Pain. Pain to heal. Pain to get to the other side of an issue. Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual or just a pain in the buns, they range from fierce to annoying. The pain can be short-term or linger for what seems like forever.
First learning about the concept of the Comfort Zone in a language class, the teacher said that the best speakers would be fearless in trying the language in new settings, and would need to move out of the comfort zone of the class. Since then the picture of a bull’s-eye comes to mind when my gut tells me to get out of the center and move to the far edge. Now, even knowing that for about a zillion years, being fearful in some form, or for some lesser emotion, is still a heard in my ear and felt in my body.
Since all of us humans are fairly alike, my assumption is that, unless you are a practicing Buddhist monk or nun, you feel it too. What I have learned, is that visualizing that bulls’ eye helps. The yellow has lots of room in which to wiggle around and still be ok–the get to the edge and move slightly into red, and so forth. Imagine a child jumping off a diving board for the first time and then at the end of the summer when they are flipping like crazy people. All the chemicals from the brain warning us of danger and the physical reactions to that danger are the same ones that make us crazy with anger and fear and strike first or run.
There are lots of fearful and angry people in the world. And there are lots of people who love to blame anything or anyone who makes them feel pain…the pain of loss or unfulfilled dreams or lack of self-worth or shame or embarrassment for the way their life has gone so far. To become an extraordinary elder moving from the things you know to some activities or people or places you are not immediately comfortable with is a goal to set for yourself. Ask around about new places to do a daily walk. One year I went to eight parks in Denver where I had never been. I also found three new places for ice cream around the parks. If you are concerned for health and safety, tell someone where you will be and check in when you get home.
When did you last make a new acquaintance? When did you last shop at a different store for groceries? Do you always go to the same type of movies? These are all basically low pain activities to get you comfortable with spreading your wings and moving to a different color on the eye. You can always run (well, walk) back to the center of the yellow. But, if you are out on the blue ring for long enough–it becomes your new yellow and you start your push to fearlessness again. It takes practice and you are not too old to learn this trick.
If you have children in your life you can watch them and see clearly how they push out and fall back and start over and over again to gain power over the pain of the unknown. We also see the children who have a high need for safety and moral support before they can flap those fearless wings. There is pain in doing and there is pain in not doing.
Some of those choices are yours.
Enjoy the summer–we could be having snow in Denver in 5 weeks.
Check http://www.freeu.com for the next scheduled class on How to Become an Extraordinary Elder, taught by yours truly, Joanna Hudson at Colorado Free University.
This afternoon I found myself sitting in a cozy section of the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax Ave in Denver attending a meeting of the Denver Death Café. My friend Dianne told me about it and it is an appropriate subject for the blog. My belief is that an Extra Ordinary Elder, while not welcoming death at the moment, knows that the subject of end of life is on the list of things to talk about with family and friends and come to grips with for yourself. It is the final learning. At this point the vast majority of elders have family or friends who are no longer here and in some other reality.
Jon Underwood of the United Kingdom brought the older idea to the web and since then the groups, run by a facilitator have sprung up all over the globe. He believes that we have lost control of one of the most significant events we ever have to face. That is also shown in the book Never Say Die, by Susan Jacoby. Other books were mentioned in the group and I will list them on my next reading list.
We started with self introductions and there were seventeen people of all ages around the circle. Several of us may have come with someone, but most were strangers when we began. In telling our reasons for being there or our experiences with death, we heard from a young mother who had two children die from a rare genetic defect, very elder parents who lived beyond 100 years and numerous people who had a loved one who languished from a terminal illness with no help in letting go. The institutions that allow long living at the expense of quality of life were vigorously discussed. We had several counselors in the group and hospice workers and couple in training.
One of the main themes was also that having control of your life at the end is the ultimate in self-care, and that you may have chosen quality over quantity, which can be against the social and religious norms of the culture. The issue of mental health was raised and that how to deal with a suicidal person is not necessarily how to deal with a person who wants to die with dignity. We are not trained as run of the mill humans to deal with the emotions of either, and asking for help from professionals may only lead you to be more confused. The discussion is evolving and on going and not catching up to the need we all have.
As we went around the group and mentioned one thing we got out of the hour and a half circle, another theme came up: this is complicated and many layered, but it is time to open our friends and families hearts to discuss the subject to lessen the number who are ill-equipped to deal with it in any capacity.
One of the big learnings I took away for elders is that our need and capacity to be independent is very strong and you do not need to be physically vital to still have the capacity.
Please get your wishes known to anyone you know….while the law does not support much at the moment, end of life choices will be a topic for the forseeable future.
Look up Death Cafe on Google and learn more.
Have a joyous week!
The stories I call “wisdom” stories are the ones that come down to us from ancestors to tell us how to live and hopefully how to avoid the traps of arrogance and greed and ego. They sustain people in the worst times. They lighten the load that a group is carrying when they hear about the struggles with those who have come before. Elie Wiesel, who just died, is an excellent example of a wisdom speaker.
Scheherazade saved her life by telling stories. Uncle Remus gave morality lessons based on African folk tales that gave a culture to the slaves in bondage. Black Elk Speaks taught us all about the wisdom of the earth as seen by the people native to the north American continent. The Greeks, Joseph Campbell, that guy named Shakespeare and all poets are wisdom speakers.The movies that teach or expose corruption or raise questions for us may not be the blockbuster money makers, but they are important to our collective psyche.
Today, in the Denver Post, on the opinion page, the new Editorial Page editor, Chuck Plunkett, gives credit to a wise woman for teaching him to hold the powerful accountable and to stand with the less powerful. This woman was his Grandmother. Our personal wisdom stories are just as important as the “famous” ones. Probably more so, since they are given to a smaller group and remembered longer. If you belong to a family that has been together and talked about ancestors from three or four or five generations past, you know your personal family culture and hopefully how those real people dealt with a life that was more than likely difficult at best, and horrendous at worst.
In the last class, How to Become an Exceptional Elder, my brain kept pushing out story after story about clients from the years I taught law breakers, high school kids and a personal time line for feminism. All of these stories came when the elders were completing worksheets to help them develop resilience, find a new purpose and move from denial to integration with old age. My thinking is that some of these stories were wisdom based, others just examples (abet unusual) of mistakes we all make in living our life without thought or intention. What ever they were, and whatever people took away from the class, my being realized that there is wisdom in my heart and brain from leading an interesting life.
I also believe that most of us past 60 years old have a wealth of information to share and sneaking in those moments with younger people is a way to pass on the good that we know and the steps they could take to make a life more than just a life. If you pick up an excellent children’s book you will see what I mean.
Please find your wisdom and speak it softly.