life, either if we begin to act on this innate wisdom of how to conduct every day as if it were our last early in our youth, or if we can at least realize the transformative possibilities and act on that newfound wisdom in those last moments, hours, days, or years, that we still have left on this good, green earth.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Are You Frightened As I Am?

Growing old is not for sissies. In our 20s and 30s, we are frantic for love and success, expecting to live happily forever after. In our 40s and 50s, we’re at our peak earning years and deeply involved in parenting. As we approach our 60s, we are reaching retirement and empty nesting, we look into the mirror and are shocked to see an aging stranger. Is this all there is? What happened to that beautiful, hopeful person with those great expectations?

You may be as frightened as I, wondering where we go from here. After all, we may have another third of our life to live! In ancient Rome, we would have been dead by age 18. In Victorian times, we may have lived to our 40s. In America’s last century, our 60s. But now, with modern sanitation and medicine, we can expect to live to our 80s and 90s. Science is presently teasing us with the promise of an even longer life!. But at what price, with what quality of life?

With age comes the natural slowing of the body and mind, as well as a higher incidence of cancer, the curse of Alzheimer’s, painful arthritis, and many illnesses most of our forefathers and mothers were spared because they died too soon. However, there are ways we can slow the aging process, reduce the possibility of illness, and increase our feelings of self-worth, re-engagement with the world, a recharging of our personal power.

Fortunately, along with the many real problems of aging may come greater wisdom as well. Growing old can become a gratifying, graceful third act, an opportunity for each of us to star in our own enriched life drama. Before the curtain comes down, we can leave our audience of friends and family comforted, enlightened, and perhaps hopeful about their own final time on the stage. Our fear can be transformed into the tingle of excitement all actors feel before they step out into the light.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Future Stories

I find my life rich in stories, and I want to give them away. They are seeds from the ripened fruits of my experience, even as that fruit, mature and full of flavors, is consumed by the inevitable march of time. But the little hard-shelled seeds of that rich experience are relevant and resourceful, waiting for another’s random harvest.

* Are You As Frightened As I Am?
* Aging: Is The Glass Almost Empty Or Half Full?
* How Not To Become Invisible
* Learning To Love Yourself Again
* Whom Do You Trust Under 60?
* It’s OK To Be “At The End Of An Era”
* Is There Sex After 60?
* Losing Your Memory Does Not Mean Losing Your Mind
* The Revolt Of The Old Farts
* Finding A Final Philosophy
* The Tragedy Of Fathers And Sons
* Finding Work After Your Job Is Over
* Learning To Love Again After “The Love Of Your Life” Is Gone
* The Manly Art Of Caregiving
* Caring For The One You Love
* In Defense of Nursing Homes
* The Fine Art Of Dying At Home

(And How About Your Stories? We Can Learn From Each Other!)