To age gracefully is to age with gratitude. I embrace, believe and experience this truth every day. Walking life in gratitude is not just a desired quality to aging well, it’s also an antidote for fear, anxiety and mistrust. Our evolution, our awakening as loving human beings is a lifetime journey that constantly asks us to practice gratitude.
As a young woman, I read Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now. It’s the title that inspires me today. Recently we’ve all experienced worry and stress around the COVID-19 virus. I can find plenty to be upset about, what with panic buying at the grocery store, and the turn-down in the economy. But, I still can only live one day at a time – I can only be here, right now. So, all of the what-if’s that are in my head are just thoughts. They’re not reality. I try to remember that just because I think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Today I’ll find three things to be grateful for and I’ll do my best to dwell upon those things instead of worries and concerns. Once I get started, I may find fifty things. My experience of gratitude practice is that when I begin thinking about the things I’m grateful for, the list naturally expands. Sometimes I like to write down what I’m grateful for and describe the “why” of it. Other times I let the gratitude be a reference point that I return to throughout the day. I find that breathing deeply when I discover something to be grateful for, enhances the calm feeling in my being.
When we get anxious, we might think that there isn’t anything to be grateful for. Or, we think that we’re just faking it and that everything really is terrible. When this happens, rather than search for a thing, an event or a person to be grateful for, it’s best to just sit comfortably, close the eyes and breathe in the word “thank you.” Then breath out the word “thank you.” Do this several times until the body starts to relax.
Gratitude is a perfect de-stressor and stress, as we know, is a precursor to disease. One of the ways we can keep our immune systems strong is by practicing gratitude. When I’m feeling grateful, I tend to be inspired by a spirit of generosity. I want to reach out to others – a quick call to a neighbor when I’m headed to get groceries, “do you need anything?” Long-distance phone calls to let friends and family know that I’m thinking about them. These actions offer hope. Like so many people practicing social distancing, I’m letting myself feel close to the people in my life as I hold them in my heart and memory with gratitude.
While it may seem challenging to be grateful during times like these, it’s essential to our sanity. We were never meant to live in just the dark places, but also in the light. Let’s keep opening to the light of hope, grace and love as much as we can. I’m grateful for all of you and thank you for letting me into your life for a little bit. Sending you goodwill and good wishes . . .
One definition of the phrase aging gracefully means that we look younger than our years. But that’s a sorry and shallow definition, and one we’d do well to put aside. Our worth has never been about how we look. The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart. And that message is one that we need for ourselves too as the years increase.
The body changes. Wrinkles appear. Things sag. We look differently than we did in our youth. We have little control over that. What we can control is what’s in our hearts. To age gracefully means to age with a grateful and loving heart. And that’s something that we can work on every day.
In order to age gracefully we need to care for ourselves differently. I don’t mean the trendy self-care that’s all over the Internet. I’m talking about a deeper care, a compassionate self-care. This care starts with loving ourselves. And loving ourselves begins with how we talk to ourselves.
What if we were to wake up every day and say thank you for my life, before ever getting out of bed? What if the first task of our day was to get up and dedicate a half hour to slow, gentle stretches and breathing? Compassionate self-care means keeping our body flexible so that the heart and mind will follow.
Count the gifts of the years. Joan Chittister wrote an inspiring book called The Gift of Years. Her writing inspires me to count what those gifts are. For instance, I love the idea of slowing down. Not so much slowing because of a lack of energy, more a slowing that makes us more thoughtful about how we walk in the world. To me, it is deeply self-compassionate to sit quietly without restlessness and breathe in the world around us. I appreciate the bird song, my hot tea, the budding trees, the clouds that drift across the sky. Life gives us poetry when we slow down enough to just feel ourselves in the world.
Compassionate self-care gives us permission to say “no” to things that don’t nourish our hearts and minds, and to say “yes” to the things that feed us, expand us and bring us delight. To grow older with a gentle humor and a heart intent on loving is the non-apologetic way to age gracefully. It’s what makes us truly beautiful. Let us be aware of the grace that has brought us this far. Let us find ways to take care of ourselves with so much self-compassion that it naturally spills over to everyone in our life. Aging gives all of us the potential to age gracefully, to be beautiful human beings living life with the intent of love, joyfulness and gratitude through the practice of self-compassion.
I was talking to a woman the other day who told me that she and all of her friends think that getting older sucks. Her mind set was the opposite of my own. We all deal with this phase of life differently. Some people go into it with a smile on their face and a heart full of gratitude and others dig in their heels, incensed that they are losing their physical beauty as well as flexibility and strength in their bodies. They may be taking care of an older parent, whose physical and mental changes seem daunting and frightening to them, and that can certainly color the way that we view getting older.
My close friends and I are all still planning hikes and trips, bike rides and book groups. But I don’t want to sugar coat it. Even though we are living full and robust lives, aging is set against a backdrop of loss. Connective tissue grows brittle. Physical beauty wanes. Friends, siblings and parents pass away. People we know and love get sick and succumb to a greater vulnerability. Loss takes up a home, right next to the love in our hearts.
Still, this is the best time in history to grow old: In our parent’s generation, if you broke your hip, you were consigned to a wheel chair. Today we can replace body parts like car parts. Seniors are living active, vibrant lives due to new knees or new hips. My neighbor across the street had a stroke a couple of months ago. Within 40 minutes of that stroke, the emergency room gave her a drug that reversed most of the stroke’s effects and prevented worse damage. The outcome? She had six weeks of physical therapy and some exhaustion to deal with from the trauma. Now, it’s like she never had a stroke. Medical advancements contribute greatly to the quality of an older life.
What you think and
how you talk to yourself determines how you feel: We know that what we eat determines how
our body feels. Food creates certain
chemicals in our body. You won’t feel
very good if you’re drinking sodas all day and eating sugar and carbs with nary
a vegetable in site.
Similarly, what we feed our minds also creates chemicals in our body. Self-talk that berates age and the aging process, will not help us to feel good about life. Attitude counts.
Physical Activity: My husband’s favorite advice about aging
is to “keep moving.” Walking everyday,
yoga, Pilates, biking, dancing, anything that gets us out into our community to
move helps us to feel good. Exercise
increases blood flow, gets our heart rate up and strengthens our lungs. We benefit from the endorphins released
during exercise that helps to stave off depression.
Prayer: As I grow older, I notice
that my prayers tend to be more about “thank you,” than asking for things. Maybe
I’ve finally learned that God is not a cosmic bellhop. Whether it’s prayer,
meditation or conscious breathing practices, some form of deep stillness
everyday contributes to an overall sense of well-being.
Letting go: Letting go is the antidote to the sense of loss that youth has abandon us. And, letting go is the encouragement we give to a younger generation with whom the hope of the future rests. The shedding of thoughts and attitudes that don’t nourish our heads and hearts can unburden our creativity and our sense of wonder.
Curiosity and Engagement: The world is an interesting place, but we need to be involved. Women’s and men’s groups, book groups, film groups, church groups and classes are readily available. We can learn a foreign language if we want to. The library provides any book on any topic and also has an array of free classes. We can knit or garden or walk the dog. Aging with a positive outlook depends upon the lens through which we see the world, and curiosity offers a beautiful overview.
We cannot change the events in our life. Things happen. We might get sick or injured
in older age. But sickness and injury can happen when you’re younger too. Regardless of how we face the years, we have
control over our attitudes. We can make
gratitude and kindness a daily practice. We can engage with our real and
digital communities and our families in ways that inspire us to keep trying to
be better people.
Life is so precious in this third chapter precisely because we are vulnerable; because of the expiration date stamped upon our souls. But I find comfort in the fact that I can can change and grow spiritually and psychologically until the day I die.
Knowing that we are in the last chapter, shouldn’t we come to peace with our selves and the world by nourishing gratitude, kindness and love in our lives? Shouldn’t we go out like shooting stars, having lived as fully as we could, until we’ve wrung every last bit of joy from our lives? That’s one choice. The other is, that getting older sucks.
New Year’s Day: Even if you don’t make resolutions, which I don’t, there’s a feeling of freshness and excitement about starting a new year that makes us want to be better people. I like having New Year’s Day as a holiday. It’s a good day to prioritize and set up a pattern for the coming year.
Priorities: Recently I read a post by my favorite psychologist, Benjamin Hardy (if you don’t know who he is, look him up). He wrote about the concept of prioritizing. I’m paraphrasing him when I share: “If you have more than three priorities, you’re not really prioritizing.” That keeps it simple, doesn’t it? For me, priorities really have to do with lifestyle. My three priorities for this year are the same as they were for last year: I write every morning. I walk or do Pilates every afternoon. And I prepare one great, healthy meal a day for my husband and I. That’s it and it won’t trip me up by being out of reach.
Goals and the Magic of Consistency: Goals are a different animal. They’re like New Year’s resolutions in that they can become unmanageable. If they get too big, too many, too fast, after a couple of days I can’t meet any of them, so I abandon them. I learned a long time ago that goals are best done in bite size chunks, because it’s easier to experience success with a small goal that takes just a day or a few weeks to accomplish.
For example, I work on a novel length manuscript every year, but I only set monthly goals for it. This January, one of my goals is to complete research and preparation on the next novel so that I can start writing prose in February. The goal of pounding out a novel in a month or writing an article every day aren’t in my program, because too often I’ve experienced failure with goals like that. The consistency of one step at a time, one page, one good article will get me to where I’m going. When I attain priorities and meet little goals, it builds confidence, and confidence has far-reaching, positive effects on everything.
Dreams: I like to dream big. I dream about publishing houses that want my work and an agent who gets me and wants to help me. I dream about having all the energy I need to complete novels and articles for the time ahead. I dream about writing for Texas Monthly. I dream about long and healthy years with my husband. And I dream about the success of my 2020 release of A Delightful Little Book On Aging. Dreams are not goals, but surrender to their largesse and vision is crucial to prioritizing and setting attainable milestones.
Balance: I’m at a time of life where I want to focus less on accomplishment and more on the gratitude of experience, but that doesn’t mean that accomplishment isn’t important to me. In addition to priorities, goals and dreams, I take note of what feels nourishing and creates balance in my life.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in my head. So balance means being in life. Again, it’s real simple: I take walks with my husband. We enjoy sitting on the front porch with our dog and watching our neighborhood. Side by side, with our hands wrapped around cups of tea, we take in our world. Just being in the experience of sunshine or gray, kids who are throwing a ball and laughing in the cul-de-sac, making note of who is pruning roses or cleaning a garage. . . I relish “being” in this world, on this little block, in this community, watching life happen. This is my balance and it fills me with appreciation.
I always start the New Year by affirming that this is going to be a great year. This is going to be a healing year. In spite of the infection that nibbles away at Washington and the world, there are good things happening too. I can’t forget that. None of us should. There are things and people to get enthusiastic about. Humanity has not lost its way. I know, because I’ve seen the best of humanity from my front porch.
I’m excited about living another year. I’m excited about being in life. I’m grateful. I’m excited about witnessing the neighborhood kids grow another inch. And I’m excited about priorities and goals that I’ve set forth, balanced by a nourished and loving heart. Life is good.
May 2019 be a great year for us all. HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!
Prayer is gratitude and gratitude is prayer. It’s not in the asking that the heart is filled, it’s in the recognition of God in all of life that soothes our inevitable suffering.
The thing that I love most about Thanksgiving cannot be found in family gatherings or over-indulgent meals. Instead, Thanksgiving has become a day of grateful reflection. It took years of reflection for me to admit to myself that “honestly, I don’t really like roasted turkey.” So Thanksgiving dinner is either turkey vegetable soup or a stuffed acorn squash. And I always make something with pumpkin. I’m grateful I finally gave into simplicity.
My husband and I are pretty much orphans. There are no kids or grandkids to light up the day. Our parents have long been star dust somewhere far away. We spend our Thanksgiving walking in the woods, quietly absorbing the beauty of the natural world. Though traditions are the rich markers of time passing; the touchstones of living that cause us to reflect upon the past and aspire toward the future, it’s easy to be seduced by the Norman Rockwell / Hallmark version of the holiday. I fear that it sometimes stresses us out. I mean, who can really do dinner like Martha Stewart, except for Martha Stewart?
Each of us in our own way needs to find the traditions and ceremonies that hold the most value and meaning for us. For Dean and I, there are no longer large turkeys, or big gatherings. We have sifted through all of those things over the years and found our own path. It’s made up of slow simmering soup, a pumpkin dessert and most especially a long walk on a crisp and cool day that will fill our senses with the delights of the Oregon woods.
The things that I am grateful for could fill volumes, but here are a few: I am grateful for good health and the ability to walk for miles. I am grateful that my husband Dean is by my side in life and on the trail. I’m grateful for our faithful friend and four-legged companion, Jeter.
I am grateful that I have such a cozy office that welcomes me each morning when I come upstairs to write. I’m grateful for words and books and other writers and all of the literary things that I love.
I am grateful for small and tender things — the blue jay that sits on the railing of the deck and cocks his head at me; the last of summer’s blooming geraniums; movie night with a husband who always wants to hold my hand; mornings of sweet, hot tea; a stack of greeting cards sent by a fellow writer, now tied with string, and featured prominently on my desk.
Life is good. Life is God. Prayer is gratitude and gratitude is prayer. May your heart know joy. May you be blessed with gratitude, purpose and contentment in your life. May your life seem good.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I am grateful for you.
Sitting on the deck, I watch the sun crack through the morning clouds in streaks of pink and orange. The air is cool and inviting. Wrapping my hands around a cup of tea, I breathe in the essence of a day coming alive. This is a simple pleasure that fills me with immense joy. I am thankful. It is the first day of the year that I am able to do this. Until now, it’s been too cold or wet. But this morning, the long grey winter and the unrelenting drizzle of spring have given way to warmer temperatures and sunshine. This is a day that deserves to be noted. This ritual of tea and appreciation marks the beginning. There will be days ahead where I will welcome the sunrise in this way. Fortified by a caffeinated brew and the hum of the world around me, isn’t life is good? Celebrate.
What marks the beginning of the spring and summer months for you? Please share with me in the comments.
Interstate-5 is the asphalt ribbon of highway winding its self through the state of Oregon, connecting countryside, forest and towns from the southern border all the way to Portland. This corridor will guide the three-hour drive from my home to the Oregon State Penitentiary.
When the Faith and Culture Writers Conference put out a call for original essays to read to the inmates involved in The 7th Step Foundation, I jumped at the chance. The 7th Step is an organization that helps prisoners change while they are in prison and successfully become law-abiding members of their communities upon their release. They have been producing this yearly essay event for a decade. I will be joining five other women in reading essays on the appointed evening.
I am not unfamiliar with the incarcerated population. I spent a few years teaching a creative writing class to women at a detention center in Colorado. Writing is a precious gift to me. It opens a door into an examined life, giving me a place to slow down and sort out my feelings and thoughts. It has grown from the thing that staves off the grief of life and into a thing that now creates stories and novels. I like to share my gift with those who are marginalized. I know all about feeling damaged. In sharing writing with incarcerates, my message is to show them that none of us is ever as broken as we think we are.
An essay entitled I See You and You Matter is what I read to the men of The 7th Step Foundation at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The theme is one of redemption and reinvention. No, I won’t publish it here. Truth is I feel safe sharing so much honesty and vulnerability with a group of inmates, safer than putting the essay out on the Internet where I might open myself to the shaming ignorance of a few. I tell myself that it’s okay to be self-protective.
The room is a large auditorium heated by the 90-degree plus temperatures outside. There is no central air in the 150-year-old facility. The room holds rows and rows of long tables and chairs that face a stage and a podium. I’m glad that the podium is on the floor and not on the stage. Until the event, I have not met my fellow essayists, and they turn out to be a warm, loving group of women with whom I feel close by the end of the evening.
The men of The 7th Step are welcoming, polite, humble and kind. They offer us cinnamon buns and fruit juice. A hundred men, who awkwardly mingle a bit before the presentation. Men who were enjoying a little bit of time away from the grit of prison life. When it is my turn to read, I am met by the open faces of men who are eager to hear hope and inspiration. They sit so still, listening with their hearts. “I see you and you matter,” my essay begins and ends, sandwiched around an account of my personal struggle and redemption.
The time goes by quickly as each woman reads her piece. I am struck that there is a message in each essay for me. We shake hands with the inmates, make small talk. A man reads me two of his poems and gives them to me. They are the most precious poems that I will ever enjoy. Just before the evening comes to an end, the men present us with certificates. My certificate reads: “The 7th Step Foundation, 10th Annual Essay Presentation congratulates Stephanie Raffelock for the essay judged to be the Most Insightful.” Each certificate awarded is different. They include things like most articulate, most inspirational, most uplifting . . . all positive messages, their gifts of appreciation to us. The men begin to line up against the wall. No one has to ask. They will be led back to the small cramped spaces in which they live their lives. I hold a prayer that each one of them will return to the outside world and lead a purposeful and satisfying life. I will go to a hotel off the Interstate and drive home in the morning.
The rumble of the freeway keeps me awake most of the night. I think about prison and just how much freedom there is to lose. I find myself grateful in the morning for the little things of my day, a private shower and sweet smelling soap. A large window, letting so much light into the room, a safe car to make the drive home. I ponder the prison of the mind, the prison of a grieving heart, the places that we all get stuck sometimes.
After a stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast, I am on the road by 7:00, following the snaking highway south. My heart is filled with the sense of loss and love. I spend most of the drive saying thank you over and over again. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit the men in prison. Grateful for the opportunity to read to them. Grateful for the husband and dog that wait for me. Grateful that I was given a moment to share what I value so deeply: the hope, comfort, inspiration and joy of the written word.
You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion and ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you. ~Sarah Ban Breathnach~
Apples are ripening on the tree in the yard. The mornings are cooler. September waits behind the last of the Sweet Williams, peeking into the last of summer’s long days. I am grateful for the coming change.
I’ve pulled this morning close to me, gently placing it my heart. Take the day off. Leave space for God to work in you and through you. Set aside the worry and the angst that you carry as if they were must-have fashion accessories. Take this day to be grateful. This is what I tell myself as I sit tapping the keys on my computer, sitting on the deck and drinking tea.
Jeter, faithful lab is next to my chair. His nose and ears don’t stop moving as he takes in the day. I love that dog. He reminds me not just to be happy, but to be joyful. Grateful for you, buddy. Just saying his name aloud makes him wag.
Dean stretches out on the bed, a day away from the demands and challenges of his work, a day of which he asks nothing except a walk. “Let’s hike up Park,” he says. I am grateful for all of the hiking trails that surround our little valley. Grateful for strong legs and a good heart. Grateful that I walk so much at my age.
There is food in the fridge and in the cupboards. I’m grateful that there is no worry, no insecurity about that, knowing that people in this country, children go hungry every day. I’m grateful for our Ashland Food Bank and that we can contribute and help.
On Friday I did laundry, so my clothes are washed and clean, folded and put away. I am so grateful for clean clothes and clean towels, clean sheets.
I posted the Sarah Ban Breathnach quote on Facebook this morning and a friend from Canada shared it with her friends, translating it first into French. I am grateful for technology that this woman who is so many miles away, read something that inspired me and she was inspired too and the message got shared. What a marvel.
I’m taking a break today. My only tasks are to be grateful and to hike with my husband and my dog. Gratitude fills me. It is a practice that soothes me. It is a path that assures me that there is in this universe, an unfathomable love just waiting for us to surrender. The things that I am grateful for are too many for a list. I think I’ll just rest in the satiation of the practice. May the arms of gratitude surround you.
“When you get to the highest point on the roller coaster you can either scream in fear or squeal with delight.”
“How To Stay Youthful In Your 60s: A 6-Step Roadmap.” From the moment I wrote that title, something felt off to me. Did I really think that it was important for a woman to hang on to her youthfulness in her sixties? Wasn’t that like telling them, “look, you’re friggen’ old and there is no value in that, so here’s how to stay youthful. Youth: is it the be-all end-all of a woman’s life?
The truth about youthfulness is that it is a tiny, little spot in the rearview mirror of my life. Sagging has set into places that I didn’t know could sag. The skin under my arms has become a veritable sail. My graying hair, has for some reason, taken on a texture and life of it’s own, causing it to sproing. You know exactly what sproing means if you have even one gray hair. And don’t get me started on the sudden need for digestive enzymes! All of these things are the outward manifestations of aging. Is making them go away really what I need to make important in my life? Certainly the people on Madison Avenue would like to tell me that it is. Maybe the title I was searching for and wanted to write was “How to Stay Truthful in Your Sixties: A 6-Step Roadmap.” What would that look like? Here’s my 6-step roadmap suggestions for staying truthful in your sixties (and beyond):
1. PURPOSE: My neighbor, Austin is in her eighties. She’s a little wobbly at times, but she still climbs the hills around where I live several times a week. When Austin isn’t pumping up the inclines, she is making art. Recently she built a small studio on her land, replete with a garage door that allows her to open up her studio to the garden when she is working.
Austin has purpose in her life. Her hair is white, her hands, bony and veined. She has beautiful hands, hands that know the wisdom and wonder of making art. We all need a purpose. Something that makes us feel excited to get up for each day.
2. RELEVANCE: My husband and I have old Nordic skis. I remember the Christmas that we got them. All new and shiny. Couldn’t wait to get them out on the snow.
As the years went by, we found ourselves skiing with people half our age, who wore little skate-skis and blew past us as we did the Nordic trudge. I laughed and said to hubby, “Look at us honey, we’re getting old.” He replied, “You gotta keep moving to be relevant.”
That statement is not only true in exercise, but it’s true in things that develop around us. For instance, I did not grow up with a computer. I was the last person in my state to actually get email, but I have learned to keep up on what is relevant. Thirty years ago, I would have sent a copy of my article to a magazine or newspaper and now, I simply email it. Relevance. Stay up on what’s changing in your world.
3. INSPIRATION: If you are in your sixties, seventies or eighties, you get some automatic cred for living this long. I did more than a few things right and more than a few things wrong. Now I get to stand in the light of my truth and share my lessons with the world around me.
At the same time, I never want to be too old to be inspired. I have a writing coach who is half may age. She is my mentor and in addition to teaching me a lot about story structure, she has taught me that it is equally important to be mentored as it is to mentor.
Allowing myself to be curious, teachable and inspired by someone else nurtures vitality. I also have a relationship with young woman (she’s 16) that I mentor in writing. I like the inspirational balance of both.
4. EAT THIS IT WILL MAKE YOU BEAUTIFUL: I came of age in my kitchen, reading Jethro Kloss and Adelle Davis and though I have explored many diets over the years, I always return to the simple diets of these two health food pioneers that make sense in terms of staying balanced. It goes like this: eat a lot of fresh, raw and also lightly cooked vegetables. Eat lean protein. Avoid processed carbs, like crackers, breads and chips. Eat minimal fruit and stay away from sugar. Drink lots of water.
This is a good diet at any age, but is especially relevant (there’s that word again) as your body gets older.
Here is what I know: the biggest chemical reaction that happens in the body in the course of the day is the food that you put into your mouth for energy. Foods will either create inflammatory chemicals or anti-inflammatory chemicals, and those chemicals in turn can and will create pain. An alkaline diet that contains a lot of fresh veggies is going to be less inflammatory than a carbohydrate and sugar based diet.
Throw in some good fats too, like coconut oil and avocado.
I pretty much live off of soups and salads and I enjoy my time in the kitchen, creating my kind of art.
5. SAY NO TO AGEISM: We live in unprecedented times that afford us the luxury or the curse of living 30 years beyond our retirement. Not everyone wants to hang out and garden for 30 years. Our Boomer generation was built on the back of social change and activism. This is the perfect time in your life to be an activist. Educate those around you to the truth of aging, which is and should be, that we are human beings first, with the capacity to be well versed in traversing the terrain of the human condition. Our relevance, our significance is not dictated by an out-of-touch Madison Avenue, but rather by the sense of conscious aging that our generation is uniquely embracing.
6. GRATITUDE: Every single day that I am alive, I light a candle and I pray a list. I pray thank you. It’s a big list. I breathe it in and I breathe it out. I’m sixty-four, and each year I get this sense of how fast it all goes and how you have to make the most of every moment regardless of your years.
The body breaks down. Smooth, youthful beauty is replaced by deep and interesting lines, a map that shows where you have been. Pain is a humbling reality, both physically and psychically. Still the heart does not know age. Go for what the heart tells you because the essence of you, the soul of you is what never changes.
“The youth stands outside of life and wonders about it,” says The Sage’s Tao Te Ching. “ The sage, with arms open wide, lets life flow through them.” Be grateful unto your last breath.
We are meaning seeking creatures. Our paths change with each decade and significance slips away from us only if we do not embrace purpose, inspiration and relevance. One day I will hopefully be in my eighties and still be making art, like my friend Austin. I hope you will too.
In the meantime I’ll try to live by this bit of wisdom: seize the day, fill your heart, move your body and give thanks. Life is so much shorter than we think it is.
How do you find ways to stay truthful as you age? Share in the comments.
I read a lot of other bloggers. I learn from how other people write; what they write about; and what subjects inspire them. Last year I found a blog called All of Us (http://all-ofus.com) that was a mother chronicling her child’s journey with cancer. It’s good to report that the journey had a happy ending. Along the way I was amazed and inspired by the grace of both mother and child and found myself rooting for them each step of the way.
Recently I’ve been following a blog by Ruth Rainwater. It’s a simple blog that lists a different gratitude every day. I look forward to reading what she writes. She makes the seemingly mundane beautiful and important. She takes things that I would have thought of as flat, and makes them full. I know that there is great power to change the heart and mind by being grateful. Gratitude has gotten me through some fierce sorrows. Sometimes the world seems like it is full of crazy bat-shit people and they are all in my way…those are the times that I especially appreciate the Ruth Rainwater’s of the world who inspire me to get a grip in the face of challenge and humble me to open my eyes and appreciate every moment of this life!
Today I am grateful for other bloggers and the inspiration that they bring. I didn’t write much this past year because I had so many changes to deal with–retirement, a move to a new state, a new home, and all the purging and packing that come with those things…but I continued to read and seek blogs that move me. As I get settled into my new home, it is my intention to write more and get back into a rhythm of posting. My writing chops are weak. “Use it or lose it” applies. I struggle with finding my voice and the confidence to write each day…and I do know that this is the way back. Just get in the chair and write. There is no muse or calling that will do it for you…just sit down and write. But I digress…the Word Press community is more valuable to me than I have previously realized. I am grateful I had blogs to read this past year when I was not writing so much and grateful now that those very blogs are inspiring me to get with the program again.
Ruth begins all of her posts with “Today I am grateful for…” So, here’s to you kid: I am grateful for Ruth Rainwater and all the other bloggers who share their messages of thanks and hope. It was Meister Eckhart, the 17th century mystic who said: “If the only prayer you ever prayed was thank you, it would be enough!” Onward to new beginnings!
The days and weeks bleed into each other, speed nourished by long “to do” lists. Meditation practice is sporadic during these times, writing almost non-existent. Instead, life is a packing box, punctuated by the purge of things that will not make the journey to our new home.
Today “The Daily Writing Prompt” arrived in the email. Like a siren of the sea, I was seduced to put down the packing tape and pick up the lap top. Scaling a blank screen, my energies having been elsewhere is scary. The theme for today’s prompt “How do you stay young at heart?”
Here’s the thing, you get to be to a certain age and you realize that the life you have already lived is longer than what is in front of you. While that may seem bleak, it does provide an immediate opportunity. If you know that you are only going to be alive for another 20 years or so, the question becomes, “how then, shall I live my life?” For me, living with the consciousness that everything eventually ends, is what has made my life more alive. The luxury of believing that there are years in front of you is gone. But to live consciously, savoring the days, becomes immediate.
A young heart is really a heart that is awake to the world. I walk every day with my dog and my husband. Being out doors is a great love for us. Feasting our eyes on the sky and watching the season’s change as we trompe through snow, mud, rain and more mud until we get to the hard ground of warm summer days. Keep moving. That keeps you young. I have left behind a life of running and tennis, skiing and weight training–none of which serves me these days, but walking…I feel that I can walk forever– that there are trails and paths yet to be discovered, waiting for my feet to cross them.
Then there is the contemplative part of life so necessary when one is standing at the threshold of old age. I call this decade of my life “reclamation.” It means that I reclaim those things that have angered me, wounded me, betrayed and stung. And I strip from them the pain, seeing where they emptied me and softend my edges. The acid speech is then removed from my tongue and any regret is tempered with a compassion for the frailty of all human beings as they create their story.
Story, that’s a big one too. If you are going to be old and young at the same time, you must know your own story. You need to know it with all its glory and all of it jagged, ragged edges. I embrace my story. I don’t turn away from the dark or the mistakes that were made. Instead I string together the events and processes that formed this person over decades of living. It’s so nice to no longer feel that I need to be fixed. Over time I have slowly learned and still slowly learn to love every step that I took upon the journey to becoming fully human.
Isn’t that what we want when we grown old–to become fully human? To love with a heart that has been broken and yet is open wide, receiving life with enthusiasm?“I grow old, I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Do I dare eat a peach? I have hear the mermaids singing each to each…” I didn’t look up the poem, it is in me now and I have probably bastardized it somewhat with my memory. Apologies to T.S. Eliot. But I love the affirmation of “I grow old and I shall wear the bottoms of my tourers rolled.” It reminds me of the slower walking that escorts us to the inevitable edge.
I walk and I read and I write. I so need to get back to writing every day and I hope that after this move is done, I will sit at my desk each morning and record the world that I see; the realizations that grace me; the humor that keeps each of us going in the tougher times. But for now, as I pack up and end this piece about what it takes to be young at heart, I conclude and repeat that I read. I walk and I write. And each day I find a way to breath deeply the cool air around me and say thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Edges of the early morning hugged the grey sky as I drove home from the grocery store, Saturday rituals igniting the day—a gathering of food for the week and a mountain of laundry waiting for me at home. I will ascend the height of its earthy socks and ledges of shorts. It is mine to conquer!
The chores of Saturday somehow soothe me. The act of putting things in their place marks the ending and the beginning of the cycle. I love to have my life ordered. It makes me feel secure. So it was in this frame of mind that I stopped at the light on McCasslin Boulevard and saw to my right two young women of 15 or 16 on their bikes, waiting for the walking sign. They were wearing plaid cotton pajama bottoms and matching striped t-shirts, green and white. And even though the rain was staring to spot the street and my windshield, even though a small rumble of thunder warned of more, these two young women wore no shoes, and only some stretchy slippers on their feet. When the light changed, they pedaled off toward the coffee place across the busy boulevard, hair flying, laughter on their faces and I thought: how wonderful to be young and outrageous. What happens to that “wild” as we grow older?
Note to self: after the orderliness of things are embraced; after the food is put in the fridge and the recycling bins have been placed on the curb; after the laundry is washed and folded, placed gently into drawers, is there any wild left for me, or have I snuffed it out with this grown up sense of responsibility? I want to ride a bike in my pajamas in the early morning rain!
A friend told me that my dog, Jeter, was a great gift to me because I could not control his chronic shedding; could not keep him clean and smelling nice. Jeter is the wild, outrageous that lopes through my house leaving muddy paw prints and blond Labrador hair everywhere. My friend is right, he is my gift—a slobbery oaf of a dog who underscores the lack of control and the joy of abandon in living a life.
My husband and I fell in love dancing. That was our wild. We still dance to old Motown—in stocking feet next on the living room floor, a reprieve from the more serious life that urges us toward the expiration date on the to-do list. The dog’s wagging tail keeps time to a never hidden joy that seeps into our hearts when music plays and the rain taps against the windows and doors. Screw the to-do list!
Monday morning finds me writing these words, finishing the story of young women who inspired a wonderment of the wilds. I know that in a few minutes, I will push the “publish” button on this blog post and find my way into a day that will be orderly, but tinged with dog hair, reminding myself to keep my wild close by. Perhaps I should go to my office in pajamas today!
We named her Isabelle. My husband said that she looks like an Isabelle. She started the building project a few weeks ago leaving our front porch covered in straw and twigs—the kind of stuff that goes into making a good nest. On a ledge under the portico, she found a place that was protected from the wind and the rain.
At first it seemed that there was just a pile of stuff on the ledge, nothing particularly orderly and then one day, it was finished. She carried the materials piece by piece in her beak, adding to what became a sturdy little basket of a nest on which she now sits most of the day. She is the faithful mother.
It’s an honor to have her there. We peer out the windows on either side of the door and check in. This morning she appeared to be sleeping. I cannot see the little blue eggs, or how many, only the handiwork of her instincts that rival the best of architects and contractors.
With all the complexities and demands of life swirling around us, a small robin we have named Isabelle has chosen to nest under the portico at the front of the house, reminding us that beauty costs nothing, and gentle grace comforts the weary soul.
A grey and windy storm lumbered into the foothills and left 6 inches of wet, spring snow. At 9:00 this morning it was still snowing, but the dog nudged my hand and did his doggie talk version of “it’s not a work day, so get your ass out of bed and let’s play.” A sane person, even a reasonably sane person would have told the dog to go lay down and made themselves a cup of tea. I am not a sane person—not on snow days and even though it’s the weekend I know that I have to get up, put on my snow pants and boots and go do “snog.”
The word snog is a combination made-up word, for which there is not another word, and that’s why it had to be made up. Snog equals snow and dog, thus snog. But snog is not just a description of the dog. It is, in fact, a state of mind and heart of both dog and person. In my estimation, snog is the most visceral experience of snow that you can get. It is prayer wrapped in great celebration. However, I found out that snog is a real word that has nothing to do with snow or dog it is a verb: 1. snog – touch with the lips or press the lips as an expression of love, greeting. Okay, well my “snog” means to kiss nature then and be kissed back by nature and it has to do with a labrador retriever!
Eighteen degrees out and still snowing, the roads were snow packed and icy. The clouds hung low and tight next to the mountains creating the feeling of being in an ice dome instead of in open country. The snog, named Jeter paced in the back seat while we drove 10 miles under the speed limit to Dry Creek Trail. Past the Baptist church at 70th with all its dire warnings printed on their sign board; past the black cows that didn’t look their usual apathetic, oblivious selves encrusted in ice and snow; and past Mallard Pond Drive where the trust fund baby of a major seed company lives and does the best Christmas decorations in the county. We drove until we slid into our left turn and pulled into the empty parking lot at the trailhead.
Oh boy: snog and a trail all to ourselves. I opened the back door of the car for Jeter, who flew from the back seat to the gate, paws barely touching the ground. There was no one else around. A perfect snog day. Six inches of fresh snow and a trail unblemished by the sane people who lingered late in bed or the coziness of their kitchens. Snog ran onto the trail to the first spot where he could flip over on his back and make a snog angel in the snow. It was pure joy. Fresh snow is like walking in sand—you work it, but for Jeter fresh snow is like sailing among the clouds. He runs in circles. He burrows his head into drifts looking for old tennis balls left on the trail. He sticks his butt up in the air, wags his tail and barks. He fills himself with the moment. The quiet here is such that we can hear the snow fall.
The practice of gratitude comes in a lot of different packages. In this package, I am alone with my dog in nature, infected by the joy and delight with which he celebrates fresh snow on a March spring day. All around me is the beauty of the natural world, infusing my heart with happiness, easing and dissolving the concerns and obligations that are my weekday baggage. In this moment, my snog has taught me to love life so fully that I too delight in this cold, white, wet stuff that has frozen my face and numbed my finger tips. I walk with a goofy smile on my face, laughing out loud at Jeter, calling out good morning to geese flying overhead. We are being kissed by nature, and we are kissing her back.
I walk at a good clip as far as the bridge, while Jeter runs in circles around me, breaking trail, occasionally stopping to create another snog angel. Enveloped in the joy of this appreciation, I know I made the right choice in getting out of bed to get us here. A group of birds sitting on the fence that follows the creek seem to sing the snow down harder, and the wind swirls the snow around us while we make our way back to the car. Wet dog, wet person filled with gratitude and joy. I learn a lot from my dog. He nudges me into nature on a daily basis. He keeps my heart and legs strong by demanding daily treks to various trails. And he loves life unabashedly with a contagious enthusiasm. We pull out of the empty lot, blasting the defroster, the car permeated with the smell of wet wool and wet dog, the great snog adventure in the rear view mirror and a stretch of frozen road leading us home.
Sunday is the best day of the week. It stretches before me without schedule or obligation. It makes no demands. I pour a mug of hot black tea with honey and return to bed, sitting among pillows and comforter with my books and my laptop, the accessories of Sunday morning.
A spring snow fell most of the day yesterday, a heavy grey shawl that wrapped itself around the house and closed us in, leaving my husband to work at his desk and me to finish the chores of a weekend; laundry that filled the kitchen with the sound of churning machines and the clean smell of soap; groceries—my only outside venture of the day—that were organized in fridge and pantry; a prayer of gratitude for such things. Clean laundry and food in the fridge always make me feel secure and happy.
This morning, the sky is a brilliant blue, the way that only a Colorado sky can be, stretching infinitely beyond snow-capped mountains to places wild, beckoning me from this reprieve of leisure to get out and walk before the trails get slushy and muddy. Church happens for me walking in nature, the wide vision of wonderment filling the empty places in my heart and healing the wounds of exhaustion that the workweek wrought with her incessancy.
I read the next chapter in Brother Steindl-Rast’s book, “Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer,” and then read a few pages from “Letters to a Young Poet,” by Rainer Maria Rilke. From Steindl-Rast’s book, I came away with thoughts that I will allow to pecolate during my upcoming hike; thoughts of purpose and meaning, vision and action and contemplation as an entering into the temple of one’s own heart in order to sit in the light of praise, thanksgiving and gratitude. It is precisely this grateful attitude that Rilke writes about to the young poet, pointing out that gratitude can inform a life and strengthen its wholeness; can make the moments of darkness more fruitful in their contribution—the gift within the gift.
Rilke has helped me to see the value of such life-passages without judgment. A decision made long ago influences me now—a vow to live the examined life has remained a constant, sometimes throwing me into chaos when those around me were having a party. I have remained faithful to that, uncomfortable or not. The examined life retreats to its depths and is born again. Retreating and birth again and again, opening and closing to itself ,all to become more aware, to see with a keener eye, to expand in heart and mind to a greater understanding of self and its place in the story of the human condition.
Sundays are the best day; ripe for contemplations and ponderings; for time in nature; for play and leisure that balance out a life so tightly woven with responsibility. A hike and back into the jammies—not a moment of Sunday given to anything but the quiet appreciation and rest that allows the heart to fill and the journey to continue.