There is a book that sits on my shelf, waiting for me to pick it up every 8-10 years. I bought it when I was 38. The title is, “New Passages; Mapping Your Life Across Time,” written by Gail Sheehy. Gail describes the aging process of our lives into three adulthoods, Provisional Adulthood (18-30), First Adulthood (30-45), and Second Adulthood (45-85+). Within the passages from one adulthood to the next are the Tryout Twenties, Turbulent Thirties, Flourishing Forties, Flaming Fifties, and Serene Sixties. Having enjoyed the comfort and wisdom of Gail’s explanation of my thirties and guidance through my forties and fifties, I’ve recently returned to seek understanding of my own Passage to the Age of Integrity as I enter the Serene Sixties.
I’ve never been one to give much thought to aging, other than acknowledging that the older I get, the more peaceful, content, and happy I’ve become. I don’t give into a lot of the core beliefs I hear from others…how everything begins to hurt, we can’t lose weight, we have no desire for intimacy or sex. I just haven’t found any of that to be true. And when people have marveled at how much younger I look when my hair is colored, I’m always taken aback that they would think my playing with color had anything to do with denying my age. The truth is, if I had the money I once I had to waste on color and cuts and painted nails, I’d still do it because it was fun…never as an attempt to look young. If a man is looking for a woman younger than me I prefer that he find her…I won’t waste my precious time and energy or give into social stereotypes of needing to look 30 when my body is twice that age.
I began this sabbatical with a desire to go deeper into my practice of mindfulness. I wanted a better understanding of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. I was looking for time to get physically healthy again, having put on 40 pounds of excess weight over the last few years – maybe 15 of which came with retirement. I wanted serenity and time for contemplation; an opportunity to turn inward with little distraction from friends or family or the external world in general. I wanted to sit and observe the birds, not as a retiree with nothing better to do but as a fully present human being with a wildly curious imagination and thirst for a deeper and more fulfilling spiritual life.
My friends have been incredibly supportive and their question of, “How will you do it?” has become, “How is it going?” It’s incredible to have that kind of support and at the same time, while I have often answered with long and thoughtful insights – gifts from time spent alone – the real answer is… “I don’t know.”
In preparation for the year I purchased at least enough books to read one per week…something I’ve been unable to do with my eyeglasses and now my introduction to contacts. Those challenges have also impacted my time on the laptop. I’m going through the Goldilocks syndrome with a reading eye lens that was at first too weak, now seems to be too strong, and I’m curious if it’s time for a lower prescription to finally get vision that is just right.
I scheduled a wellness retreat the end of January for reflection and course correction. And I welcomed February with a new sense of motivation and determination to clean up my diet and get more exercise. I’ve enjoyed six days of February, one walk and a couple of healthy meals. My meditation practice continues but hasn’t necessarily improved (an odd way to think of my practice and I want to reflect on what I mean by improve). I’ve maintained an awareness of politics and turned on the TV at least once each day to see what’s going on and I’ve made a few calls to my Senators and Representatives. I’m enrolled in a marvelous Tricycle online course titled, “Going Forth” but honestly, I don’t do so well with online courses – or is it my eyesight?
One thing has become very clear… I don’t know what I’m doing.
My mind is filled on a daily basis by voices telling me all the things I should have… a teacher to guide me, an exercise routine, an action plan, a realistic vision. I should be engaged politically (more than just phone calls, emails, petitions, and Facebook.) I’ve even come up with a way in which I believe I can help – offering my facilitation skills to activists groups – but I’m not excited enough to take that to fruition even though my friends who hear my idea encourage me to reach out to local groups. Beyond the should’s is a litany of what ifs… what if this is it, what if I need to go back to work, what if I can’t buy a house, what if I need to move again, what if I’m really not the writer I believe myself to be, what if I’m a sham, what if no one cares?
I share these deeply personal thoughts not for your wisdom or advice or guidance. Certainly not for explanation or judgment. I only share them to say this is where I’m at in my process…I don’t know what I’m doing and every time I try to figure out what I’m doing and what my sabbatical should look like, I realize that I am an adolescent in the process of Second Adulthood. I’m figuring it out step by step. I’ve never been retired before and just as I had to learn and adjust to going to school or entering the workforce, I’m learning what it’s like to not have a job, not go to school, and not know exactly what to expect day to day.
Leap and the net will appear…
Some days are really uncomfortable and others are quite peaceful. Unhappiness and discontent comes when I judge and compare myself and that’s why I’ve retreated from those who want to compare their level of enlightenment to my own…those who believe that happiness can only come from one way of living…and those who pride themselves on being so empathetic and compassionate that they can no longer function in a dysfunctional world.
I’ve also retreated from my old way of being in the world. What does that mean? It seems to mean I’m experiencing a grand shift in perception and wisdom. Letting go of the need to be seen and admired by others and embracing a confident self-assurance that even when things feel totally f@cked up and confusing, they are exactly as they need to be. Like boarding a plane just days after 9/11 so I could be with my father on his last birthday, this sabbatical appears to be about going places where I didn’t want to go before. It’s not all romance and peace and contentment. It’s scary, dark, and sometimes feels dangerous. And at the same time it beckons me and rewards me and comforts me.
Some days I want to stay in bed to read, write, and watch some TV. I judge myself on those days, believing there is some standard I need to adhere to. I seem to have concluded that what other people do, whether it’s their career, dedication to meditation and study, or healthy hobbies are far superior than my desire to stay in bed and explore my own inner world. Maybe the questions for me to explore are…when did I become so judgmental of my own desires? And what makes me think that anyone is any more or less happy doing what they do?
This post is much longer than my previous contemplations. Perhaps it’s a reflection of where this experience is leading me. Maybe it’s just a needed conversation with myself. With my new contacts I’ve looked into a mirror and really seen myself for the first time in 20 or 30 years. Maybe this sabbatical is a lens for me to see even deeper…who I really am.