Choices to Make

My belief system about old age has contained one of the same truths since my Mom was placed in the locked Alzheimer’s unit six years ago. It feels as if you have to change on a dime more often than not in your last several decades. Either because your situation with health, money or living situation shifts, or those around you face changes you want to help support. Just when you think things are set for a bit, they suddenly are not, and the situation must face a reevaluation.

Research told my generation as we reached middle age, that strong skills in resilience would serve us well in surviving and thriving in life and that there are lots of ways to improve that skill. I agree, although it can be exhausting to be a resilient elder. Now I know, that not just the situation may need to be reevaluated, but your personal part of the whole picture too. YOU CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH. I write that to remind myself as much as the reader. While you are assisting others, your health, money or living situation may shift and there is not enough physical or emotional energy to deal with that effectively.

Making choices, from which new phone to buy, to what therapy to get for bone spurs have many of the same methods. Gather as much information from as many “experts” in the field, figure out what your priorities and value systems say to you and move ahead with out haste, but quickly enough so the whole situation has not shifted and your choices are more limited. There is that little quirk now that we have so many choices we can become overwhelmed–and that is not just us elders either.

If you have a large enough social circle and people you trust, you already know immediately whom to call or text or email or send up a flag for. If not, ask a medical professional or religious leader who knows your situation.

In my life, I have recently done all the due diligence and am leaving most of my teaching or volunteer projects behind for some serious hours learning to write a personal essay or letter to the editor that may impact an issue that interests me. Traveling to the last of the places on earth I hear calling to me is another decision, that requires more self-care in the short-term to get all of it done while my body can enjoy the trips too. As we know too well, don’t wait, do it now.

So, this will be my last blog for a time, with the hope that when I am traveling a new set of observations will need to be set down to share with anyone who wants or needs to read them. The discipline of a blog has helped me to learn focus and practice mindfulness and writing it may be a constant companion that will not go away.  It may be the ultimate self-care for me.

May you encounter more joy than sadness, less suffering than expected and spread kindness and compassion all of your days.

Joanna

November 4, 2017

 

 

 

Advertisements

And the Cat Still Sits in the Sun

 When my home was in Taos, New Mexico, my life education was filled with ideas and practices that were new to me. While jobs included being head of a school, working in a bookstore, gallery and museum, my brain was overwhelmed with the creativity of different philosophies, belief systems and the colors of the night sky. Even though my visits to that part of New Mexico started as a teenager, living there full time brought an opening to my senses that changed the way I lived my life.

That special place on the map is where the concept of Mindfulness was introduced to me. If you have never heard of it, or practiced it, now is the time. An elder has the perfect opportunity and wisdom to engage in the concept, and an exceptional elder will soon understand how it helps with your transition to a more introspective life.

The cat I had at the time was named K. C. and was a rescued feral burmese cat from the city. She loved to go outside, and she might bring back a snake or a mouse and drop it at my feet as an offering. But mostly, she stayed inside and spent hours teaching me how to be a good human owner. She was my first cat ever, and we were lucky to find each other. A human friend, much more enlightened than me, sat one day in the rented house on the mesa having tea and we watched the cat sleeping next to one of the huge windows in a patch of sun. She was stretched out and occasionally her tail would twitch or her ears wiggle, but that animal was as relaxed as an old shoe.

That is when my first lesson in mindfulness began. Being in the moment. Being silent and observing everything around you. Hearing the hum of the refrigerator, feeling the warmth of the sun, watching the cat’s breath move her chest up and down. This was not a formal meditation, but a way to pay attention to your life before those individual moments become the past. After numerous lessons that helped me be with the pleasant or unpleasant, I could shift into the mindfulness mode much more easily. It is staying out of the past and the future and totally being with each of your breaths..right now.

Two suggestions for books: Wherever you Go, There You Are Jon Kabat Zinn and Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Joan Borysenko. The Mindfulness Project is interesting to read about and the MindUp program for kids in the UK is outstanding.

Being mindful on your journey to becoming an extraordinary elder has an extra bonus. How many hours and days do you think we all wasted in being busy, multitasking, making money, spending money, thinking too much about things we could not change and waiting for our life to start? Now that there is less time forward than behind us, we can savor every part of life if we train ourselves to slip effortlessly into mindfulness. (the downside is that people may come over to you in public and tell you that you are drooling)  just kidding.

One of my ways of being resilience is to remember that you can handle what ever comes to you–until the moon hits the earth it is not the end of the world. You keep doing what you can. That translates into the phrase, and the cat still sits in the sun. The cat now is named Katniss Cleopatra and as an abused cat it took her over a year to relax enough with me to sit in the sun with me in the room.  But now she does, and she trusts me enough to allow me to watch her breathe.

Teach Peace

Joanna

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pema, Pooh and Rumi

This past few days on a spiritual search has produced insights and reminders that are timely and sobering. They are also uplifting and full of promise…..that is the way of the search. For the wanna be extraordinary elder a review of your core values and how you are relating to the world with your best self is an ongoing journey. To be as authentic as possible in this chaotic world, it is important, I think, to recharge your spiritual energy frequently. I would also remind you, especially the people who have been in my class, that religion and spirituality are not interchangeable words. Spirituality is as HUGE a topic as religion becasue it too is a way of feeling and living and being true to your values.

Below are some quotes and stories that have come to my attention that are best shared.

Pooh: “What day is it?” Piglet: “It’s today .”

Pooh” “My favorite day.”      A.A. Milne

Joan Chittister, in her book The Gift of Years, speaks of the spiritual task of later life–embracing the blessings of this time and overcoming the burdens of it.

“The world is a mirror, and it reflects back to everyone the image of their own face”-from a story about the Krishna teaching perception.

In the pocket Pema Chodron  this page touched my heart. This is my favorite idea from this spiritual search period.

When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.

This was in an email note from friends at The Conflict Center in Denver:

The Season for Nonviolence was established by Arun Gandhi, Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson, as a yearly event celebrating the philosophies and lives of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The season begins with the anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination on January 30 and ends with the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination on April 4.

The vision and values advanced throughout the 64 days of the Season for Nonviolence inspire our work everyday to promote peace, justice, inclusively, equality and compassion.

And finally, one of my favorite quotes of all time by that master of quotes. Rumi, the popular Persian poet.

‘As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.’

I am here now, ( Mindfulness)

Joanna