My invisibility cloak

For a long time, I have felt invisible. Not just unseen, but truly invisible. I have walked into an 8-foot by 10-foot room occupied by two other people, and have gone unnoticed until I loudly announced myself. But more often, I just go unseen.

The first time I remember feeling invisible was when I was three-and-a-half. I had braces on my legs to treat a childhood disease, and I had just been bitten in the face by a dog that was afraid of my braces. People looked at the braces, and the bandage on my face, but not into my eyes. Their pity was hard to take.

At nearly 50 years of age, I started tie-dyeing pants, because I think most men’s pants are boring. I soon found out I was not as invisible as I had imagined. This was a revelation to me. I experimented at attracting attention to myself with my colorful clothes. Over time I have become more comfortable with my greater visibility.

Older Americans often feel invisible. No longer a sought-after demographic, store clerks can favor other customers. I’ve read that older people appear gruff, not because they’ve grown grumpy, but because it’s an attitude they must adopt to get attention. That makes me sad.

I predict that is going to change, soon. My generation, the Baby Boomers, have always been the center of attention due to our large numbers. For the next 20 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers a day will be turning 70. I don’t think we will put up with being ignored. We will demand the level of attention we’ve always received, and deserved.

I look forward to the day when older Americans are revered members of society, visible and honored for our wisdom. Soon, I hope!

“Every decision is selfish”

This is another favorite quote I have collected, this one from Ram Dass. “Every decision is selfish.” I didn’t like this perspective initially, recoiling from the idea of my doing anything selfishly. But as I pondered it, I found it to be true. And I had to admit that I am selfish.

Being selfish has gotten a bad rap. Growing up, I thought my father was teaching me not to be selfish, to take care of others first. Later, I realized he wanted me to take care of him, not others, and certainly not myself. I’ve had to teach myself self-care.

Once I realized the truth of my selfish nature, I found this quote to be very empowering. If every decision I made was really a negotiation, and that no matter what I decided I was being somewhat selfish, I realized it was OK for me to make a consciously selfish decision.

Another idea along the same line I heard at a lecture from Ernest Chu. He said the most selfish thing was to not take care of yourself. That decision requires others to take care of you, adding to their task of taking care of themselves. He said that if we believe we are all connected, as I do, taking care of yourself is really taking care of the collective one.

Self-care becomes more important with age. No one knows me, and my body, better than I do. I know if something is wrong and needs attention before anyone else does. So, I have the best chance of taking care of something before it gets worse. Our health is worth more than its weight in gold. Like relationships, maintaining one’s health takes work. But it takes much more work to fix if we stop doing the ongoing maintenance.

I encourage you to become more selfish, more centered on your self-care, not less.

Getting back to nature

I woke up on the morning of 9/11 in the Grand Canyon. Friends had gathered in Las Vegas the weekend before to celebrate a 40th birthday. Three of us had extended our trip to include seeing the Grand Canyon.

That morning we were to take a mule ride down into the canyon. We got to the corral and mounted our mules. The ridemaster gave a City Slickers talk, telling us how good it would be to be in the canyon to forget the troubles of the world.

When he gave another similar speech, I asked if he was talking about something specific. He told us about two planes flying into the World Trade Center. Quickly the ride began, without any further discussion of what was going on in New York.

The ride was spectacular. Riding atop our mules was a great way to appreciate the grandeur of the place.

At the finish of the ride we rushed to the nearest TV. After catching up on how the world had changed that day, we retreated to our room to figure out how we would get home. Luckily, we had a rental car.

For years I contemplated why I happened to be in one of the safest places in the country that awful day. It wasn’t until I returned to the Colorado mountains some 14 years later that I understood.

What I realized was how important it was to me to be in nature. I have read that in India, yogis’ primary function is to reconnect people to the rhythm of nature. Just by living one’s life, it is easy to get disconnected.

While the Grand Canyon is a wonderful place to reconnect, I realize I don’t have to travel that far to feel nature. All I have to do is step outside and tilt my face towards the sun. Or dance in the rain. Or contemplate a tree, stuck in the same place for its entire life, no matter what the weather.

Ah, nature! I feel refreshed already.

“You must be present to win.”

A group I belonged to had one rule: You must be present to win. The rule was implemented at the first meeting when someone’s business card was drawn for a giveaway, and they had already left.

To me, this rule applies to life, and conscious aging, as much as it does to giveaway drawings. To “win” at life you must be present. By winning, I mean getting the most out of anything that happens in your life.

I’m not talking about just being physically present. It’s easy to be there but distracted. Phones, food, drink, drugs and sex are a few of the means we use to distance ourselves from the present moment. Such things may start innocently enough, as a salve for an unpleasant event. But when they become habitual, they can take us away from experiencing important things.

One might not fully experience meaningful happenings, or miss communications that are vital to understanding a relationship, or forego a chance to learn something about oneself.

As one gets on in years, additional barriers can arise. Perhaps your hearing is not as good, and you withdraw some from life because you cannot grasp everything that is being said. Maybe your vision is failing, and you can no longer read emails or letters. Perhaps you no longer drive and feel stuck at home. These are all realities of aging.

But you still have choices; these are not life sentences of isolation and boredom. The easy choice is to give in to such limitations. The more life-affirming choice is to find ways to work around them, to find ways to stay present. Sometimes it’s hardware like glasses and hearing aids. Sometimes it’s new habits, new ways of being, like learning how to use Uber to get rides, or even taking a bus. Our evolution doesn’t have to stop, ever.

“The question isn’t who is going to let me…”

I collect quotes that challenge me to grow, and that affirm my values. This is one of my favorites, even though its author’s writings have been used to justify behaviors and policies with which I strongly disagree.

Ayn Rand reflects, “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it is who is going to stop me?”

     I’ve found this to be true in my life. My mate, Drew, has been my primary teacher in this area. He doesn’t buy into social norms, for the most part. I learned a lot the first time we decorated our home for Christmas, twenty-seven years ago. His non-traditional placement of lights and such made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t the way I learned to be the norm.

One day, a new neighbor told me that his young daughters were worried that Santa wouldn’t be able to find their new house, because it was undecorated. But they knew Santa would find our house. I delighted in that, as did Drew. If children got it, even if their parents didn’t, I was happy.

Most of the time the person saying “no” is yourself. We regularly rob ourselves of pleasurable things in the name of conformity. Instead of loosening up with age, we often get better at saying “no” to ourselves.

As we age, I feel we should learn to say “yes” to ourselves. Often, we must adapt how we do things, due to physical limitations that can come with aging. We need to say “yes” to new methods. If our practiced reaction is to say “no,” we can miss opportunities for joy and growth.

I encourage you to say “yes” to yourself more often. Have fun exploring new territories!

All 4-wheel drive means…

When I was buying my first SUV in 1985, I was certain I wanted one with 4-wheel drive. I was often driving off roads, usually with a kayak or two on top of my car.

At the first dealership I went to, they only had 2-wheel drive vehicles. When I told the salesperson that I had my heart set on 4-wheel drive, he said “All 4-wheel drive means is that you’re further from help when you need it.” Despite his wise words, I went to another dealership, and bought a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

I feel his statement applies not just to SUVs. When I ruminate about something, keeping it in my head, letting the bother of it grow, I can easily get “further from help when I need it.”

The help I need is to connect to my heart, in addition to thinking.  I need to get in touch with my feelings. It usually involves slowing down, both my body and my mind. Sometimes, I write down my thoughts, or even better, express them out loud to a caring listener. What I often find is that my train of thought, the one that got me so far out there, doesn’t come out nearly as dramatically as I had it in my head, nor nearly as sound an argument as I was imagining.

Once I have re-grounded myself, taking some deep breaths and reconnecting to the natural rhythm of life, I feel a great relief. When I find myself starting down the same path again, it’s easy to stop before it becomes an endless circle again.

As I get older, I find it important not to dwell on past events, wishing I had acted differently, because I cannot change what happened. What I can change is my feelings about such happening, forgiving myself, and any other participants as well. Such conscious work makes today better, with fewer regrets. I feel freer and lighter, even on days when my body isn’t feeling so great.

The holiday season is upon us

We’ve all heard “it’s better to give than to receive.” I disagree with that adage, somewhat…

What it ignores is that in order to give there must be a receiver, too. I think it’s important to be good at both.

What does it take to be a good receiver?

  • You must be open to receiving. Didn’t it feel great to receive a wonderful present that was right on target? Tap into that feeling.
  • You must be clear about what you want. If your heart’s desire is to become a garbage collector, firmly set that as your intention. It’s about what you want, not worrying at all about what anyone in the world, living or dead, might think about your desire.
  • “Want” and “need” are not four-letter-words! They both express desire for something different in our lives. You may be able to diminish the power of your desires over your life, but I don’t think you can eliminate them entirely. To want something is perfectly human.
  • You might want to clear out some clutter, to make room for something new. Whether you need to clear your mind, or your office, or your garage, if you’re full to the gills there’s not room for something you really want to come to you. (We just moved and loaded four 30-yard dumpsters full of accumulated stuff. And I want/need to get rid of more!)
  • Say “thank you!” with enthusiasm. It’s the only payback required. And in giving thanks you become a giver in the multi-dimensional experience. You get to be both a receiver and a giver. (I still like to write and snail-mail thank-you notes, handwritten.)

In this I think Thanksgiving has it better than Christmas. (Raised as a Christian, I don’t feel qualified to comment on other December traditions such as Hanukkah or Kwanza.) Thanksgiving is about giving “thanks” for all that we have, all that we have received.

What does this have to do with conscious aging? Many people have led lives more as givers. As one ages, hopefully consciously, one often needs more assistance than ever before. It’s an opportunity to practice becoming a good receiver. And it’s good to be a practiced giver and a practiced receiver.

Happy holidays.

November 25, 2018

I think that the last third of one’s life can be the best years. But I don’t think that happens by chance. It takes doing work on oneself, consciously. Learning to let go, to forgive oneself and others, to accept oneself and others just as we are, to stop denying that one is aging, and that one is going to die. Fun stuff!

Why would someone take on such heavy subjects willingly? Because on the other side is a life full of meaning and purpose, despite ailments; a life freer of society’s constraints than ever before.

I am no longer middle-aged. If I double my current age, I don’t expect to live that long. So, what am I? “Old” is one answer, but I don’t find that very empowering. I like Jane Fonda’s model of aging, an ever-rising path, not one that goes up and then declines. At this point I prefer the term “elder.” I look to Nature to find answers to many of my questions, and for most of humanity’s short time on Earth, “elders” have been respected members of society with active roles in their communities. That’s what I want for myself and for others.

There’s an African proverb that “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I used to want to go quickly, and I often traveled alone. Now I want to go far with my life, as far as I can. So please join me on the journey into our elderhoods.